Seventh Sunday of Easter 2021
Did you pay attention to what was going on in the first reading today? If you weren’t then you missed an event that still is practiced today whenever the pope chooses a bishop for a diocese anywhere in the world.
As the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles illustrates today, the 11 apostles had to choose between two really good men to replace Judas in their ranks to make their group a perfect 12 again. After praying to the Holy Spirit, then casting lots, they chose Matthias to fill the opening made by Judas Iscariot by his betrayal of Jesus.
Of course the first apostles were handpicked by Jesus from a group of hundreds of his disciples to be sent out into the world to start churches of their own. They were the first bishops!
At the end of their lives someone had to take their place to carry on their mission. Each of the 12 Apostles had people succeed them in their ministries in the churches they founded. And then they had successors and so on and so on and now 2,000 years later we have bishops throughout the world who are considered direct successors to the original 12 apostles of Jesus...including our very own Bishop...Bishop Terry LaValley!
This tradition in our church is called Apostolic Succession and this event in our first reading today is the first instance of someone succeeding an Apostle and carrying the mission proclaiming the Gospel, spreading the faith and building Christ’s Church on earth.
None of us here are Bishops, direct successors to the Apostles but this event does have two implications for all of us.
First, it reminds us that we have to pray for our bishops especially our own Bishop LaValley as they lead us to Jesus in their ministry as our shepherds.
Second, this reading reminds that although we aren’t bishops or successors to the apostles we all share the responsibility of passing on the faith to other people. As the title and ministry of bishop is passed on to person to person so must the title of Christian and the ministry of handing on the faith to another person the same way.
The only way we can insure that our Church will exist in the future is when people like you and me choose our successors!
Our Christian faith was never meant to be a private matter. It is a relationship with Jesus that was meant to be shared and passed on to other people.
But, let’s face it: it’s not easy being a bishop nor a practicing Catholic these days is it? With the challenges facing the church today like declining numbers of people practicing the faith or even leaving the Church, the declining number of priests to lead our parishes, the clergy sex abuse crisis to name just a few.
Often, we are hated just for being a Catholic Christian. It is so discouraging when this hate comes from the people that are the closest to us like family or friends.
Yet, Jesus himself warns us in the gospel today that we will be hated just for being his followers.
But, we cannot allow this hate to hold us back for being who we were meant to be – a people handpicked by Jesus through baptism to make His love known in the world by our love for one another.
I am asked often by people, “I’m so disappointed by my children. I brought them to be good Catholics and now none of them go to Church. What do I do?”
Or, “Father, I am so disturbed by the behavior of my co-workers. It is so un-Christian. What do I do?”
My advice is always the same. Never give up. Keep on living and practicing your faith. You don’t have to talk about your faith or Jesus all the time but simply live it and live it with joy! I guarantee you there will come a time when at least one of them will ask you, “Why are you so joyful?”
That will be your moment to tell them that you’re joyful because you’re in love with Jesus and it is your relationship with Jesus that feeds your life with Joy!
That is also the moment when you’re chosen your successor!
So, we pray for our bishops and their successors. And we also pray for ourselves. We pray that the Holy Spirit may guide and protect us as we assist our bishops in making the name of Jesus known especially in a world and culture that hates us. And we pray for our successors!