Sunday Sermon for May 17, 2015, the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B
Readings: Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26; 1Jn 4:11-16; Jn 17:11b-19
In the first reading today we hear about the election of St. Matthias into the company of the Twelve. However, when Peter speaks about the betrayal of Judas and the necessity of another taking his office, the word that is used in Greek is episcopate. In other words, it is the office of the Bishop. This election demonstrates that the episcopal office is one of succession, but it also shows that there was a very early understanding of the hierarchical structure in the Church.
This becomes a very important point for us to understand because today there are many people who like to grumble and complain about the Bishops. Over the centuries there have been many people who have left the Church in order to start their own version of a church.
There are a couple of things we need to recognize in this. First of all, it is the will of the Lord and the practice of the Church since its earliest days that there would be bishops. Secondly, when we read about the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord, there are some who are outstanding in their holiness and zeal, other are more ordinary and we hear very little about them. They went about their work quietly and they pleased God, but not much is known about them.
This remains the same today. There are some outstanding bishops, but most of them are good men who are more ordinary and go about their work quietly. Some people long for holy bishops; this is a good and proper desire. However, even the term given for the episcopal office if translated directly from Greek into Latin means “supervisor” or in English “overseer.” For that kind of office, holiness is not absolutely essential. This does not mean that it is optional for the individual in the office, but for the rest of us, it means that one does not have to be a Saint in order to be a bishop.
For all of us, whether bishops or anything else, there are a few things required of us as outlined in the readings today. In the Gospel reading Jesus twice says of His Apostles that they do not belong to this world. By extension, this must apply to the bishops in a particular way, but it must also be applied to each and every person who is baptized into Jesus Christ. So, we can each ask ourselves if we are worldly. Is the focus of our lives in this world or in the next? The Lord points out that the world hates His Apostles. Are you shunned by worldly people or do you they find in you are kindred spirit?
Our Lord next speaks about having them share His joy. Is this a characteristic that is typical of you? If not, it often points to the fact that our focus is in the wrong place. If we are too concerned about the things of this world or about seeking ease or pleasure, we will not be joyful. Only when our focus is spiritual will we have the joy of the Lord.
Jesus prays that His Apostles would be consecrated in truth. Since Jesus is the truth, our baptism has consecrated each of us in truth. However, in a relativistic society like ours, each of us has to ask if we have continued to live according to the fullness of truth or if we have compromised or watered down the truth. It is easy to do just so that we can fit in or so that things will be easier for us. To understand where we fit if we do these things, all we have to do is reread the above two paragraphs.
Of the greatest importance for anyone if the call to charity that St. John reiterates in the second reading. He goes so far as to say that if we love one another, God remains in us and His love is brought to perfection in us. St. Teresa of Avila makes the same point when she says that it is easy to say that we love God because there is really no way in that relationship of knowing just how much we love Him. The measure of our love for God, she says, is found in our love for neighbor. So, the only way the love of God will be brought to perfection in us is when we are bringing that love to everyone around us, including the bishops.
Notice that if we do this, everything else we have spoken about above falls perfectly into place. We have our focus on God, we will not be worldly, we will live the truth, we will be joyful. You do not have to be a bishop to do this; it is required of everyone.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.