Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
It was time to choose a replacement for the traitor-apostle, Judas the Iscariot. Two candidates were put forward; the Holy Spirit invoked; and Matthias was chosen. Our psalm refrain this evening predicted events nicely, “The Lord will give him a seat with the leaders of his people.” Of course, had Joseph Barsabbas been chosen, we could say the same thing. But that's not the point. The point is: Matthais was chosen to serve among the Eleven, now Twelve, as one sent out to spread the Good News. Since none of the original Twelve are still among us, yet we still have their apostolic ministry in the Church, we can safely assume that all Twelve were replaced over time and their replacements were replaced and so on. The methods used to replace these apostolic replacements (and so on. . .) have varied widely through the centuries. Matthias was chosen by lots. Some were chosen as successors by their predecessors; some elected by apostolic colleagues, others by a popular vote of the local church; there were appointments, inheritances, purchases, and even a few assassinations. While the methods of ascension to the apostolic college differed over time, one element has always remained the same: the invocation of the Lord's presence through His Holy Spirit. Keep his commandments and ask for what is needed.
In his final farewell to the disciples, Jesus reveals to his friends three truths, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.” First, the disciples didn't choose to be disciples; the Lord chose them for discipleship. Second, once chosen as disciples, they were appointed apostles to go out and bear enduring fruit. And third, how would the apostolic fruit endure? Ask for what you need in my name and it will be given. Since Judas was replaced by Matthias, the Church has had a constant need for sound apostolic leadership. Not charismatic or pragmatic or popular leadership but apostolic leadership; that is, men to lead the Church who embody Christ's final command to the Eleven: “. . .love one another.” Apostolic leaders teach the faith once for all handed down to the saints; they sanctify the Church by exercising the fullness of Christ's priesthood in the sacraments; and they govern the Church so that the gifts bestowed on all of God's people might be used to spread the Good News of the Father's mercy. These three ministries of our bishops—teaching, sanctifying, and governing—can only be done well with the help of the whole Church and the life-giving power of the Lord's Holy Spirit.
Let's do another bit of creative editing to get at a vital truth in Jesus' final farewell. Let's rewrite one sentence: “So that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you, I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” The vital phrase “so that” gets a little lost in the original. The edited version makes it much clearer that Jesus chose, appointed, and sent out the Twelve so that they can call upon the Father's name and receive all that they need. In other words, the Twelve's commission from Christ to go out and bear fruit is empowered by a divine promise and sustained in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, guaranteeing that they and their successors will never lack for what they need. And since the Church is founded in the apostolic faith, a faith taught, blessed, and governed by the successors of the apostles, that same promise, those same gifts come down to us. Keep his commandants, ask for what you need. And above all: Love one another.
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