Friday May 14, 2004 Feast of Saint Matthias
Reading (Acts 1:15-17, 20-26) Gospel (St. John 15:9-17)
Today, as we celebrate the Feast of Saint Matthias, we hear in the first reading about his election to the apostolic college. Yet, at the same time, it is important to see right from the very beginning what Scripture says regarding this position. Speaking of Judas and his betrayal of the Lord, and therefore the vacancy he left among the apostles, Peter says, “Let another take his office.” In Greek, the word for “office” is episcopate. So he says, “Let another take his episcopate,” which means that right from the very beginning they recognized these were bishops. That is the word for bishop; in Greek, it is “episcopas”. If one is an episcopas, the office he has is an episcopate. So right from the very beginning, they were recognized as bishops in the Church. And another is supposed to take his place.
Now the question is, of course, what is that supposed to look like? What is the person who is in that position supposed to do? Our Lord lays it out very clearly for us, and the Church places before us this reading from Saint John’s Gospel. He tells us first and foremost that he is to love, and the way that love is going to be demonstrated is to lay down one’s life. And so the love has to be first and foremost for Our Lord because He says that He calls us no longer slaves but friends because He has made known to us everything He is about. And because we are to know what He is about, He places us on something of an equal term with Him. We have to recognize in our own humility that we do not deserve such a thing, to be called a friend of the Lord, to be elevated to that level. That is something only Our Lord Himself can do. It is not anything we can do; it is not anything we deserve; and it is certainly not anything we have earned. I think a few trips to the confessional is all one needs to know to be able to recognize that it is not something either earned or deserved. It is purely a gift from the Lord.
In our humility, we have to be able to recognize that we have violated that relationship with Him, that we do not even deserve to be called His slaves. Yet, in His mercy, He has made us His friends. He has in fact made us members of His Mystical Body so that we share His very life and we share in His very Person. As Saint Paul says, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” By ourselves, we are nothing; by ourselves, we are less than a slave to Our Lord. But, by His mercy, by His grace, we have been elevated to this position, and in that position He tells us what is going to be required. It is to love as we have been loved. To love as we have been loved is to lay down our life for our friends. He is the one first and foremost who is considered the friend, and then of course those who would be close to us, family and the like. We are to place ourselves at the service of others. We are to lay down our lives for others.
That is, first and foremost, the job of the bishop: to be able to be a good shepherd, to be an example to the flock of laying down his life for the sake of the people entrusted to his care. And then based on the example that the bishop would give, of course, all the priests and deacons are to do the same and the religious who have consecrated themselves to the Lord, and then all of those entrusted to their care: for those who are married, to lay down their lives for one another; for those who are single, to be able to look at the Lord and lay down their life for Him. It does not matter what the vocation is – the call is the same – it is simply going to be exercised in a slightly different manner. But first and foremost that is the task of the bishop, to be willing to love Jesus so much that he would rather die than to violate the Lord, that he would rather die than to see his sheep snatched up by the wolf, that he would rather put his life on the line for the sake of his people than ever to put his people on the line for his own sake. That goes contrary to our human nature, which wants us to be puffed up with pride and wants us to be selfish.
The Lord’s call is to be selfless. His call is to love, and that is what each of us is to do, to place ourselves at the service of others, to be willing to die to self so that others will have life, true and full life in Christ, and to recognize that it is only in doing that – by loving – that we are going to have that true and full life. When we are willing to do that, to serve as He served, to give and to die as He was willing to do, then His joy will be in us and our joy will be complete.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.