This Tuesday our diocese will celebrate the consecration of our new Auxiliary Bishop, Daniel Miehm. This year we continue to celebrate the Second Vatican Council. One of the themes of the second Vatican council was the role of bishops in the Church.
The council taught that Jesus chose to found his Church with a hierarchy – he choose St. Peter and the 11 apostles as the first leaders of the Church. They had the role of leading the Church, and ensuring that the authentic teaching of Jesus is passed on. The apostles in turn appointed other men to continue this task – these men were the first bishops of the Catholic Church. It is our faith that the Bishops, together with the Pope and acting in union with him are guided by the Holy Spirit when they teach matters of faith and morals. As Catholics we are bound to obey the teaching of the Bishops together with the Pope since they were given this task by Our Lord and their teaching is guided by the Holy Spirit.
Some will argue that the early Church was not organized in this way – but in our first reading today we see the Apostles functioning in their role as leaders and teachers:
A questions arises in the early Church over a matter of faith “Is circumcision necessary to be saved? Must one be a Jew first before becoming a Christian?” Paul and Barnabas go to speak the question with the apostles and the Elders. Their answer is considered definitive. And in giving their answer, they invoke the Holy Spirit as the authority behind their answer: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” Obedience to the Apostles is obedience to the Holy Spirit.
The apostles do not merely speak about matters of faith, but also of morals – while Christians no longer need to be circumcised, they do need to obey the moral law – they must abstain from fornication. Generally speak eing when people object to the teaching of the Church, it is not in matters of faith – is Jesus truly God? – but in matters of morality and specifically sexual morality – homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, contraception. Some will say that the early church didn’t worry about these things. But of only three matters the apostles address, one is about fornication. Here the apostles speak and also the Holy Spirit speaks.
When we say that the apostles were the first bishops, we do not mean that they wore a fancy and carried a golden staff. But we do mean that the Apostles did the work of a bishop – or more properly the bishops continue the work of the apostles – to teach faith and morals guided by the Holy Spirit, to govern the Church. No doubt the role of the bishop has developed over time. However from the very beginning the Church had a structure, a hierarchy.
This week is Catholic education week. The faith is transmitted to us by many people – our parents, our teachers, our clergy – but those whom Jesus left in charge of ensuring the faith is passed on without corruption are the bishops of the Church in union with the Pope. Every Catholic, and especially a Catholic educator must have a great respect and love for the Bishops and the Pope. They should be familiar with the teachings of the Magisterium and be careful to let it guide their work.
“It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden….” The Magisterium is not a burden making our pilgrimage to heaven more difficult – it is a guide making our journey more direct and less encumbered. Let us run quickly towards the goal the Lord has given us.