We are blessed to welcome Bishop Salvatore Matano to Holy Trinity Church this weekend. We’ve been trying for some months to arrange a time for Bishop Matano to join us for mass and fellowship. The bishop, as you can imagine, keeps a busy schedule of parish visitations, and just now has freed his schedule to be with us.
I thought it might be helpful to talk a bit about the role of “bishop” and how critical his office and ministry is to the People of God.
What is a bishop? There are many ways to begin describing this essential aspect of Catholic Faith. We ought, of course, begin with the Lord Jesus who called twelve men (apostles) to a special relationship with him as assisting in the proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
“The Twelve”, as they are sometimes referred to, have their prefigurement in the Twelves Tribes of Israel which made up God’s Covenanted People, the Jews.
Jesus came to institute a New Covenant (Promise) from God. The new covenant, of course, is the very Body of Christ, “Given up for you.” Lk. 22:19. And, in the unbloody sacrifice of the Eucharist, the apostles were told to “do this in memory of me.”
From the beginning the apostles were to “teach”, “govern”, and “sanctify” the People of God. Over time, they came to be recognized as having a special gift of the Holy Spirit to provide the inerrant and authoritative teaching of Christ. (This teaching authority is institutionalized in the Catholic Church in what is called the Hierarchy. . . Originally, the apostles in union with Christ . . . now in history, the bishops in union with the Vicar of Christ, the pope.)
They were to govern the church, not as “bosses” or CEO’s, but like Christ the Good Shepherd, leading them in our common pilgrimage to the Kingdom, and laying down his life for them through selfless service.
Lastly, the apostles were given the “Keys of the Kingdom” Mt. 16:19. That means they are charged by Christ to open the treasury of grace that flows from the sacraments for the sanctification of God’s People. They have, as part of their solemn office, the responsibility to insure the proper celebration of the Sacred Mysteries.
So much for the twelve apostles! What about the bishop? Well . . . the apostles all died, and Christ still had not returned as he said he would. What was the church to do? Thanks to the Holy Spirit, it became clear that the promises of Christ were for ALL times and ages. So, the church, trusting in the Holy Spirit, laid hands on worthy successors to the apostles. (See Acts 1:26 for the humorous way this worked for Matthias, successor to Judas. After praying to the Holy Spirit, they drew straws!)
This laying on of hands has been going on for over 2000 years in an unbroken chain from the commissioning by Christ himself to the laying on of hands that Salvatore Matano received on April 19, 2005. This unbroken lineage is called Apostolic Succession and is one of the “Marks” of the Catholic Church. Bishop Matano is a successor of the apostles and has the same gifts of the Spirit as was given to Peter, James and John, to teach, sanctify and govern.
So, what’s the big deal? Well, it is a big deal . . . in this sense. Christ’s Church will exist until the end of time (Mt. 28:20). How long will that be? Who knows? How can we be sure that 5,000 years from now some foreign or mistaken teaching tries to pass itself off as the “teaching of Christ”? Knowing human nature and our ability to get things confused and watered down, what’s to insure that the fullness of Christ is preached and celebrated in the sacraments? The answer lies, in part, through the apostolic succession of the church, i.e. the pope in union with the bishops.
All this describes our need for the bishop. But, he needs us too! The bishop needs the People of God to live “lives of faith, hope, and charity…according to the Holy Spirit.” Catechism #1547.
Thank you Bishop Matano for being our apostle and shepherd! Please know we want to walk with you on this pilgrimage and share with you the gifts Christ has given to us for the building up of the Kingdom.
Blessings to all.