The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Homily: Feast of St. Matthias - May 14

Readings:  Acts 1:15-17, 20-26; Psalm 113; Jn 15:9-17

Today we honor St. Matthias, apostle and martyr. We don't really know too much about Matthias, other than what we just heard from the first chapter of Acts, Matthias' one and only appearance in Scripture.

We know he was one of the 70 disciples of Jesus, and had been with Him from His baptism by John all the way to the Ascension. And we know that Peter, in the days following the Ascension, proposed to the assembled brethren that they choose one of their number to replace Judas, the betrayer of Jesus. Two disciples, Joseph, called Barsabas, and Matthias were selected; lots were drawn; and Matthias joined the ranks of the Apostles. And that's about all we know for certain about Matthias.

Tradition has it that he preached the Gospel for 30 years in Judea, in Cappadocia in Asia Minor, then in Egypt and Ethiopia. Reportedly he was martyred in 80 A.D. by being stoned to death in Colchis, which is in modern-day Georgia on the Black Sea. It would seem Matthias got around. And I remember being shown his relics by one of the resident priests of the basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. They were reportedly brought to Rome by St. Helena back in the fourth century.

So, that's about it. With such a paucity of information one might think we have little to learn from St. Matthias. But that would be a mistake. His brief story really has a lot to teach us.

First of all we learn that, from the very beginning, Jesus' disciples considered the apostolic foundation of the Church to be essential. Jesus had chosen twelve, the number of the tribes of Israel; and if His Church, the New Israel, was to come from His disciples, a twelfth apostle was needed to succeed the unfaithful Judas.

The idea of apostolic succession, then, is introduced right from the start. Matthias is chosen and numbered among the apostles. They, in turn, hand on to him what they received directly from Jesus. This is a cause for rejoicing on our part, rejoicing that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church today is the same Church that Jesus established. Our Bishops are the successors of the apostles, and Church is still guided by apostolic leadership under the Holy Spirit.
Apostolic Succession
Someone else we encounter is Peter, the apostle singled out by Jesus to lead the brethren. Yes, we see Peter, in all humility, taking on this role of leadership. He calls on Scripture for support. He then clearly defines the qualifications of the one they must choose. And once two candidates have been proposed, he calls the community to prayer in the Holy Spirit. Peter's role as Vicar of Christ is, therefore, solidified. He's shown to be the foundational rock on which the Church will be built and will grow through the ages. And it's a role that becomes increasingly evident as Luke continues to relate the history of the early, Apostolic Church.

Of course this incident might lead us to ask: why Matthias and not the other? Why not Joseph, the one called Barsabas? We don't know...and neither did the assembled disciples. For instead of choosing between the two, they let the Holy Spirit decide, and cast lots.
The Holy Spirit Descends on the Church 
If might seem odd to us that they chose an apostle by a roll of the dice. And yet, there's a kind of purity in it...a purity of faith. They prayed to the Spirit and then in a remarkable act of faith, they let the Spirit make the decision.

I'm sure it was humbling for both Matthias and Joseph: for Matthias since he would constantly be reminded that he was not chosen to be an apostle because of any merit on his part; and for Joseph because he was in effect chosen to serve the Lord in some other capacity. And yet, I'm sure that Joseph, as a devoted disciple, went on to live the same faithful, committed life that had caused the other disciples to consider him. He might not have been chosen, but he was certainly choose-able. One thing Matthias, Joseph, and all the disciples knew: but for the grace of God, they would have remained terrible sinners.

And, brothers and sisters, the same is true of us. Through His love for us, and in his infinite mercy, God has called each of us to faith. Like the apostles, we must always be humble and grateful; for we can claim no good thing to our own credit.  All that we are and all that we have that is good comes from God.

Today let's take a lesson from the apostles and turn always to the Holy Spirit in prayer. Only then can we come to rely on Him to guide us each step of our journey. But how much do we really rely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us?

And let's not forget what Jesus calls us to do, what we must do if we are to be one of His disciples. Quite simply, He calls us to love others just as He has loved us. He calls us His friends; and true friends have love for each other, a love so great that they will give their lives for each other. Do we allow ourselves the time to grow in friendship with Jesus?

I hope so, brothers and sisters, for we too have been chosen - just like Matthias and just like Joseph -- to fulfill God's commandment so that love of God will endure in our world.

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