Yesterday was the feast day of Sts. Simon and Jude, Apostles. It’s nice to see the priest in red vestments, and to say the Gloria at daily Mass. But what difference should it make to us in this day and age?
The Gospel of the feast day (Lk 6:12-16) is very important for us, and we need to listen carefully to what it says. Jesus called his disciples together, and then selected from their midst twelve apostles. These apostles were chosen not for their academic qualifications, their personal charisma, or their influence with the powerful of this world.
They were selected by Our Lord to be the core group of his Church, the men who would be principally responsible for leading the other disciples and for carrying on Jesus’ mission to save the world.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it is very common for people in our age to speak of our bishops as if their opinion or position is just one other factor that they may consider — and usually reject — in forming their conscience. They speak of the bishops as if they’re on the same level as some talking head on television, some political pundit they read in the paper, or some voice calling into a late-night radio show. Just listen to some of the Catholic “intellectuals” or politicians who are trying to explain how one can vote for an ardently “pro-choice” candidate with a clear conscience and still be “pro-life”, if you want examples of this way of thinking.
For a reality check, listen instead to what the Second Vatican Council said about the bishops:
“… the Sacred Council teaches that bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ” (20)
“In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent.” (25)
“The laity should, as all Christians, promptly accept in Christian obedience decisions of their spiritual shepherds, since they are representatives of Christ as well as teachers and rulers in the Church. Let them follow the example of Christ, who by His obedience even unto death, opened to all men the blessed way of the liberty of the children of God.” (37)
Please take note — that’s the actual Second Vatican Council speaking, not the amorphous “spirit of Vatican II” that some people like to talk about.
It really can’t be clearer. We’re Catholics. We’re trying to be disciples of Jesus. We need to listen to our Church — the Church Jesus Himself founded, and left for us as the means of salvation. The only way to do that is to listen to the men He sent to us — the successors of the Apostles, our bishops — and to accept their teachings as we form our consciences. Not to tie ourselves in knots trying to reason out ways that the teachings of our Church and our bishops somehow don’t apply to us, or don’t mean what they clearly state. That’s not “religious assent”, and it’s not discipleship.
We need to take Jesus at His word, when he spoke to his Apostles: “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16).
Here’s the bottom line as we try to be disciples of Christ. It’s better to listen to Jesus and His Father than to reject them. We can start by listening to our bishops and accepting their teaching.