Summary: Thanks to the Church's magisterium, we know what Jesus taught, and we can rejoice, even amid persecution.
Thursday of the 6th Week of Easter
EF: Ascension Day; OF: Easter Weekday
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives us one of those rare and precious bits of information that helps us to date the journeys of Paul and his letters. And it does so in one of the most important of his churches–Corinth. Please remember that Corinth was in its day a kind of mixture of today’s Las Vegas, San Francisco and Bangkok. Certainly it was the worst kind of “sin city,” yet it had a synagogue and many Jews, some of whom were open to belief in Jesus as Messiah. In Corinth, Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, Jews who apparently became Christians at Paul’s urging. The note that they had left Rome because of the Emperor Claudius helps us in two ways: first, it squares with the commentary of Suetonius, a pagan writer, and helps prove the historical accuracy of Acts. Second, it gives us a date for Paul being in Corinth–sometime around the year 51 or 52. That is important because he wrote some of his early epistles there.
Our Gospel today is fitting, because it speaks of Jesus’s going away to the Father, for today is the traditional celebration of the Ascension, and it also speaks of His return at the end of time. The apostles were the first bishops, and we enjoy the labors of their successors very much this week at St. Pius. Sunday, fifty-three candidates received the sacrament of confirmation in the traditional form from Bp. Yanta, and this coming Saturday, the eve of the second Ascension celebration, even more will be confirmed by Abp. Gustavo. The Holy Spirit acts in us to share the gifts of God with the Church and with the world. An important gift is the bishop, the leader of each diocese. We have seen what happens in the Protestant world with no unity of structure and doctrine–over 40,000 cults, sects and denominations, some of them no longer Christian.
The popes, in their encyclical, help us to understand the gift of the episcopacy, and the apostolic succession, which is a kind of episcopal pedigree: “As a service to the unity of faith and its integral transmission, the Lord gave his Church the gift of apostolic succession. Through this means, the continuity of the Church’s memory is ensured and certain access can be had to the wellspring from which faith flows. The assurance of continuity with the origins is thus given by living persons, in a way consonant with the living faith which the Church is called to transmit. She depends on the fidelity of witnesses chosen by the Lord for this task. For this reason, the magisterium always speaks in obedience to the prior word on which faith is based; it is reliable because of its trust in the word which it hears, preserves and expounds.45 In Saint Paul’s farewell discourse to the elders of Ephesus at Miletus, which Saint Luke recounts for us in the Acts of the Apostles [just two chapters after the passage we read today], [Paul] testifies that he had carried out the task which the Lord had entrusted to him of “declaring the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Thanks to the Church’s magisterium, this counsel can come to us in its integrity, and with it the joy of being able to follow it fully.”
Joy. The episcopacy teaches us what Jesus taught, doctrines ages old but never outdated, that help us to know the way of Jesus and to follow them. This discipleship ends with joy. This discipleship issues in praise, even though it comes after weeping and lamentation.
Jesus is our model here, and Paul, and our bishops more recently. Remember the psalm Jesus prayed in the end, “My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me?” It is truly one of the most down-in-the-hole prayers of the Scriptures. But it ends with a psalm of joy and praise. Let’s get real: the Church has in every age preached the truth and been hated for it. Why? Because the truth about how to live, how to treat others, gets in the way of people’s perceived self-interest. We tell the moneylenders not to charge excessive interest. We tell the unmarried to be continent, and everyone to be chaste. We tell children to respect their parents, and everyone to moderate their excessive passions like anger, lust, greed. So we get lectured by politicians about the separation of church and state, by the LGBT crowd about sexual morality, and by the investment gurus about economics. Jesus rejoiced when the in crowd hated Him. We must also rejoice when we are pilloried without cause, because we are in the company of prophets and saints. Remember–every psalm, even the lamentations, ends with this prayer, “Glory be to the Father.. .”