April 22, 2012

EASTER III (B)

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. – Luke 24: 45

   Obviously, the same scriptures are there for everyone to read, yet it is painfully clear that different people see different things in what they read. Even at this late stage, Jesus found it necessary to give the disciples a Bible lesson. After all they had seen & experienced, they still didn’t get it. How like them we are!

   I suspect expectations have a lot to do with it. We all have certain expectations of people, of life, so that it can be said that our expectations in a real sense define who & what we are as human beings. When events do not fulfill our expectations we experience either disillusionment & disappointment or we are forced to adjust our expectations, which can be difficult to say the least. What happens when our expectations are exceeded? When we get more than we bargained for? That can mean what we call a “mind-blowing” experience.

   This is what the disciples were undergoing in today’s Gospel. It’s hardly surprising that they were having a difficult time getting their minds wrapped around the reality they were being confronted with. Jesus had to “spoon feed” them, as it were, with Scripture passages to help them along. This is an important moment in the Church’s development. It means that the risen Christ Himself was showing them how to read scripture. He was providing them with a criterion for the interpretation of scripture.

   This is why even the earliest leaders in the fledgling Christian movement insisted on the idea that truth was intimately connected with a faith “handed down from the apostles.” Apostolic succession was not about some chain of grace transmitted by the laying on of hands, but a criterion for rightly appreciating who & what Christ was & is.

   Those first apostles had gotten it directly from the horse’s mouth, as it were. Only what was compatible with their teaching could be considered authentic & capable of salvation. It has been the task of the magisterium from the beginning to protect this “deposit of faith” from being diluted, subtracted from, or added to so that it was rendered worthless. A distorted version of the Gospel message is worse than nothing because it leads people to think they know something when they really do not.

   It’s important to understand here that by “magisterium” we are not talking about some elite committee of theologians, but the successors of the apostles we call bishops. Certainly there have been individual bishops over the centuries who have been in error, but we know that they were because the vast majority of bishops over time have made it clear that they were mistaken. It is a part of our faith that Jesus keeps His promises, & one of those promises was that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into Truth.

   The notion of papal infallibility is not about protecting any individual pope from error, but about the Church as a whole. When speaking on matters of faith & morals, the Pope can never speak for himself alone, but for the Church as a whole, & there are some important restrictions on what he can say. This makes it a far more modest idea that the notion of the infallibility of every individual believer so prominent in Protestant circles. The latter notion can & does lead only to chaos & anarchy in church circles.

   These reflections have brought us a long way from that upper room where the risen Christ made His appearance to the first disciples, but it gives us some perspective on the many controversies that beset us today. It’s important to remember that when the bishops speak out on matters of faith & morals, they are not just voicing their own opinions. By the grace of God, they are speaking for Christ Himself.  AMEN!