Uncle Eddy's E-mails -- January 26
Saint Timothy and Saint Titus, Bishops (entered heaven at the end of the first century)
If I remember correctly (which is a big “if”), today marks the third anniversary of your coming home to the Catholic faith. Since then you have verified the old dictum that converts make the best Catholics. It’s only a dictum, though, not a universal principle – keep that in mind lest you get uppity. Right about now the devil is marshalling forces for a further attack. By this time, you have had a chance to see the human side of the Church, the side that was less obvious during the heady days immediately preceding and succeeding your Confirmation. I would venture to say that this human side has not always been edifying, and that in some aspects it has been positively scandalous: all priests are not so dedicated or faithful as they ought to be; some bishops have stepped out of communion with the Vicar of Christ; some religious live worldly lives; plenty of rank and file Catholics are as hypocritical as the most pharisaical of Pharisees… Yes, Mother Church is “holy” insofar as her Founder is holy and she offers the complete means to holiness, but many of her children are decidedly NOT holy.
Lest this compel you to abandon the post you have taken up (I have know zealous and good-hearted converts who got fed up with the human side of things and went overboard, joining small coteries of self-proclaimed “true” Catholics who spend their time and energy criticizing all the Church’s flaws, and even inventing some in order to have more to criticize), I recommend that you take some time today to read those wonderful (and brief) New Testament epistles from St Paul to his disciples Timothy and Titus.
Timothy and Titus were both bishops of Christian communities in the time of the Apostles. Careful study of those letters and the career of St Paul (the Apostle to the Gentiles, as you will remember) show clearly that Christ has always wanted his Church to be a human institution, as well as a divine one. God could have decided to govern the Church directly, but he didn’t. He sent the Apostles to go around and preach the gospel. Through their words and deeds, God would move the hearts of their hearers to faith, and they would baptize and confirm new believers. So that they themselves could continue carrying the message abroad, they would train and ordain ministers to take care of these new Christian communities, passing on through the laying on of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit the authority they themselves had received directly from Christ. These became the first bishops (successors to the Apostles), who in turn would ordain helpers (presbyters – equivalent to today’s priests) and other bishops, as the Church continued to expand.
St Paul alludes to this in his letters to Timothy and Titus. (“For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.” [2 Timothy 1:6] “Do not lay hands too readily on anyone, and do not share in another's sins. Keep yourself pure.” [1 Timothy 5:22] “For this reason I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you.” [Titus 1:5]) Of course, there was no Christian Bible at this time (they were still writing it!), so this was the only way to pass on Christ’s message. Christ appointed the Twelve, under the leadership of Peter; they appointed successors, under the leadership of Peter’s successor (the Pope), and that’s they way it has gone on until this very day.
So you see, in a mysterious way, the Church is both human (that’s our part) and divine (that’s God’s part). Consequently, it will always have its scandalous aspects, but it will also always have its saints, just as Jesus assured us in his parable about the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30). If you make the habit of frequent confession (I suggest every two weeks – it’s a tough world out there), you will be certain to keep this in mind, and you will also be certain to become one of the saints, not one of the scandals.
Your loving uncle, Eddy
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