At this time of the year when we commemorate and honor the Holy Apostles chosen by our Lord Jesus Christ to continue His ministry and establish His Church, it is important for us to reflect upon the Apostolic nature of the Church, and more specifically upon our Apostolic identity as Christians. We know and affirm that we belong to "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church," for the Apostles were sent by Christ to be His witnesses and gather communities of believers "in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Certainly we know that our relationship with the Apostles is rooted in the existence, perpetuation, and practices of the Church. However, we must also understand that this relationship includes our acceptance and continuation of their work, their message, their Apostolic identity.
This identity and its attribution to all people of faith is presented to us in Scripture by Christ himself. As our Lord was about to face His Passion, He withdrew to a quiet place to pray to the Father. As recorded in the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John, our Lord prayed fervently for His disciples and for all those who would believe in Him through their testimony. His prayer revealed His love for His followers and for us, those who would receive the Gospel through the witness of others. The Lord's prayer before His Passion also offers to us a beautiful exposition of what it means to be an Apostle.
First, Christ affirms the faithfulness of those given to Him to assist Him in His sacred ministry. He states, "They were yours, You gave them to me, and they have kept Your word" (John 17:6). While at times the Apostles did not understand the divine plan and will of God in accomplishing salvation, they remained faithful to the Lord, following Him during His earthly ministry, listening to His words, experiencing the power of God healing, forgiving, transforming, and saving. And yes, even though they scattered in fear at the time of Jesus' arrest and crucifixion, our Lord brought them together again, their faith was renewed and strengthened, and they remained committed to the work of His kingdom.
Second, Christ affirmed the Apostles' recognition of who He is. "They have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me" (17:8). Indeed, the Apostles had recognized who Christ was, as Master, Teacher, Messiah, Son of the Living God; and in doing so they had given up their occupations and possessions to follow Him. Through their abandonment of the things of the world and their willingness to serve God, Christ himself said, "I am glorified in them" (17:10).
Third, Christ prayed "that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves" (17:13). This was a joy that filled their hearts when the power of God was revealed through the ministry of Christ. It was a joy that was experienced as their souls were nourished and their minds opened by the wisdom of the Son of God. It was an enduring joy that was rooted deep within them at the sight of the Risen Lord, giving them the power and strength to face persecution and even death for the sake of the Gospel.
Fourth, in His prayer Christ asked the Father to "Sanctify them in Your truth" (17:17). After three years of service with Jesus, partaking of His teaching and counsel daily, the minds and hearts of the Apostles were filled with truth; and this truth transformed their lives, sanctifying them in the holiness of God. Being filled with the truth, they preached the truth, they offered a witness of the truth before governors and kings, they died for the truth, and the truth freed them from sin into eternal life and communion with God.
Finally, as Christ was sent into the world by the Father, so He too sent His Apostles into the world (17:18). They were given a divine commission, to go and preach the Gospel and baptize in all of the nations of the earth. Their authority rested in God alone, thus they were sent not only by the one who had accomplished our salvation, but who was the Creator of the Universe, and the one who would consummate time and history in His divine plan. They were sent with the power and presence of Christ to bring His message of grace to all people.
We deeply honor the Holy Apostles, especially on the occasion of their feast. However, we must honor them not only in words and hymns, but with our lives. As Christians we follow in a direct lineage of faith from these original disciples of Jesus Christ, and we have inherited an Apostolic identity by which we continue the work of our Lord and His Church. As the Apostles were faithful to Christ, we are called to be faithful to Him in all areas of our lives, submitting to His Lordship and holy will. Just as they recognized Him as Master, Teacher, and the Son of God, our lives should be a living testimony to the presence and person of Christ. As they received true and enduring joy through the ministry and words of Christ, so too are we offered this joy so that our hearts and minds may be strengthened in the faith and made whole. As they were sanctified by the truth, this same truth is available to each of us so that our lives may be made holy and our words and deeds may lead others to salvation. And as He sent His Apostles into the world to be witnesses of the faith, so too are we sent by Him to offer the Gospel to all people, in our neighborhoods, cities, nations, and to the ends of the earth.
This is our Apostolic identity. Our association with the Holy Apostles is not merely one of words, but it is an identity that embodies all that we are called by Christ to be in this world and in the kingdom to come. Let us strive to emulate the Holy Apostles so that Christ may be glorified in us through our life and our witness.
Archbishop of America