Father Cantalamessa on Choosing the Twelve Apostles

Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Gospel

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ROME, JUNE 10, 2005 (Zenit.org).- In his commentary on this Sunday’s readings, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, discusses how Christ choose his apostles and founded the Church on the principle of service, not power.

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Matthew 9:36-10:8
He Chose the 12 and Sent Them

In this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus «calls» to himself the Twelve and makes them «Apostles.» Therefore he «sends» them to do what he did: to preach the kingdom, to take care of the sick, to free people from fear and demonic powers. He tells them: «Freely you received. Give freely.»

That day Jesus decided to inaugurate the future structure of his Church. She would have a hierarchy, a government, namely, the men «called» by him and «sent» to continue his work. It is because of this that the Church is defined as «one, holy, catholic and apostolic,» because it is founded on the Apostles.

But all these notions of harvest and laborers, flock and shepherds, governors and governed do not enjoy a good press today. We live in an atmosphere of democracy and equality among men. If someone must exercise authority he must do so, we think, in our name, in as much as we ourselves, with elections, confer the mandate on him. Hence the
widespread rejection or disparagement of the hierarchy of the Church: Pope, bishops, priests.

One constantly runs into people, especially college and university students, who have invented their own Christianity. They have, at times, a notable religious sense, beautiful sentiments. They say that, if they wish to, they address God directly; however, they do not want to hear talk of the Church, of priests, of going to Mass and other such things. Their motto: «Christ yes, the Church no.»

Undoubtedly the Church can and must be more democratic, that is, the laity should have a greater voice in the election of pastors and the way they exercise their function. But the Church cannot be reduced altogether to a democratically governed society, with decisions made from below. She is not something that men establish on their own initiative, for their good. If the Church was only this, there would no longer be any need for her; the state or a philanthropic society would suffice!

The Church is Christ’s institution. Her authority does not come from the consensus of men; it is a gift from above. Because of this, even in the most democratic form we might desire for the Church, she will always be about authority and apostolic service. This is not, or should never be, about superiority and power, but about «free» service, the giving of one’s life for the flock, as Jesus said when speaking of the good shepherd.

What keeps some people alienated from the institutional Church are, in the majority of cases, the defects, inconsistencies and errors of the leaders: inquisitions, prosecutions, incorrect use of power and money, scandals. All these things are, sadly, true, though often exaggerated and regarded outside any historical context. We priests are the first ones to be conscious of our misery and inconsistency, and to suffer because of it.

The Church’s ministers are «chosen among men» and are subject to the temptations and weaknesses of all men. Jesus did not intend to found a society of the perfect. The Son of God — said Scottish writer Bruce Marshall — came into this world and, as the good carpenter he became in Joseph’s school, gathered the most twisted and knotty boards he found and built a boat with them — the Church — which, despite everything, has withstood the sea for 2,000 years!

Priests «clothed in weakness» have an advantage: They are more prepared to be compassionate of others, to not be surprised by any sin or misery, to be, in a word, merciful, which is perhaps a priest’s most beautiful quality. Perhaps, too, precisely because of this, Jesus placed Simon Peter, who denied him three times, at the head of the apostles: he had to learn to forgive «seventy times seven.»

[Italian original published in Famiglia Cristiana; translation by ZENIT]

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