John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God." The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi..., where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come, and you will see" (John 1:35-37).
This week's Gospel is from St. John 1:35-42 and gives an account of the vocation of the first four Apostles who followed Jesus. It was a momentous event in the history of salvation. It was the beginning of a stream of vocations that would grow and spread down through the ages until the end of the world. It was momentous, firstly, in that Christ, who had come to open heaven for all men and who could find means of bringing them all to that eternal home without help from any man, decided instead to let men co-operate with him in this divine task. He decreed to set up a kingdom in this world—his Church—which would be run by mere mortals for their fellow-mortals, but which would be under his protection and assisted by his divine aid until the end of time. Christ chose this very human way, in order to make his Church more acceptable to our limited, human understanding and more approachable for sinful, human nature.
Christ, as God, could deal directly with every human being on earth. He could teach the infallible truth; he could pardon sins; he could give all the graces needed to travel successfully to heaven. There would then be no need for a Church with its teaching magisterium, no need for the sacrament of Baptism, or of Penance, nor of the Holy Eucharist itself or of any other such aids. Christ could do all that his Church does for the salvation of mankind, and more successfully, of course, but yet he chose the way which divine wisdom saw was best.
We mortals know that God can speak directly to our hearts, and actually has done so to many men in the past. We know that he can do directly all that is done by his Church, to whom he gave the power, with its teaching magisterium and sacraments. If he were to act in this way we should be open to continuous doubts about the source of our inspirations and the objectivity of the graces we thought we were receiving. It was to remove such doubts, and the possibility of self-deception that Christ left to us the external visible kingdom to which he gave all the powers necessary for men's salvation. It was for the security and peace of men's consciences that he set up a visible Church founded on the Apostles, men like ourselves, but transformed by his assisting grace.
Another momentous fact in Christ's choice of the Apostles on whom he was to build his Church, is that he "chose the lowly and the humble to confound the wise." The first four Apostles, as well as the other eight, were simple, lowly fishermen from Galilee. They may possibly have been able to read and write a little, but they were certainly not men of education or any social standing in their communities. He could have converted and chosen some of the more highly educated scribes of Jerusalem, or some of the Roman centurions then in Palestine, or some of the many philosophers in Greece, or even Roman senators whose influence as Christian teachers would carry such weight with the educated elite of the empire. But he did not. The instrument he chose to carry his message to all men was not dependent on human ingenuity or on the educational or social standing of his witnesses. Rather it was to stand on the power of God, of which it was the expression and proof.
We can see clearly the divine wisdom governing Christ's choice of Apostles! Had his message of salvation been spread and promulgated by men of learning and social standing, the cry would soon go up on all sides: "This religion is the invention of philosophers; it is a clever plan of the upper classes to keep the poor and humble workers in subjection." But it was the poor and working classes who spread Christ's message, and who suffered imprisonment and death itself at the hands of the educated and upper classes for so doing.
Today, let us thank our blessed Lord who provided so humanly—and yet so divinely for our eternal welfare. In the Church, which he founded on the lowly but solid foundation of simple fishermen of Galilee, he erected an institution against which the gates of hell, the power of all the enemies of our salvation, cannot prevail, for his divine guidance and help will be with it forever. It has had enemies and opposition from the beginning; they may be more numerous and more destructive than ever today. But the promise of Christ still holds good, his word cannot fail. Therefore, neither the opposition of materialistic enemies from without, nor the even more insidious attacks from faint-hearted and worldly-minded members from within, can affect the safety and permanence of the building which Christ built on the Rock. "If God is with us," it matters not "who is against us."
Almighty ever-living God, who govern all things, both in heaven and on earth, mercifully hear the pleading of your people and bestow your peace on our times.