Conversations with Bertha: Apostolic Succession

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“Conversations with Bertha” is a new feature that will appear from time to time in Archbishop’s Pettipas’ letters. These tales are of a purely Catechetical nature, and any resemblance between Bertha and any person known to the reader is purely coincidental.

Conversations with Bertha – 1
by Archbishop Gerard Pettipas

Let me tell you a little bit about Bertha.

Bertha is a convert to the Catholic Church.  She was raised in a Protestant Church of some sort – one of the many small evangelical churches that these days dot any city or small town.  One of her best childhood friends was a Catholic, and Bertha admired lots of what she heard about the Catholic Church, and especially the Sacraments.  She loved joining her friend for Mass.  It didn’t all make sense to her, but she liked it.  She became a Catholic when she married her husband, who was a Catholic but a reluctant one at times.  Bertha felt it was important for her small family to pray in the same church.

This story begins with a swimming trip to Eastlink Centre in Grande Praire.

She still had lots of questions about the Catholic Church, though, and she was not shy to ask me these, even if she sensed her question might force me into a corner.  Some Catholics would be shy to ask such things, even of a priest, let alone a bishop.  I think there’s still a Protestant streak in Bertha.

I like to go swimming at the Eastlink Centre.  Not often, but every so often I’ll run into parishioners there.  The other evening, as I came out of the men’s changeroom, I bumped into Bertha as she exited the women’s change room.  “Good evening, Bertha”, I greeted her.  “Oh, Your Grace.  So nice to see you.  Are you off somewhere right now?  Or could I treat you to an ice cream at this fancy parlour nearby?”  “That’d be nice, thank you”, I replied.  We got in our respective vehicles and met up at Menchies.

As we each made our way into our custom-made cups of frozen yogurt, Bertha began.  “Your Grace, in RCIA they told us about the Catholic Church going back to Jesus’ twelve apostles.  The Church that I grew up with didn’t make those sorts of claims, in the sense of a line of succession like a family tree.  We took the Bible very seriously, and so I believed firmly that we go back to Jesus Christ Himself, and his teachings.  We would turn to the Bible when we wanted to know God’s Word about any teaching.  But the Catholic Church makes stronger claims than that.  Can you tell me more what that’s all about?”

“That’s a good question, Bertha.  And to answer it fully, our ice cream would be either devoured or long melted.  Let me try to put this as simply as possible.

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas celebrates the 2021 Chrism Mass with the priests of the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan.

“As Jesus came to earth to do the Father’s Will, that is to save us from eternal death and establish the Kingdom of God, he gathered twelve apostles from among his many followers, to be especially close to Him and leaders with him.  This corresponds to the twelve tribes of Israel, who were the “Kingdom of Israel”, grown out of the twelve sons of Jacob.  At the Pentecost event told by Luke early in the book of Acts, we see the Holy Spirit coming upon them, giving them the spiritual gifts that they needed to become confident and bold evangelizers, who would go forth from Jerusalem and bring Jesus’ message to the then-known world … which in those days was basically around the Mediterranean.  The twelve apostles had become 11, of course, with Judas Iscariot’s suicide, but the 11 corrected that by selecting Matthias as a replacement for Judas.  And you had St. Paul, after his conversion on the road to Damascus, also becoming what he called himself — an apostle.

“Many people who heard the apostles and others preach about Jesus came to believe and accept the Christian message, and ask to be baptized.  The Christian community spread very quickly during the first decades and centuries, even in the face of persecution by Roman emperors and other leaders who were suspicious of what they saw as a new movement or sect.  In each place, the apostle who founded a Church in that area might ‘lay hands on’ and thus ordain a successor to lead that community, while he himself went on to other cities and towns.  These leaders of Christian communities were called by the Greek word, episcopoi, which means ‘overseers’.  We translate that word into English as bishop.  So, each bishop in the Catholic Church at least is the leader of a local Church, or what we call a diocese.  His spiritual lineage, like a family tree, goes all the way back to the apostles.  This is what we mean when we say in the Creed at Mass every Sunday, ‘I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.’  It’s apostolic because it goes back to the apostles.”

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas offers a blessing to Father Feroz Fernandes.

Bertha looked down at her empty ice cream cup.  She looked over and saw that mine was empty as well.  “Thank you for this, Your Grace.  But what you just said about one, holy and catholic raises other questions for me.”  “Another time”, I said.  “I should get back home.  But thank you for the ice cream.  And for this conversation.”

As I was driving home, I had the thought that the RCIA should last a lifetime.  As this thought developed, I said to myself, “Of course.  It does.”

Stay tuned for future installments of “Conversations with Bertha”.