Recently, our bishop died (Bishop Joseph Cistone). May God rest his soul. While the Vatican is working to appoint a new bishop, it is important to recall that this isn’t the same as any mere restaffing of a company’s open position.
Continuity in the Early Church
We saw in the early Church how the first bishops (the apostles) saw that their positions of leadership would need to be continued after their own deaths in order to lead the Church throughout time. After the loss of Judas, they knew someone had to take his place:
For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘His office let another take.’ So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”Acts 1:20-22
The apostles recognized themselves as stewards of the authority and power given to them by Jesus. Only they had this authority and power from Jesus to lead the fledgling Church. Only they had been set up by Jesus to be “overseers” (Greek: “episkopos”; English: “bishop”), but they need to hand this position on to future generations.
Later, St. Paul recognized the need to pass on the leadership:
…and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.2 Timothy 2:2
Eventually, the Apostles spread out and each took charge over a particular area (today called a “diocese”). As the Church spread to new areas, new dioceses were created, so new men were appointed as bishops.
In order to continue the Church throughout time, the Apostles/bishops (as in the above quote) appointed others to take the place of their deceased members. We call this “Apostolic Succession.” The Apostles’ power and authority (from Jesus) was handed down throughout successive generations within the one Church to certain men in order that they might preserve His teachings and help lead His Church to deeper holiness. Each of these bishops was called to be the spiritual leader of his respective diocese.
Some men tried to fake their way into these positions in order to gain power and influence. When there was a dispute, the question would come: “Who ordained you?”
To prove that a man was a true bishop, he would have to show how he was ordained by someone who was ordained by someone (…) who was ordained by Jesus.
Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [their first] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men—a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registersTertullian Demurrer Against the Heretics, 32 [200 AD]
Today, Apostolic Succession is present among the Catholic and Orthodox bishops throughout the world. They have the authority from Jesus, through the Apostles to sanctify, teach, and govern their respective dioceses. All the more, then, should they be holy men who do not scandalize the faithful, but rather lead them on in fidelity to Jesus’ teachings.
Eventually, Rome will appoint a successor to Bishop Cistone who will take the helm for the Diocese of Saginaw, MI. More than a mere CEO, that man will be ordained with the same power and authority that Jesus gave to the Apostles to help lead souls to Heaven.
Lord, please bless the Diocese of Saginaw with a holy bishop. Let him be a man after Your own heart who will be our spiritual father. Give him great courage and wisdom to lead all of us closer to You.