Today’s Gospel reading comes from the Farewell Discourse of St. John’s Gospel. Jesus says many important things in John chapters 13-17. Toward the end of the passage today, after He washes the disciples’ feet, He says “whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” In this context, the verb ‘receive’ means to actively lay hold of, emphasizing the volition and assertiveness of the one taking hold. There is of course an excellent connection to our faith. Through God’s grace, we do not respond with apathy or indifference when we realize we are the Prodigal Son, that God is calling us out of the pig pen. We get up and go.
The Catholic faith is not one of passive receptivity. It is an active, living faith. It is a faith that works through love. The Holy Spirit calls us, and we respond in penance and charity. We walk daily in humility before the Lord. We serve others as He exemplifies in the washing of the disciples' feet.
The Son tells us that whoever receives Him receives the Father, who sent the Son. The Son tells us also that whoever receives those whom the Son will send also receives the Father. To be an Apostle means to be sent. It follows that whoever receives the Apostles receives the Son, and therefore receives the Father. We actively lay hold of the Father and the Son, in the sense of our strong ‘yes’ - through word and deed - to be participants in the Heavenly Kingdom. But this only comes about because we receive the teaching of the Apostles. Should we think the teaching of the Apostles ended when the last of this group passed from the earth? Not at all. For the Lord Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church.
So, the teaching of the Apostles continues. And this has been handed down successively from the founding of the Church until today. The Apostolic teaching is preserved and explicated through the Holy Catholic Church. To willfully deny the Apostolic succession of bishops and ordained leaders and teachers of the Christian faith is to ultimately deny the words of Jesus. Such a denial would prevent us in the most real sense possible from receiving the Son, and therefore prevent us from receiving the Father. Appealing to Scripture alone as the only preserved Apostolic teaching futilely ignores that Scripture nowhere explicitly or implicitly makes this claim, and further ignores how foreign such a concept is to the context in which the Scriptures were written.
Thankfully, the Lord Jesus founded a Church and sent Apostles, who passed down to their successors the truths of eternal life. These truths are contained in Sacred Scripture and the magisterial teachings of the Church. Whoever receives the Apostolic teaching receives the Apostles, and whoever receives the Apostles receive the One who sent them.