Sixth Sunday of Easter (C)

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Acts 15:1-2, 22-29

Some men came down to Antioch from Judea and began to teach the brothers: "Unless you are circumcised according to Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved." This created dissension and much controversy between them and Paul and Barnabas. Finally it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some others should go up to see the apostles and elders in Jerusalem about this question.

It was resolved by the apostles and the elders, in agreement with the whole Jerusalem church, that representatives be chosen from among their number and sent to Antioch along with Paul and Barnabas. Those chosen were leading men of the community, Judas, known as Barsabbas, and Silas. They were to deliver this letter:

"The apostles and the elders, your brothers, send greetings to the brothers of Gentile origin in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. We have heard that some of our number without any instructions from us have upset you with their discussions and disturbed your peace of mind. Therefore we have unanimously resolved to choose representatives and send them to you, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have dedicated themselves to the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those whom we are sending you are Judas and Silas, who will convey this message by word of mouth: 'It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours too, not to lay on you any burden beyond that which is strictly necessary, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from illicit sexual union. You will be well advised to avoid these things. Farewell.'"

Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23

The angel carried me away in spirit to the top of a very high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven from God. It gleamed with the splendor of God. The city had the radiance of a precious jewel that sparkled like a diamond. Its wall, massive and high, had twelve gates at which twelve angels were stationed. Twelve names were written on the gates, the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates facing east, three north, three south, and three west. The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

I saw no temple in the city. The Lord, God the Almighty, is its temple -- He and the Lamb. The city had no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb.

John 14:23-29

Jesus said to His disciples:

"Anyone who loves Me will be true to My word, and My Father will love him; We will come to him and make our dwelling place with him always. He who does not love Me does not keep My words. Yet the word you hear is not Mine; it comes from the Father Who sent Me. This much have I told you while I was still with you; the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit Whom the Father will send in My name, will instruct you in everything, and remind you of all that I told you. 'Peace' is My farewell to you, My peace is My gift to you; I do not give it to you as the world gives peace. Do not be distressed or fearful; You have heard Me say, 'I go away for a while, and I come back to you.' If you truly loved Me you would rejoice to have Me go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I tell you this now, before it takes place, so that when it takes place you may believe."

 

The Church does not live for herself but for the Gospel,
and it is always in the Gospel that she finds the direction for her journey

Pope Benedict XVI

 

 

 

Sixth Sunday of Easter

by Father Charles Irvin, M.Div, J.D.

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crucifixion3.jpg (1600 bytes) The Easter Season culminates in the Feast of Pentecost, the outpouring of thepentecost2_small.jpg (3011 bytes) Holy Spirit upon the disciples. Through the Gift of the Spirit, the disciples continue to lead and guide the Church. This week we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, made reference to in John's gospel today. As Jesus worked with the disciples, He wanted them to recognize that they were witnessing more than just random events. He wanted them to know that everything is connected and part of a Divine Plan. This God in our midst, this presence of God's Word seen in the figure of Jesus, gave up His life for us. By dying on the Cross, by rising, by appearing to the disciples and then ascending and sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus fulfills God's Plan. Jesus' life, death and resurrection serve to shift our perceptions of God's presence in the world. Now we see that God dwells within His people, within the believers. We become the temples of God's presence. We become the vehicles through which God ministers to the world.

scaleslg.gif (10895 bytes) Throughout history, we have struggled to maintain a balance between two issues: That which is truly of God and that which is of men. We can at times add on to the message of Christ and actually be taking away from it. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles makes it clear that from the very beginning of the Church this dilemma existed. There were people speaking in the name of the Church, and what they spoke was not truly of the Spirit. We believe that the Holy Spirit - the Gift guiding the Church - plays a very important role. The Spirit's role is somehow to balance everything. The Gentiles were very excited about Jesus' teaching. They were delighted about the way in which the message worked in their souls.

Jesus' message spoke of this great Gift of Spirit being given to individuals. This Gift was a spirit of understanding and forgiveness that empowered them to accomplish God's work. As the Gentiles embraced the message, they dealt with other converts to Christianity - those whose roots were in Judaism. The Jewish converts wanted to retain many facets of Jewish law as they converted over to Christianity. One of the great marks that a man would carry as a part of the Jewish community was circumcision . In many ways, circumcision at the time had the same significance we attach to Baptism. It was a sign of being a member of the community, and a guarantee of being assured eternal life. It was obvious that the Jewish converts would want circumcision to be adopted by all the members of this new community, thinking, "This has always been important to God and to us."

What we often fail to realize, however, is that the heart of God's message never changes - even though much around it does. We evolve. We grow. We develop. In the gospel passage, Jesus says He is going to send the Holy Spirit to instruct and remind us. The ongoing work of the Spirit in the Church is to help people understand more fully what Christ has been saying. It's a never-ending evolution. Always changing and growing, this is what it means when we talk about remembering what Christ said.

We are asked to remember what was at the heart of Christ's message from the very beginning. Otherwise, we may get caught up in all kinds of non-essentials. The disciples gathered together and said, "This adherence to Jewish law is causing a lot of pain and dissension. Some of the converts don't seem to understand why circumcision is demanded. Let's go to the elders and ask them what we should do." They ask the question, and I love the way the response is worded. When the letter instructing the community is read, it basically anticipates an event where Judas (also known as Barsabbas) and Silas will return to the group to proclaim something.

The proclamation is that the Holy Spirit has instructed that the issue of circumcision be settled in this way: "Circumcision is not required. It is not necessary. It was necessary in the old system, but now we have a new system." I find the language interesting. They don't say, "We sat around and thought about this." They don't say, "We voted." Instead, they say this decision was the Will of the Holy Spirit. In the minds of those who made the decision, there must have been a leaning on this Gift of the Spirit in the community, a power moving through their midst that instructs and reminds. By relying upon the Holy Spirit, the early Christian Church was able to resolve one of the early issues of possible dissension.

My experience of the Church is that these kinds of conflicts keep cropping up. We are reminded that we must always return to the heart of Jesus' message. If there is anything that the Second Vatican Council sought to do, it's just that: to go back to our Tradition and make sure that everything we are doing is in line with the heart of Christ's message. Then we celebrate the mysteries and Sacraments of our Church according to the Tradition, rather than commemorating a compilation of little things that got tacked on over the years.

When Judas and Silas return to the people to tell them they no longer have to worry about circumcision, they go on to say that there are certain things the people should do, even though they don't want the Church to become "excessively burdened with a lot of rules and laws."

What a wonderful thought! They tell the people they should abstain from the meat of strangled animals and from illicit sexual union. If we read that literally, it can be confusing. We might ask: "What's the big deal about those animals? What's the difference if you eat the meat of animals that were strangled or those whose heads were chopped off?" These images are connected to pagan worship. The people are asked to abstain from their old ways of worshiping pagan gods. They are asking the people to turn away from a god who demands sacrifice, to a God Who has already made the sacrifice for us.

As far as relationships are concerned, they are asking the people to enter into healthy relationships that produce goodness and life. If we look at the Ten Commandments, it's clear there are two themes. The first three commandments have everything to do with God desiring a relationship with us that is healthy. He wants us to be in a relationship with Him where we honor and believe in Him, where we don't use His power in a destructive way. He asks us to rest in Him. The other seven commandments are about right relationships with each other. We are to respect each other's rights to property, to the truth, to possessing life. All of this is about healthy relationships. The issue is not whether we are circumcised or not; it's about whether we are in right relationship with God and our brothers and sisters.

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The Vision of Saint John - by CANO, Alonso -
from Wallace Collection, London
 

The wisdom in going back to the heart of the message sets the tone for our own view of Church. The reading from Revelation gives us a sense of our own direction. John sees an angel in this revelation, carrying him to the top of a mountain. That's another way of saying that John is being taken to a place where he will have an insight, where he will see more. John sees the city - an image of the Church and us as the community - "sparkling like a diamond.''

The city's wall or foundation has twelve gates, symbolic of the twelve apostles. The Church has a rock foundation. The foundation is an experience of Christ that the twelve apostles shared. We celebrated the feast of Matthias this week, a follower of Jesus who took the place of Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. When the disciples were looking for someone to replace Judas, they had to determine their criteria in selecting his successor. The key questions were: Did this person eat, speak with, and spend time with Jesus? Did this person see Jesus after the Resurrection? Did he witness the Ascension? They were looking for someone who had a rock-solid experience of Christ so that this person's faith would be unshakable.

The Church we are moving toward is founded on the absolute certitude that we have a God Who is on our side. He is for us. This whole image of religion is founded on the belief that our faith is our best chance of living life abundantly. In the image from Revelation, we see that there is no Temple in the city. The Temple is gone because the Spirit of God - always considered to be residing in the Temple - now resides in each individual. Each person now has the sense that the structure we have always looked for outside is now inside of us. Another image of that structure is light. God has given us wonderful light. The challenge is for us to embrace this image of the Church as a model community. This community of great conviction recognizes that God has come not so much to force us to work or live a certain way within an exterior structure but to place a god_is_luv_ani.gif 
(9754 bytes)structure inside of us, the Gift of a Spirit that guides and nurtures us. In the gospel, Jesus discusses His departure with His disciples. Jesus tells the disciples that the heart of the Church and religion is to make them understand one issue: the love God has for us. God's work is to love us, and all He asks is that we love Him in return. If we love God in return, then we will be true to His Word and to His Commandments. If we understand the Commandments as our commitment to being in touch with God and in right relationship with our brothers and sisters, it makes sense why Jesus speaks of the heart of the work as always being love.

 

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Jesus converses with the Eleven -
by DUCCIO di Buoninsegna -
from Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena
 

We flourish, grow and develop as community when we live in an atmosphere of love and acceptance. Jesus goes on to say that He will give the disciples a gift as He leaves. Jesus' disciples must have been absolutely ecstatic to have Christ with them after His death. It must have been very exciting. They must have spent hours in conversation about these events. Even though Jesus is going to leave them in terms of His physical presence, He does tell them that He will not be leaving them orphans. He will give them the Gift of Spirit - a light and a life that will enter into them. Jesus wants them to trust in this Inner Voice that will guide them. That is the Heart of the Church.

Our challenge as people living almost two thousand years after this event is to understand the nature of the whole process. Jesus' core message is so attractive to the Mind and Heart that really hears it. We have a problem when that message gets so full of static, when it becomes full of demands that really aren't part of the Heart of it. When I see people angry at religion because it seems to be crossing boundaries that it shouldn't or demanding things that seem unnecessary, then I pray that people will have the ability to see past those structures to the Heart of this message. The danger of the Church is that it can get caught in a lot of accidentals. The challenge is to open ourselves to the beauty of this message. As we move toward Pentecost, let us embrace the marvelous image of a community filled with the Spirit that leads and guides us wherever we may be.

 


How is the Church enabled to lead men to salvation?

The Church is enabled to lead men to salvation by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, Who gives it life.

littlegoldcross.gif (962 bytes)Although the work of salvation is the result of the operation of all three (3) Persons of the Blessed Trinity, it is especially the result of the Redemption by Christ, and because this work is one of Divine Love it is attributed to the Holy Ghost, Who is the Soul of the Church, of which Christ is the Head.

From the Baltimore Catechism

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