April 29, 2016

Sixth Sunday of Easter / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

  • Sunday, May 1, 2016
  • Acts of the Apostles 15:1-2, 22-29
  • Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
  • John 14:23-29

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Acts of the Apostles again provides the first reading for a weekend in the Easter season.

As Christianity grew, it not only expanded beyond its original base in the Holy Land. It also drew gentiles in faraway places. This increasingly multi-cultural nature of the broad Christian community presented problems.

One is evident in this weekend’s reading. A Christian community had formed in Antioch. Most likely, its membership was composed of people from all backgrounds because Antioch was a large, cosmopolitan city.

Jews would have been among them. The roots of Christianity theologically, geographically and historically were in the Jewish culture and in the Holy Land.

A dispute arose in Antioch, at the time one of the major cities of the Roman Empire. (It was located on the Mediterranean Sea north of the Holy Land.)

Many other Christians in Antioch were former pagans with no connection to Judaism.

The dispute was about circumcision, the Jewish ritual followed by males to this day. Evidently, in Antioch some Christians were demanding that converts from paganism submit themselves to this ritual.

Neither Antioch’s Christian leaders, nor Antioch’s individual Christians, resolved the dispute. This is important. Disputes were not resolved by the persons directly involved, namely the converts themselves and their critics. Instead, they were submitted to the Apostles in Jerusalem for review and resolution.

In their reply, the Apostles called the Antioch Christians “brothers” (Acts 15:23). They decided that gentile converts need not agree to this Hebrew ritual. Very importantly, the Apostles said that this decision was, through them, an act of the Holy Spirit.

The Book of Revelation furnishes the second reading. As all the readings in Revelation, this passage is poetic and symbolic. The city described in it is the heavenly Jerusalem, which awaits all who love God. On each of its four sides are three gates. Three was a perfect number. So was 12.

The gates are open and available to anyone. Salvation is offered to all who truly accept God.

St. John’s Gospel gives this weekend its third reading. It is one of the most eloquent passages in the New Testament. Four points are important.

First, Jesus calls upon the disciples to love each other. Second, the passage illustrates the fact that following the Gospel will not be easy.

Third, following Christ will not, however, be impossible. The Holy Spirit will assist and strengthen.

Finally, peace will be with those who truly love God. It is not necessarily an absence of conflict and turmoil. It is the peace of heart and soul that comes from knowing that right is served, and that God is present.

Reflection

The Church is already directing us to Pentecost, but it is not dwelling on a mere anniversary. Feast days do not simply celebrate the past. Instead, they appear in the Church calendar to inform us and to challenge us.

The Church today tells us that, by accepting Jesus and living by the Gospel, God will be with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Then, the Church gives us very practical advice. Being with God in the heavenly Jerusalem is the only true source of peace. Anything else is death.

We reach God’s heavenly Jerusalem every day by following Jesus with help of his grace. Our personal judgment in this effort can be risky. We need God’s guidance. If the Scriptures of Eastertime have taught anything, it is that God guides and empowers us through the Church.

If anything was revealed in the New Testament, it was that a visible Church exists, first served and led by the Apostles.

For this reason, the Church in every generation goes to great lengths to retain the example and mind of the Apostles. †

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