Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sixth Sunday of Easter - The Council of Jerusalem - Diocesan Week for Life, National March for Life

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year "C") - May 9, 2010: 'THE HOLY SPIRIT WILL TEACH YOU EVERYTHING' [Texts: Acts 15:1-2,22-29 [Psalm 67]; Revelation 21:10-14,22-23; John 14:23-29]

As the Easter season draws to a close, the focus shifts from the Risen Lord Jesus to the Holy Spirit who will come upon the Church at Pentecost. In the gospel, Jesus speaks of the imminent coming of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will 'teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you'.

However, the Holy Spirit's role of 'reminding' disciples of Jesus' teaching should not be understood as simply a case of the Spirit causing the Church to recollect Jesus' words. Rather, it also implies the Holy Spirit's role in assisting the community of the Lord to understand how the teaching of Jesus bears on the new circumstances that surface and need to be addressed as the Church strives to keep alive the memory of Jesus in each generation.

This, in fact, is the Holy Spirit's role at what has been called the Council of Jerusalem. There a debate took place about what was necessary for salvation, namely whether circumcision and the observance of ritual laws implied by it were prerequisites to belonging to the community of God's elect. Or whether faith in Christ and baptism sufficed for salvation.

The first reading, from Acts, gives the gist of the problem and the solution reached, but, unfortunately, none of the discussion of the issue.

Christians who were Pharisees before accepting faith in Jesus insisted that circumcision and following the stipulations of the law were obligatory for Gentile Christian converts.

Addressing the issue, Peter recounted how God had poured out the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles through his ministry, cleansing their hearts by faith. Therefore, he argued, they should no longer be considered unclean or unworthy to enter God's presence in worship, as some Jews were suggesting.

Paul and Barnabas built on Peter's theological principle, relating their experience of the signs and wonders God worked among the Gentiles during their missionary voyage. James, an exemplary Jewish leader, argued that the prophets had foretold what they church was experiencing: the restoration of Israel (Acts 1-6) and the conversion of the human race to the Lord Jesus (Acts 11-14).

So, Christians should put no obstacles to Gentile conversions. All that should be asked for were the compromises needed to enable Christian Jews to participate in table fellowship with non-Jewish Christians.

Three of these concessions to allow people to live in peace involved kosher rules and avoiding meat sacrificed to idols ('that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood and from what is strangled').

The fourth dealt with illicit sex, 'fornication' (Greek, porneia), which has been interpreted in two ways. As avoiding marriages within degrees of kinship forbidden to Jews; taking this view, the New American Bible translates porneia as 'unlawful marriages'. Or as referring to ordinary sexual immorality, for which the pagans were often criticized by Jews in antiquity.

New Testament writings frequently challenged pagan converts to change their sexual behaviour, which included fornication, adultery, prostitution and homosexual practices. Christian morality in the New Testament era was just as countercultural as it is to popular morality today.

The conclusion, then, that circumcision and ritual stipulations such as kosher dietary laws were not obligatory, is announced as the joint achievement of the Holy Spirit and the apostles and elders who had convened ('It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us...'). When the determination of the Jerusalem gathering was proclaimed in Antioch, church members there 'rejoiced at the exhortation' (Acts 15:31).

Periodically in its history, the church has convened in council--designated as an 'ecumenical' or 'world-wide' assembly--to invoke the Spirit's guidance in facing new issues that have arisen. The most recent of these was the twenty-first ecumenical session known as the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The Catholic Church's challenge today remains that of correctly implementing the Spirit-inspired decrees of Vatican II.

The glory of the heavenly Jerusalem is the goal of all the Spirit's inspirations. No temple is needed in heaven for all sacrifices will have ceased. Instead, in heaven there is a direct encounter between the believer and the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb, the Lord Jesus who offers all His peace ('Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you').

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This week is the Diocesan Week for Life, during which the National March for Life takes place here in Ottawa. There will be a Pro-Life Mass at St. Theresa's Church at 7:30PM on Wednesday; and two Masses on Thursday morning at 10 o'clock. Pembroke Bishop Michael Mulhall will preside at St. Patrick's Basilica and I will preside the Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral.

The March itself begins with people gathering on Parliament Hill around noon, with the March itself getting underway at 1:30PM.

Everyone is most welcome; if unable to be present in person, please join us in spirit and prayer:

Eternal Father, Source of Life,
strengthen us with your Holy Spirit
to receive the abundance of life you have promised.

Open our hearts to see and desire
the beauty of your plan for life and love.

Make our love generous and self-giving so that we may be blessed with joy.

Grant us great trust in your mercy.

Forgive us for not receiving your gift of life
and heal us from the effects of the culture of death.

Instill in us and all people reverence for every human life.

Inspire and protect our efforts on behalf of those most vulnerable
especially the unborn, the sick and the elderly.

We ask this in the Name of Jesus,
who by His Cross makes all things new. Amen.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

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At today's recitation of the Marian Prayer "Queen of Heaven" (Regina Coeli), the Holy Father gave a beautiful reflection on May as Mary's Month and mentioned his forthcoming visit this week to Portugal. Herewith the English summary and his greetings to the English-speaking visitors to Rome:

I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Regina Cæli. This week I am making an Apostolic Journey to Portugal to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Beatification of the visionaries Blessed Jacinta and Blessed Francisco. I ask for your prayers for the success of this Journey, and I in turn assure you of my prayers to our Lady of Fatima for the whole People of God. May she intercede for us all, and draw us closer to Christ her Son. Upon each of you and your loved ones at home, I invoke God’s abundant blessings.

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