Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Council of Jerusalem - A Mother's Role in the Spiritual Life of Her Children

The Council of Jerusalem (today's first reading)  took place to address the issue of the Gentiles being admitted to the movement started by Jesus and continued by the Apostles without embracing circumcision and other traditions of Israel.  To explain the significance of this for the Church in every age, here is an excerpt from the wonderful blog of Msgr. Charles Pope OF Washington, DC ( 

Luke is a master of understatement and says “Because there arose no little dissension and debate….” (Acts 15:2) it was decided to ask the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem to gather and consider the matter. So the apostles and some presbyters (priests) with them meet and, of course, Peter is there as is James who was especially prominent in Jerusalem among the apostles and would later become bishop there.

Once again Luke rather humorously summarizes the matter by saying, “After much debate Peter arose” (Acts 15:7). In effect Peter arises to settle the matter since (it would seem) that the apostles themselves were divided. Had not Peter received this charge from the Lord? The Lord had prophesied: Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to sift you all like wheat but I have prayed for you Peter, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:31-32).

Now Peter fulfills this text as he will again and every Pope after him. Peter clearly dismisses any notion that the Gentiles should be made to take up the whole burden of Jewish customs. Paul and Barnabas rise to support this. Then James (who may have felt otherwise) rises to assent to the decision and asks that a letter be sent forth to all the Churches explaining the decision. He also asks for and obtains a few concessions.

So there it is, the First Council. And that Council like all the Church-wide Councils that would follow was a gathering of the bishops, in the presence of Peter who works to unite them. A decision is then made and a decree, binding on the whole Church, is sent out. Very Catholic actually. We have kept this Biblical model ever since. Our Protestant brethren have departed from it for they have no Pope to settle things when they dispute. They have split endlessly into tens of thousands of denominations and factions. When no one is pope every one is pope.

A final thought. Notice how the decree to the Churches is worded: It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us (Acts 15:28). In the end we trust the Holy Spirit to guide the Church in matters of faith and morals. We trust that decrees and doctrines that issue forth from Councils of the Bishops with the Pope are inspired by and authored by the Holy Spirit Himself. And there it is right in Scripture, the affirmation that when the Church speaks solemnly in this way it is not just some bishops and the Pope as men, it is the Holy Spirit who speaks with them.

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As today is Mother's Day, here is a lovely piece by John O'Brien, a Jesuit scholastic studying in Toronto, who wrote a testimony to his mother's influence in teaching him and his siblings how to pray and what prayer is:

When I was a young lad, my mother, good Christian woman that she was, instructed my siblings and me in a series of nighttime prayers, which she repeated each evening over the years.

I can still remember the routine. She would walk into the room, sit on the edge of my bed and we would say the lines together. It was almost always the same string of phrases, prayerful sound-bytes that contained powerful truths. Sometimes we would say them together. Other nights, when the sand in my eyes was drawing me too fast into slumber, she would say them for us both.

It’s been a good twenty-five years since the last time we prayed like this, but I can still hear her voice reciting our set-list of invocations:

Mother Mary, I belong to you. Keep me and guard me as your property and possession.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul;
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist me in my last agony;
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul in peace with thee, amen.

I have loved you with an everlasting love – you are mine, says the Lord.

There were a few others like that.

To read more of this reflection, go to:

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