5th Week of Easter, Saturday (2)

In today’s First Reading there is a momentous new person, place, and pronoun that show the Acts of the Apostles are starting to head in our direction, geographically and historically. We hear of Timothy for the first time, a Jewish-Gentile convert whom Paul takes with him on his missionary voyage. Timothy would later be the recipient of two letters by Paul that form part of the canon of Scripture: 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. These Pastoral Epistles by Paul show Timothy years later continuing Paul’s work of caring for the Churches, and in Paul’s advice we see the Church taking shape as we live in it today.

Paul today has lots of ideas for where to go next in his missionary voyage, but the Spirit reins him in. Little does he know the Spirit is saving him for something big: Macedonia. The difference between Macedonia and most of the places mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles is that Macedonia is in Europe: by going to Macedonia Paul goes from Asia Minor, where most of his missionary work took place, into a new continent, and for those of us with a European background, the Acts of the Apostles start heading in our direction.

Lastly, there is a momentous change of pronoun: Luke suddenly goes from speaking of “they” to speaking of “we”: though it can’t be definitively confirmed, this “we” seems to indicate that Luke is actually accompanying Paul for the rest of the mission. Paul’s story draws closer to us, historically and geographically, but that “we” also leaves room for us to get involved. Where can we go to continue the work Paul started? How can we help to care for the Churches today? Let’s ask St. Paul, St. Timothy, and St. Luke to intercede for us and help us to see how we can help build on what they started.

Readings: Acts 16:1–10; Psalm 100:1b–3, 5; John 15:18–21. See also 5th Week of Easter, Saturday.

5th Week of Easter, Friday (2)

In today’s First Reading the Council of Jerusalem concludes by sending a letter and envoys to Christians from a Gentile background, as well as the converts from Judaism who were telling them they had to be circumcised and follows Mosaic Law for salvation. Nothing more would be expected of them than had been expected of Gentiles living among Jews in the past (the norms mentioned in the letter come in part from Leviticus 17, which had norms for non-Jews living among Jews). Paul and Barnabas return to their Church to share the good news, and Judas and Silas come with them to show that the decision is legitimate.

When the letter is read to the Christians assembled in Antioch we can only imagine their relief. Jewish strictures were very demanding and would have involved a dramatic change of lifestyle for the Gentiles who were already trying to bring their lives into conformity with the Gospel. Here we see the birth pangs of the Church as she goes beyond the cultural confines of Judaism. Even today the faith goes beyond any one culture, while reflecting the culture of the believers who comprise the Church. The Gospel seeks to enrich every culture while not being enslaved to them, and that sense it will at times be counter-cultural.

Let’s not be shy about being counter-cultural if it means conforming our lives to the Gospel. If a decision comes between my culture and the Gospel, the Gospel should win.

Readings: Acts 15:22–31; Psalm 57:8–10, 12; John 15:12–17. See also 5th Week of Easter, Friday.

5th Week of Easter, Thursday (2)

As we saw in yesterday‘s First Reading, the Church has convoked its first council in Jerusalem to discern whether Our Lord requires non-Jewish converts to be circumcised and follow Mosaic law in order to be saved. Discernment is about taking all the factors into consideration to see what God is asking, not to make an informed “vote”; we see that in the elements at play in today’s First Reading. After discussion and debate Peter reminds everyone that it was at the prompting of the Spirit that he approached the Gentiles at all, as we saw a few weeks ago. That was the first step toward seeing that salvation and a life of grace was open to the Gentiles. It was the grace of Christ that saved all believers, not circumcision or Jewish descent.

Then Paul and Barnabas recall all the graces and wonders they’d experienced evangelizing the Gentiles, and, surely, recalling how many times the Gentiles were more excited about welcoming the faith than the Jews were, much like today, when “cradle Catholics” at times are not as enthusiastic about the faith as those who discover the faith as adults. Lastly, James, who among those who considered themselves strictly observant Jewish Christians was well respected, and probably their leader, was able to see from Scripture that the Gentiles had a part in God’s saving plan as well.

It doesn’t always take a council to determine God’s will, but it does require meditating on what God has asked and how God has acted to try and see his will more clearly. Let’s strive to always have this spirit of discernment as well, both individually and as Church.

Readings: Acts 15:7–21; Psalm 96:1–3, 10; John 15:9–11. See also 5th Week of Easter, Thursday.

5th Week of Easter, Wednesday (2)

We are branches that depend on the main vine in order to grow and have life, as Our Lord teaches us in today’s Gospel. The First Reading teaches us how we abide in the vine, how we stay connected to the true vine, Our Lord. Another way of understanding how we abide in the vine is being in communion with God and with each other. The Church over the centuries has considered how that communion is seen under three aspects: communion in worship, communion in doctrine, and communion under the same governance.

In today’s First Reading there’s a doubt regarding how the Church should maintain her communion with the Lord and with each other. Some are saying that circumcision and following Mosaic laws, customs for the Jews, are required for salvation. The Gentiles, however, never had these customs, and Paul and Barnabas insist that they are not necessary for salvation (this topic comes up in many of Paul’s letters; Galatians, for example). Therefore a dispute has arisen in the area of worship and doctrine and the Church convokes its first council, the Council of Jerusalem, in order to resolve it and determine what Our Lord really does ask of his disciples in order to abide in him, the true vine. We’ll see the outcome in tomorrow’s reading.

Even today our bishops, in communion with the Holy Father, gather to discuss pressing issues, in synods and in meetings of Bishop’s Conferences, and watch over and foster communion so that the whole Church abides in Christ. Let’s pray for our bishops to be open to whatever the Holy Spirit instructs them for the good of the Church and of the world. That is how we’ll abide in the true vine, grow, and bear much fruit.

Readings: Acts 15:1–6; Psalm 122:1–5; John 15:1–8. See also 5th Week of Easter, Wednesday and Fifth Sunday of Easter.

5th Week of Easter, Tuesday (2)

In today’s First Reading, amidst the trials and travels of Paul’s missionary voyage, we see the Church starting to be more organized as it spreads geographically and grows numerically. Paul starts to appoint “presbyters” in each Church he founded; presbyter means “elder,” and some day this term would refer to what we now call the second degree of Holy Orders–priests–who collaborate with the first degree–bishops. In Paul’s time it gradually went from someone who worked more closely with an apostle due to knowing them as a trusted colleague to becoming more of an office, alongside other terms, such as episkopos, prophet, and teacher. No matter how it developed, presbyters participated in the ministry of the apostles for the good of the faithful and were valuable colleagues.

The apostles knew their work would have to outlive them, so in order to provide for the Church the apostolic and ecclesial ministry continued through their co-workers, like the presbyters, and even today bishops, priests, and deacons continue the work entrusted to them by the apostles and their successors. The need for priests today often outweighs the priests available to fill them. Let’s pray for vocations to the priesthood.

Readings: Acts 14:19–28; Psalm 145:10–13b, 21; John 14:27–31a. See also 5th Week of Easter, Tuesday.