Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): Christ’s promise at the Last Supper – “Whoever loves Me will keep My word, and My Father and I will make Our dwelling with him” – is all that we need to be happy in life. Barnabas and Paul “dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” in order to keep and to identify with Christ’s word in every dimension of their lives. God acknowledges such dedication by ordaining that the twelve names of the twelve Apostles be inscribed on the wall of the heavenly Jerusalem. The same is offered to us who refuse to let our hearts be troubled but who cling to the name of Christ instead.
(This weekend’s Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation at the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
Some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.
It seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, with the following letter:
“The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greeting. Since we have heard that some persons from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: Paul and Barnabas had returned to their base, Antioch in Syria, from their first missionary journey to the cities of South Galatia. Word had gotten around the still-young Church about their great successes in winning Gentiles to the saving faith in Christ. But there were Jewish Christians among the Jerusalem believers who were not quite reconciled to the reality that their Lord had come for all people – not merely for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” They went both to Antioch and to Paul’s Galatian mission territory and told the new Gentile believers: It isn’t enough to believe and be baptized. You also must receive Jewish circumcision and keep the entire Law of Moses. Otherwise, you are not saved.
These were the “Judaizers” whose works-righteousness was in the background of all Paul’s subsequent teachings and epistles on “justification by grace through faith.” (It also was the Judaizers’ apparent success among Paul’s earliest converts that led Paul to cry out to them in the Epistle to the Galatians (3:1-2): “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?”) The future of the Church truly hung in the balance – which is why the believers in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to meet with the Twelve and the priests those original disciples had ordained.
The debates of the Council of Jerusalem – the prototypical council of the Catholic Church – are omitted from this weekend’s reading but are read at other times in the three-year cycle. Peter, as the first pope, reminded his brothers of Christ’s clear inclusion of Gentiles through Peter’s experience with the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10). James the Less, the “brother of the Lord” and the first bishop of Jerusalem, concurred but suggested a practical course to promote peace.
Thus the letter sent back to Antioch and Galatia completely disowned the Judaizers’ false teaching – but added that “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” for Gentile Christians to practice sexual chastity and to avoid giving scandal by partaking of the types of foods listed in this weekend’s final verses. These four limitations were known to all Jews, for they came straight from the Torah: Leviticus 17-18 included them in the list of practices to be required of Gentiles who were living among Jews. Notice, however, that while sexual morality is a constant under the Sixth Commandment, the Church eventually discarded these particular food practices when they outlived their purpose. (Any Catholic who eats fish on Lenten Fridays, of course, knows that the idea of dietary discipline did not die.)
So what do we see in the Judaizer controversy and the Council of Jerusalem? The primacy of Peter, preserved to this day by every pope who has succeeded him. The joint exercise of teaching authority by the pope and the bishops, all of whom are successors to the apostles. The declaration of infallible doctrinal teaching (in this case, that the Church was open to all humanity and that salvation did not depend on the Mosaic Law). And, finally, practical church discipline in directing Gentile believers to observe the four restrictions to keep peace.
The model of Catholic teaching authority was set nearly 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem by those men to whom Christ gave the power to bind and loose (Peter) and to teach all nations (all the apostles). Jesus promised that He would be with us always, that He would send the Holy Spirit upon His people and that “the gates of hell” would not prevail against His Church. His human instruments are imperfect – but look not to their imperfections. Look to the teachings and the One who stands behind them.
Second Reading: Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
A reading from the Book of Revelation.
The angel carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed; on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: John’s final glorious visions of the fulfilled Kingdom of God continue in this second reading. One again must look not so much at the literal images as at what they tell us of the underlying nature of that Kingdom. The walls of the New Jerusalem testify to God’s great works through His Old Covenant with the children of Israel. The foundations reflect the New Covenant – the Church that Christ built upon the Twelve. Unlike the light and darkness of the world we know, however, the Kingdom that awaits us is bathed always in the light of Christ. And God’s presence no longer need be contained in an earthly structure (not that He ever could truly be contained there anyway). The only Temple we will need is the temple that Christ’s enemies destroyed but that He raised up on the third day. In the risen and glorified Christ, true God and yet true man, God’s dwelling will forever be with the human race. It is so even now in the Church and especially in the Mass. Imagine what awaits us when these earthly shadows are cast aside forever!
Gospel: John 14:23-29
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John. Glory to You, O Lord.
Jesus said to his disciples: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.
“These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, `I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place, you may believe.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: As the Church once more reaches its observance of the Lord’s Ascension, it once more recalls Jesus’ Upper Room promise to send the Holy Spirit to His people. He knew the Eleven who remained there after Judas Iscariot’s departure were not capable on their own of retaining or even understanding all He was teaching them. He teaches them anyway, then reassures them that they will come to understand when He finishes His mission of redemption and returns to the Father. At that time, God was next to them in the person of Jesus; after Pentecost, God would be within them in the person of the Holy Spirit. So Jesus wishes them peace – for when we allow the Spirit to do His work within our hearts, then we have the peace that “the devil, the world and our sinful self” (Martin Luther) cannot ever give us.
As you contemplate the ascended Lord this week, please join in the ancient prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, to the hearts of Your faithful. Kindle in them the fire of Your love!
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be