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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sixth Sunday in Easter

Sixth Sunday in Easter
May 5, 2013
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; John 14:23-29

“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities…” These stirring words of relief show us an image of the early church that (1.) cares for the well being of its followers, (2.) seeks the truth during challenging circumstances, and (3.) is free and open to culture adaptations, and (4.) the Holy Spirit guides the church despite all our efforts to the contrary. The church leaders’ courage to discern rightly the movements of the Spirit shows us God is very active in guiding the church.

Many church followers were probably very annoyed by the decision of the Apostles and the Holy Spirit. They protested and gasped at the fallacy of their decision. Many others rejoiced because they felt the welcome relief that God’s love transcends the rules we set for ourselves. The same viewpoints that were held in the early church are the same positions that are held today. They have always been there and always will be there. Neither side will be vanquished even though the pendulum might tip in one direction or the other for periods of time. Knowing that, we can breathe more easily because we are not entirely in control of the church and it is not a game of positioning. We don’t have to solve the church’s problem.

The Disciple’s discernment reveals that the church communicates God’s emotions and values, namely that God does not wish for us to impose undue burdens on others. It is always important for a church or institution to set norms for incorporating and excluding individuals for membership, but the cultural contexts have to be respected. Worship of God ought not to be burdensome or cause hardship, but one’s unique context needs to be examined. The Disciples were faithful to the discernment process and the end result was compassion. God cares that people want to worship freely and it is senseless to restrict this good and holy desire. Today, it is good to remember this monumental action of the Spirit in order that we replicate the same intentions in our discernment in troubled times.

The early community was wholly perplexed about how to proceed. They give us an example for our wrestling with unsettling social issues and they realize there is a lot at stake in one’s decision. They see the love of God as the primary motive in discernment. Love always has to be at the root of our laws and decisions. If law is solely about control, it will not last; if law is to communicate love for neighbor, then it is a good chance it is God-initiated and God-centered. Transcending cultural assumptions is necessary because God operates in all cultures at all times. Just because we do not understand another’s culture is no reason to reject a differing viewpoint. Culture and faith intersect and God has already redeemed the world’s cultures. Our task, just like the early disciples’ tasks, is to understand and seek enrichment, and this happens by listening to another’s God experience.

A church is healthy when it operates in freedom and is not in opposition to culture. A defensive church hides behind documents and pronouncements, while a healthy church seeks to integrate into various cultures and says, “Tell me about your experience. I want to learn.” It says, “We don’t always know, but we are trying to understand.” It is comfortable with the cultural forces that shape people’s lives, and it tries to gently nudge, invite, and help people freely make their choices with an informed conscience. A church that stands over and against culture is not following the text of “The Church in the Modern World,” a central part of the church’s constitution that results from the Second Vatican Council. Standing against cultures means the church is stodgy, fearful, and mistrusting of the world, while a church that dialogues, embraces, knows it does not have all the answers, but seeks to understand, is a church that is healthy and strong. Church membership grows when it is healthy; it declines when it stands in absolute opposition to culture.

The Holy Spirit guides and inspires and makes the necessary modifications to bring about a power balance. As the Spirit leads and encourages, so must the church. The Spirit allows the church to live in us and work through us as we relate to others with love and compassion. When the church is infused with the Holy Spirit, its happiness is recognizable in its leaders and followers. “Look how much they love each other,” is the curious statement others may make about us when we display our love and hospitality, joy and peace, mildness and chastity, patient endurance, our kindness and generosity, and our increased faith. Of course, ‘catholic’ means ‘universal’ and therefore it is to welcome anyone who calls upon the Lord and to treat them with mercy. I wonder who today’s Gentiles are that are to be welcomed into the faith.

As the Spirit mediates God’s love, we are to make sure we bring it into all levels of our church, but most especially at our local level. The Spirit of Jesus spoke assertively centuries ago and Jesus tells us “Whoever loves me will keep my word.” I think it is best that we bring about the love God intends for us. If we don’t, we know the Spirit will teach us all we need to know and will remind us of the words of God through Jesus. Peace, a gift of Jesus, will remain with us to wipe away our fears and disturbances. Choosing to live peacefully brings greater happiness.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: Paul and Barnabas set sail for Philippi, a leading city of Macedonia and a Roman colony. Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, listens to their preaching and opens her heart to them. She is baptized and invites them to stay with her. Paul is brought to the Areopagus in Athens and tells them of the "Unknown God" they worship. This God is the same God as the Christians worship and has brought about salvation, including the resurrection of the dead. This concept unsettles some who find it a difficult teaching to accept. Paul travels to Corinth and meets the Jews, Aquila and Priscilla, who were forced to leave Rome because of Claudius' dispersion edict. He learns the tent-making trade and preaches to Jews who reject him. He encounters Titus Justus and Crispus, a synagogue leader, who come to believe. The entire congregation believes the news of Jesus Christ. While in Corinth, Paul receives a vision from the Lord urging him to go on speaking as no harm will come to him. Others are harmed, but Paul escapes injury. Paul travels to Antioch in Syria. Priscilla and Aquila meet Apollos, a Jewish Christian, who is preaching the way of Jesus, but of the baptism by the Holy Spirit he is not informed. They take him aside and teach him the correct doctrine. He then vigorously refutes the Jews in public, establishing from the Scriptures that the Christ is Jesus.

Gospel: Jesus tells his friends that the Advocate will come and testify to him. Meanwhile, they will be expelled from the synagogues and harmed - even unto death. The Spirit of truth will guide his friends to all truth. Jesus confuses them by saying, "a little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me." As they debate, he tells them their mourning will become joy - just like a woman who is groaning in labor pains. As Jesus tells them again that he is part of the Father, he instructs them to ask for anything in his name and God will grant it for Jesus is leaving the world and going back to the Father. The Father loves them because they have loved him. The Father will reward them for their generosity.

Saints of the Week

May 10: Damien de Veuster of Moloka'i, priest (1840-1889), was a Belgian who entered the Congregation of the Fathers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He was sent on mission to the Hawaiian Islands and was a parish priest for nine years. He then volunteered as a chaplain to the remote leper colony of Moloka'i. He contracted leprosy and died at the colony. He is remembered for his brave choice to accept the mission and to bring respect and dignity to the lepers. He was canonized in 2009. A statue of him stands in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      May 5, 1782. At Coimbra, Sebastian Carvahlo, Marquis de Pombal, a cruel persecutor of the Society in Portugal, died in disgrace and exile. His body remained unburied fifty years, till Father Philip Delvaux performed the last rites in 1832.
·      May 6, 1816. Letter of John Adams to Thomas Jefferson mentioning the Jesuits. "If any congregation of men could merit eternal perdition on earth and in hell, it is the company of Loyola."
·      May 7, 1547. Letter of St. Ignatius to the scholastics at Coimbra on Religious Perfection.
·      May 8, 1853. The death of Jan Roothan, the 21st general of the Society, who promoted the central role of the Spiritual Exercises in the work of the Society after the restoration.
·      May 9, 1758. The 19th General Congregation opened, the last of the Old Society. It elected Lorenzo Ricci as general.
·      May 10, 1773. Empress Maria Teresa of Austria changed her friendship for the Society into hatred, because she had been led to believe that a written confession of hers (found and printed by Protestants) had been divulged by the Jesuits.
·      May 11, 1824. St Regis Seminary opens in Florissant, Missouri, by Fr. Van Quickenborne. It was the first Roman Catholic school in USA for the higher education of Native American Indians.

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