Sixth Sunday in Easter

May 26, 2019

Deacon Blaine Barclay

I would like to relate two scriptures today. From Acts 15:24 “….certain persons have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds….” And from John’s gospel 14: 27 “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Jesus promised to send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who “will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit, God’s Teacher/Apologist, is Jesus’ new way to be present in our midst. “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” We are meant to trust this Spirit of the Father and the Son. “Whom the Father will send in my Name”, says Jesus.

The first gift of the Holy Spirit is Shalom. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you”, says Jesus. This is not just some trite ‘peace, love, and grooviness’, nor the mere absence of conflict. More than a polite way of saying hello and goodbye, although it can be that, the Hebrew word Shalom means, ‘peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, and tranquility’. The kind of Peace that only Jesus can give, and that only the Holy Spirit can mediate to us in the midst of our conflicts and struggles in the Church.

With this backcloth, our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, is quite instructive for us today. Listen again to the text we started with from, “….certain persons have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds….” This could have been written today. Think of the various currents of dissent and disagreement in the Church today. Some of it bordering on Schism. Its ready availability on the internet, the ‘Catholic blogosphere’. Without authentic discernment, getting our faith formation from the internet is like getting a drink from a fire hydrant turned on full blast, ‘if you are not careful it will rip your lips off’, as a librarian friend once said.

The dramatic setting of the Book of Acts is a ‘case study’ for us. It can inform our present situation and help to restore our Shalom, our authentic Catholic  ‘peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, and tranquility’. Notice the overlap, between the meaning of the word Shalom, and the meaning of the word Catholic, ‘according to the whole’, or, ‘toward the whole’. Back to the tensions and struggles in the early Church.

It is easy to lose our peace. Even with the tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the dynamite of Pentecost, it was easy for the Early Church to lose its peace. How much more for us. The gift of the Spirit was like a wildfire set loose upon the earth. Jesus said, “I have come to light a fire on the earth”. Burning bushes everywhere, first among the messianic Jews, set on fire with the evangelion, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. But they couldn’t contain the wildfire, more and more non-Jews, pagans, gentiles, pork eating, uncircumcised converts were flooding into the Church, becoming ‘followers of the Way‘. The Spirit was setting them on fire as well. What was the infant/childhood Church to do, now that it was becoming a teenager? If a non-Jew became a Christian, did they have to keep Jewish kosher food laws, if they were a male did they have to get circumcised?And so we come to the situation in Antioch in our first reading. “Certain individuals came down from Judea and were teaching…, unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved”. Imagine how disturbing this was for “the believers of Gentile origin”, need I say, especially for the male converts. The question really is, if a non-Jew becomes a Christian, do they have to become ritually Jewish first? Eat kosher, get circumcised, not associate with unconverted, unclean, gentiles. The Holy Spirit didn’t think so, didn’t discriminate between Jewish and Gentile disciples, and neither did the proto-Council of Jerusalem, the teaching Magisterium of the day. According to the first ‘Apostolic Letter’ ever written, the first published statement by a Church Council; “since we have heard that certain persons who have gone out from us, though with no instructions from us, have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds, we have decided unanimously…”. Then follows their apostolic judgement distinguishing between Jewish ritual identity and the moral demands of the gospel.

What can we learn from this lesson from the Early Church? In our electronic social media saturated culture, what can we learn about what voices to listen to? Minimally, don’t listen to every voice, use discernment, and considered judgement. What does our text say, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials…”. In our own time and place how are we to find back this ‘essential’ voice, this pedagogy of the Word made flesh? Like our ancient friends in Antioch, let us look to the ‘Apostolic’ voice. If what we are reading or listening to on the internet, if “certain persons have said things to disturb you and have unsettled your minds”. Like our ancient fellow believers we need to listen to the voice of authentic Apostolic Teaching, as found in and rightly interpreted in Scripture and Tradition. In our own time and place, the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, the voice of Peter in our midst, Encyclicals, Apostolic Letters and Exhortations, the voice of our local Bishop. On the internet, anything found at  . And each one of us, living a life saturated with Scripture and informed by the ongoing dialogue that is Tradition. This is the only way to restore the Peace of Jesus in the Church, finding back the ‘essential voice’. The rest is just noise and clutter, dust in the wind. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”