A reading from the Acts of the Apostles
(Chapter 15:1-2, 22-29)
One of the first great controversies in the early Church was about whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised. This issue arose in Antioch because, as Luke writes, “Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.’” The apostles and elders in Jerusalem sent this response, which opened the Church to all: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place any burden on you beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.”
The animal restrictions may seem strange to us, but it was an important part of Jewish practice that the apostles kept while eliminating the need for circumcision. This was a major breakthrough that opened the doors to thousands of Gentiles who otherwise might not have become Christians.
(Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8)
“O God, let all the nations praise you.” Of course, not all nations praise God, but we do.
A reading from the Book of Revelation
(Chapter 21:10-14, 22-23)
The writer tells us, “The angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.” This was written long after the physical city of Jerusalem had been destroyed. “I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb. The city had no sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light.”
Jerusalem, the heart of Judaism, had been destroyed, but in the vision the new holy city came down from heaven. It was the symbol of the new faith, built on Judaism but fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John
(Chapter 14: 23-29)
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. . . . I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me you would rejoice that I am going to the Father.’”
Here we have Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one passage. This occurred right before Jesus left for the last time, so he wanted to be clear about what was most important for the apostles to remember and follow. They should not worry about what to teach. The Holy Spirit would teach them everything they needed to know and remind them of what Jesus had already taught them.
This is what was most important to remember—that the Holy Spirit would be with them, guiding them always and helping them make important and difficult decisions such as the question of circumcision that we heard about in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. We believe that the same Holy Spirit is with us today, guiding us and our leaders. Of course, the Spirit has been stifled so many times throughout the history of the Church, including in our own time when some Church leaders failed to act property to deal with sexual abuse by clergy. That does not mean that the Spirit is absent but rather that it is not heard and followed.
Let us pray that our Church and each of us in our own lives will be open to the power of the Holy Spirit, that we may seek wisdom and follow it in the love of Jesus Christ.
Painting: An image of Christ with the alpha and omega from the Roman Catacombs, fourth century AD.
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
Bill Ayers was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.