St. John Fisher Roman Catholic Church

30 Jones Hollow Road, Marlborough, CT 06447

6th Sunday of Easter C22

When we use the word crisis, what immediately comes to mind? If you are like most people, it means something bad is going to happen, e.g., a health crisis. But it can also mean a turning point, a time to make a judgment or an opportunity for change.

The first people to hear the Good News as preached by the Apostles were Jewish or the people who joined the Jewish faith. Even Paul and Barnabbas at the beginning of their ministry went to the synagogues of Jews scattered throughout the lands of the Eastern Mediterranean. Only when the Jews wouldn’t accept their preaching, Paul and Barnabbas decided to go to the Gentiles who gladly welcomed them and were baptized in great numbers.

But some Jewish converts wanted to have the Gentile converts to obey the Mosaic Law in its entirety and demanded they had to accept the Jewish faith before accepting Jesus as their Savior. This went against Paul’s belief that anyone who believes in Jesus is justified by faith in him, not by the works of the Law. Salvation comes from Christ as a gift, not by our efforts alone. This difference in approach led “to no little dissension and debate”, so much so that Paul, Barnabbas and some of the others went to the Apostles and the elders in Jerusalem about this question.  Paul was seen by the traditionalists or conservatives as a far-out liberal who wanted to throw out all that had been important in the people chosen by God to be the bearers of salvation. The Lectionary for Sunday skips the impassioned debate (vss. 5-21) that took place and gives us the conclusion that they reached. I beg you to read the entire chapter because it lays out how to handle controversial topics, not only in church matters but also political.

First of all, they talked and listened to each other. We don’t know it was one afternoon or a week or more. Secondly, they consulted the Scriptures (the Jewish scriptures; no gospel had yet been written and besides, Jesus didn’t leave any instructions on this matter). Thirdly, they relied on their experiences. Fourthly, they acted as a group, though Peter and James (the head of the church in Jerusalem) played key roles. Fifthly, they were open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage”. This was a compromise of sorts because this was part of the Covenant between God and the Jewish people.

It was a true crisis, a turning point, in that the Church was no longer seen as another sect of Judaism but truly catholic, universal, not limited to one people or one culture. The Council of Jerusalem opened the doors of faith in Jesus to each of us.

There have been many crises and responses of Councils in the history of the Church on which we can focus, but two stand out to me: Trent and Vatican II.

Trent was in response to the Protestant Reformation, and its response was to circle the wagons by defining who belongs to the Roman Catholic Church by issuing a series of condemnations (anathemas). If you agree, you’re in; if you do not, you’re out. It was a defensive measure.

Vatican II was called to address the Church’s response to the modern world. The worldwide bishops gathered in Rome with many expecting something similar to the decrees of Trent, something previously written by Roman officials to which they would vote on. The Holy Spirit had other plans, inspiring them to open the windows to the modern world, welcoming rather than condemning it. The bishops wrote various documents, explaining the Church’s position, a positive, evangelizing approach. Some 60 years later, there are some traditionalists who want to back to what the Church was before Vatican II because in their nostalgia for the past they choose not to see the world’s situation is not the same as it was in the ‘40’s or ‘50’s.

And decisions have to be made today. Married priests? Women priests (which we should not talk or even think about according to one recent pope)? What about the Church’s response to racism, homosexuality, transgender persons? What do we do regarding the shrinking # of vocations to the priesthood, the closing or merging of parishes?

All these and more present opportunities to act as did those attending the Council of Jerusalem. Pray that the Holy Spirit enlighten the Church leaders, both ordained and non-ordained, with wisdom, prudence and courage.

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