From the Parish House

As Australians get ready to cast their vote this weekend, the readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, coincidently, talk about the election of delegates to be sent to the early Christian communities of Antioch, Syria and Cilicia.  This text gives us insight into how the early Church was emerging.  It looks like Christianity spread fairly briskly to the north of Jerusalem.

According to the Acts of the Apostles, the delegates are being sent to settle the issues of whether or not newly baptised Christians would first have to be initiated into the Jewish tradition through circumcision and also whether they would receive instruction on the Mosaic Law.  The dilemma shows how thoroughly Jewish the first Christians were.  It also shows how the development of Christianity required discernment, dialogue, and debate.  Paul and Barnabas have a long argument with these people, we are told.  And so we learn that the shape of the Church, the requirements for initiation and the missionary emphasis of the Church develops over time.  Jesus didn’t leave a blueprint for his followers.  He left no policy and procedures manual on how to be a Church!  What Jesus did leave behind was the witness of his own life, death and resurrection and the promise of the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide his followers.

In the particular passage we read this Sunday, Acts 15:1-2, 22-29, the problem is sorted out by members of the local Church gathering with the apostles and the elders in Jerusalem.  They prayed, deliberated, and then came to a decision.  This text is often pointed to as the very first Church Council.  The outcome of that Council was then relayed in a letter delivered by elected delegates as described in the following verses:

‘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.
If you keep free of these,
you will be doing what is right.  Farewell.’ (Acts 15:22-29)

And so over time the Church continues to discern, deliberate and make decisions about its life.  New challenges continue to confront the Christian community and need to be face openly and honestly.  They must be determined prayerfully, with an ear to the Holy Spirit.  This is what is happening in the Church in Australia at the moment with the process of the Plenary Council.  It is what Pope Francis refers to as a Synodal Church: one in which all the voices of the faithful are listened to and respected as we step into the future.  “Let’s walk together as a Church with the Holy Spirit” is Pope Francis’ call.

Soon we will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost.  We should expect the same Spirit that is witnessed in the Acts of the Apostles to visit us once again.  Of course, that Spirit is always among us.  Sometimes it is a matter of us tuning in and listening to both the signs of our times and the prompting of the Spirit.

By Fr Brendan Reed

 

Parish Priest

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