Renewal amidst change

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Among the many things Jesus told His apostles in His farewell address (Jn. 14:23–29) was, "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." Keeping Jesus' word is the way we show our love for Jesus.

At the personal level, before we can keep Jesus' word, we obviously have to know it. Thus there is need not only to read the Word of God as found in the Scriptures specially the Gospels but also to prayerfully reflect on it. This should then lead us to an affirmation of faith, hope and love and which we make concrete through our good works.

At the institutional level, though Jesus founded the Church, He did not give it organizational details. Rather, He only gave a thrust — “Make disciples of all nations... Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19–20). Its organization into a living and functioning Church was left to the apostles under the leadership of Peter. This caused problems in the early Church.

The Acts of the Apostles (15: 1–2;22–29) records the first crisis that the early Church faced. As we know, Paul was commissioned to preach the Good News to the Gentiles. He baptized them without requiring them to observe the law of Moses, specially that of ritual circumcision and its dietary laws, i. e. not to eat forbidden food. With this approach, he was able to win over many converts.

However, his ministry was disrupted when some Christian teachers from Judea compelled the Gentiles to follow the Mosaic law. Paul opposed this vehemently. He argued that salvation is won by faith in Christ, not by the works of the law. But recognizing the authority of the Jerusalem Church, Paul and Barnabas went there to argue their case before the apostles and presbyters headed by Peter. This gathering was later called the Council of Jerusalem.

After intense debate, the Council decided that converts were not obliged to observe the Mosaic law in its entirety. However, to facilitate social contact with Jewish Christians, they were to observe certain minimum Jewish practices like abstaining “from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage.” This decision which vindicated Paul was received with great joy by the Gentile community.

The issue tackled in the Council of Jerusalem may appear to us as a non–issue. But for the early Church, the issue was crucial — it could mean the end of the ministry to the Gentiles. And thanks to its timely resolution, the ministry to the Gentiles was able to proceed. Unknown to most of us, it was because of this Council decision that the Good News had reached our shores.

Over the centuries, the Church continually faced the issue of renewal as new issues surfaced. For the Church to be constantly renewed, she must reflect on the words of Jesus under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For even as Jesus urged the apostles to keep His word, He also gave them the Holy Spirit who “will instruct you in everything and remind you of all I have told you” (Jn. 14:26).

The Holy Spirit is Jesus' gift to us as individuals. We listen to Him specially in prayer, guided by the words of Jesus and the wisdom accumulated by the Church over the centuries. The Holy Spirit is also Jesus' gift to the Church. It is through the Holy Spirit that the Church's fidelity to the teachings of Jesus has been assured over the centuries and continues to our day and into the future.

We live our faith not only as individuals but also as a community of believers, as a church. As we know, the family is a domestic church in itself while the parish is the basic unit of the institutional church. The Christian community — family or parish — is a rich source of inspiration and strength. But it can also be a source of dissension and discouragement. This is specially true in our day and age when changes happen very fast.

This is not only true in the individual level but also in our parish and at times in the whole Church. Thus the question as to what we should hold on to and what we should let go often arises. When this happens, we can always look back on how the Council of Jerusalem handled the issue that confronted it then: fidelity to the teaching of Jesus under the guidance of His Holy Spirit.

One Church father has summed this approach for us when he said, “In all essentials, unity; in all non-essentials, liberty; in everything, charity.” If we follow this simple rule, then unity, love and peace will always prevail in the various communities and groupings we are part of — our family, parish, school, workplace, etc. — as we tackle issues that challenge the faith in our day and in the future.