6th Sunday of Easter
Year C

The City Sparkled Like A Diamond.

We pray for the dead, "May perpetual light shine upon them". Have you ever wondered what sort of light perpetual light would be?

Soft and white, perhaps, like the light of a frosted bulb? Piercing, like the headlight of a motorcycle? Scary electric blue, like a flash of lightning? Too dazzling even to look at, like the glare of the summer sun? It might resemble any of these.

But somehow I believe that the light in heaven will be more gracious. Today's second reading suggests what I mean. St. John had a preview of the "new Jerusalem" to be sent down by God. He says "The city had the radiance of a precious jewel that sparkled like a diamond". In other words it shone with a glittering, amiable, transparent light. John used similar descriptions elsewhere in the Book of Revelations. "The city was of pure gold, crystal clear." "The streets of the city were of pure gold, transparent as glass." "The floor around (God's) throne was like a sea of glass that was crystal clear." Centuries before St. John's day, the prophet Ezekiel had described the sky above God, whom he too saw in a vision, as shining "like glittering crystal".

From 1915 to 1917 the three children of Fatima, Portugal - Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta - had several visions of Our Lady and of angels. They, too, described the light in these visions as something you could see through. Lucia has recorded that the angel they saw in 1916 "was a young man, about 14 or 15 years old, whiter than snow, transparent as crystal when the sun shines through it." And when Our Lady appeared to them on May 13, 1917, Lucy said "she was more brilliant than the sun, and radiated with a light more clear and intense than a crystal glass filled with sparkling water when the rays of the burning sun shine through it."

I think I would like that sort of light.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q267: The early Church seems to be embroiled in dissension less than one decade after the Resurrection of Jesus. Can the Holy Spirit really be at work in those circumstances?

Perhaps the question could be rephrased this way: “Is there a place for both controversy and peace in our Church?” There are a lot of ways to nuance the meanings of “dissension” and “debate,” but the underlying thrust is the same: disagreement over a matter of importance, at least to the parties engaged in debate. The year is only about 49 or 50 AD when this occurred, which shows that lively arguments were arising whenever “changes” occurred that would alter or even threaten to modify “established” rituals and practices.

The answer is a resounding “YES.” The Church grew and still grows in understanding its faith through lively discussions and debates among qualified theologians. Those discussions have been going on ever since the vision of St. Peter (Acts 10) which led to the baptism of the first Gentiles (Cornelius’ household), around 43 AD. It is important to recognize the wording of the Apostles’ decision regarding the waiver of the former discipline of circumcision: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than…necessary things…” (Acts 15:28). Clearly, the dietary laws, variations in certain rituals, and similar disciplines were deemed eligible for change as circumstances warranted.

Every suggested change creates healthy discussions, and is preceded by healthy discussions. Closure is then brought to the discussion at some point in time, when the Apostles (or their successors, the united Bishops) reach a decision. Cultural conditioning plays a large part in some decisions (e.g., Paul insisting that women had to wear hats in church), as it does today – also called matters of “discipline.”

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Perhaps it is better to leave the debates in the hands of the theologians, who are schooled in the ways of theological research (CCC #94), and who know the difference between debate and dissension. At some point in time, the Magisterium — the official and recognized teaching office of the Catholic church — reaches a decision on a subject, and to that decision we owe the obedience of faith (CCC#144, 85, 88) or assent of faith (optimally), or as a minimum the religious respect of intellect and will; and the Christian faithful are called upon “to take care to avoid whatever is not in harmony with that teaching” (Canon Law #752).

Q423: Is the lesson from the First Reading (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29) intended to simply do away with the ritual of circumcision in the Christian community?

There is more involved in this Reading than the “sign” of the Old Covenant, circumcision. Elsewhere St. Paul has made his case that Abraham was justified (“right with God”) because he “believed” God before circumcision became a “sign.” Therefore, it was not right to force a ritual on newcomers (Gentiles) if “belief” is the first criterion of salvation.

More importantly, we see that dissension within the Church over ancient rituals was resolved by taking the issue to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. Their final decision has these important lines: “Some…without any instructions from us have upset you… It is the decision of the Holy Spirit, and ours too, not to lay on you any burden beyond that which is strictly necessary…” Disciplines (not dogmas) can be changed by the proper authorities, as in this case.

That decision was carried back to Antioch (the third largest city in the Roman Empire at that time) by two representatives of the Jerusalem Church, and accepted by the Church in Antioch. Later when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans (c. 70 A.D.), the official church center would move from Jerusalem to Rome.

Clearly the authority of the apostles is evident in this decision of the “Jerusalem Council” - an authority that was later passed on to their successors, the bishops who were united with the Holy Father in Rome. The authority of the Magisterium (official teaching office of the Church) in matters of faith and morals comes from Christ (CCC #2033-37) and therefore demands the faithful preaching and teaching of God's truths.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The New Covenant was sealed not with the blood of circumcision, but with the blood of Jesus Christ (CCC #610, 613). This and other dogmas are examples of the exercise of authority given to the Church Magisterium by Christ. They are obligatory since they are truths contained in divine Revelation or have a necessary connection with them (CCC #88).

That All May Be One

Today's gospel shows us Jesus saying farewell to his disciples and calling on them to be faithful to his teaching.  But where would they find the strength and guidance to be faithful to his command to love one another in unity? Jesus tells them the Holy Spirit will be there to guide and strengthen them.  It wasn't long before the church had great need for that guidance.

Within 30 years they faced great dissension. Gentiles had begun to respond to the teaching of Christ. Some said they had to be circumcised and follow the Jewish laws of ritual purity. This was heatedly opposed by Paul and Barnabas. The apostles, elders, and Jewish Christians met with Paul and Barnabas in Jerusalem and fiercely debated the issue. They came up with a compromise: the Gentiles had to follow some precepts of the Law but did not have to be circumcised and observe some of the Jewish food laws. They prefaced their decree with an important statement: "It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us …"

The Gentiles had already received the Holy Spirit so the problem was solved but not without some continuing tension over its interpretation. The Holy Spirit had moved the church into a global church and challenges us to continue the process today.  Unity is often difficult to achieve. We experience disunity in our families, churches, cities, nation, and world, and we have strong disagreements over some teachings and practices. But we have a mandate from Jesus to work so that all may be one.

Come Holy Spirit and help to be united in love for the greater glory of God.