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Blog: May 22, 2022

Fr. Jeff and others share reflections on the Sunday readings.

May 22, 2022

“The apostles and the presbyters 

met together to see about this matter. 

After much debate had taken place, 

Peter got up and said to them, 

‘My brothers, you are well aware that from early days

God made his choice among you that through my mouth

the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. 

And God, who knows the heart, bore witness 

by granting them the holy Spirit just as he did us. 

He made no distinction between us and them, 

for by faith he purified their hearts. 

Why, then, are you now putting God to the test 

by placing on the shoulders of the disciples 

a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 

On the contrary, we believe that we are saved 

through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.’”

The first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles describes the pressing issue and the resulting letter sent to Antioch. It leaves out 19 verses that describe what has come to be called the Council of Jerusalem in about the year 50 AD. After a brief description of their travels, arriving in Jerusalem, and the opposition of some to Paul and Barnabas, the verses above describe how Peter, the Rock upon whom Christ would build his Church, responded. Following these verses is the response of James, the bishop of Jerusalem, who gave the wording for the direction of the letter in the Gospel reading. Peter’s response, as noted above, was after much debate. In contrast to Jesus, who spoke with great authority, it can seem that the process for the Council of Jerusalem seems too mundane and ordinary. Yet, it is clear, that for the Church, the Holy Spirit is at work in very ordinary processes: debate, dialogue, consultation, and discernment. 

I would like to think that the Holy Spirit speaks into the ear of the Pope for decisions to be made. The Holy Spirit, however, doesn’t work like that. Instead, the Holy Spirit is in the very human process of dialogue, debate, and consensus that arise in response to questions. The Council of Jerusalem became the model for decision making in the Church from the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 AD to the Second Vatican Council which concluded in 1965 AD. Those 21 ecumenical councils included great debates and conflict, but resulted in clarifying Catholic belief and practice in union with the pope and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The essential need for listening to various viewpoints is clear, while it is also clear that a singular direction results from prayerful discernment and listening to the Holy Spirit. It is not magic, but the very human and divine process of attentiveness to the needs of the Church and the world and the direction of God. The Church, itself, is a complex reality, both human and divine. Our process for making decisions is the same. 

Pope Francis, in reflecting on the Council of Jerusalem, said, “To discern God’s will in these matters, the apostles gathered in Jerusalem, and came to a new shared understanding. The Council of Jerusalem shows us that the way of resolving issues among Christians is an attentive listening to others, yet always under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray that God will strengthen in us the desire to embrace the path of dialogue, and to listen patiently to one another, and to the voice of the Lord.”