(Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge: 8am; Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: 5.30pm)
5 May 2013
(Readings: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Ps 66; Apoc 21:10-14, 22-23; Jn 14:23-29)
In a recent homily, Pope Francis made the statement that some would find provocative: he said, “one cannot believe in Jesus without the Church” (1) You could write books on that statement … but underneath it is our belief that the Church – the organized community of believers – is part of God’s plan. It’s not an accident that appeared in the aftermath of the Incarnation: but something intended by God and indeed begun by Christ.
In today’s Gospel Jesus is preparing his disciple for the fact that he is “going away.” He is soon to return to his Father, having accomplished his saving death and resurrection. This thought prepares our minds for the feast we will celebrate next Sunday: the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven. As he prepares his disciples for when he will no longer visibly be with them, he promises the gift of the Holy Spirit to them, and he says that the Holy Spirit will remind them of everything he taught them, and also that the Holy Spirit will teach them everything.
What’s implied in this is that there’s more for the disciples of Jesus to learn. Jesus could only say so much during his earthly life – he had a finite amount of time to speak, to act. The disciples, for their part, had the limitation of what they could take in and understand. And as we know from the Gospels, they were particularly slow to understand. Jesus often expresses an amazement at how slow to understand they are. But neither the fact that Jesus’ earthly, visible presence was limited by time, or the fact that the disciples could only take so much in – neither of those things would be insurmountable obstacles, because the Holy Spirit would both remind and teach the community of believers after Jesus had returned to the Father.
We see this in action in our first reading today. Right from the beginning, the Church had to solve problems. A dispute had arisen about what should be expected of non-Jewish converts to Christianity. And so the first Church Council was convened – the Council of Jerusalem. (The most recent Church Council, of course, was in the 1960s, the Second Vatican Council). In this first Church Council at Jerusalem, the Christian community had to work out what would be required of Gentile converts. It also, indirectly, had to deal with the issue of some people acting without the mandate or authority of the apostles and elders. It is interesting to hear the declaration of the decision: “It has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves … .” This is the very living out of what Jesus had promised: the Holy Spirit will teach you everything. And so we have in our readings today an excellent illustration of how the Church is the living continuation of the mission of Jesus– and how the Church is a community of believers with a structure that includes leaders who continue the ministry of the first apostles; and also the fact that the Church has the role – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – to answer questions faced at any particular moment of history, and to decide on matters of faith and morals. “Christian identity means being a member of the Church … The great [Pope] Paul VI said: it is an absurd dichotomy to wish to live with Jesus but without the Church, to follow Jesus but without the Church, to love Jesus but without the Church” (1).
So if we’ve considered the origins of the Church, and the fact that the Church continues the mission of Jesus throughout time, always guided by the Holy Spirit, then we need to keep our destination in mind. Because the Church doesn’t make sense, and indeed the journey of life doesn’t make sense, unless we always keep in mind where we’re heading. Our Second Reading today presents us with the image of the heavenly Jerusalem. The image presented is something of great beauty: radiant and shining; something of grand and beautiful proportions. A place where there will no longer need to be things and places pointing to God, because everything will be in God. There’ll be no need for light from sun or moon because the radiant glory of God will be the city’s light. We see a glimpse of heaven. In the heavenly Jerusalem, there’ll be no need for Church councils to sort out problems … like the one that took place in the earthly Jerusalem of the first century recounted in our First Reading.
Jesus has gone before us to the Father, and we should be glad, because he will return to take us there too. With a thought always for our heavenly destiny, we the disciples of Jesus continue along the paths of time, recognizing that Jesus has called us into the community of his brothers and sisters, the Church. We rejoice at the consolation and guidance of the Holy Spirit who never leaves the Church, and who continues to remind us of all that Jesus said and did, and who continues to teach us the mind and will of God as we face the questions of our own day, as the Church has done from the very beginning.
As we offer Mass today, let’s ask God’s blessing on Christ’s Church and all her members, upon our bishops who are the successors of the apostles. Each one of us is a part of the body of Christ, and so let us all do what we can to be vital parts of the body, and not to be parts that are malfunctioning or harming the rest of the body. May we all work together to take the message of salvation to the world, which was Christ’s mission, and which the Church has attempted to continue in every age.
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(1) Pope Francis, Homily, 23 April 2013, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/homilies/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20130423_omelia-san-giorgio_en.html.