Sunday of Easter, Year C
First Reading: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Second Reading: Rev 21:10-14, 22-23
Gospel Reading: Jn 14:23-29
Next Sunday marks our Lord’s Ascension, which occurred 40 days after his Resurrection. During those 40 days, Jesus must have been preparing his disciples for his departure. Probably, they would have been upset and afraid. They had often misunderstood him. Upon his arrest, they had all deserted him. Where would they would get the knowledge and the courage to carry on his work without him?
The answer is contained in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid,” Jesus said, for “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit,” would teach them everything they needed to know.
Actually, Jesus was replying to a question from the apostle Jude: “Lord, why is it that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus’ answer, therefore, in effect, charged his apostles with the mandate and the authority to reveal him to the world, the mandate and the authority the Catholic Church still claims.
People sometimes say that they object not to religion per se, but to what they call “organized” religion. They imagine that Jesus taught a simple, loving doctrine which later Christians distorted by “institutionalizing” it.
On the contrary, the First Reading shows that the Church’s organization existed right from the beginning, ordained by Christ himself. It shows that as soon as disagreement arose among the Christians, “Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders.” In their reply, the apostles pointed out that the trouble-makers had acted “with no instructions” from them and they delivered their judgment with the words, “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”
Clearly, the first Christians believed that the apostles had authority, and they understood that this authority came from God. Now what the first Christians believed and understood is itself authoritative, for they had lived with Jesus and actually heard his teaching, in their own language.
The Second Reading confirms the hierarchical organization of the early Church. The “great, high wall” of the new Jerusalem (often used to represent the Church) “has twelve foundation stones,” it says, “and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” It reminds us of what Christ said to Peter: “On this rock I will build my Church.”
The apostles did not exercise their authority arbitrarily, according to their own whim. As they said in their letter, they exercised it in union with the Holy Spirit. Now Jesus had promised that the Holy Spirit would be sent by the Father, in the name of the Son, to remind them of all that he himself had said, as we hear in the Gospel Reading. Moreover, he had said that his word was not his own, but came from the Father, who had sent him. What the Church teaches authoritatively, therefore, is backed by God the Holy Trinity.
This is what people misunderstand when they think that the Pope has the authority to “allow” artificial contraception or to ordain women priests. No; he has the authority to interpret for us the word of the Father, explained by Christ and confirmed by the Holy Spirit; and God’s word does not change.
We must conform to God’s ways, not he to ours. Some of his ways may appeal to us (like compassion for the poor), while others may not (like “women cannot be ordained”). However, if we want to know his ways, we must heed the Church, for she alone has his authority to teach them.
“Whoever listens to you, listens to me,” Jesus told his apostles. “Whoever rejects you, rejects me.” When we follow the Church’s teaching, we can rest in the peace of Christ, the peace he himself has because he does not his own will, but the will of his Father, who sent him.
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