Thursday, May 30, 2019

Homily 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time May 16, 2019

Homily     6th Sunday of Ordinary Time     May 16, 2019
          In the first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles we heard Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers,
‘Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice,
you cannot be saved.’   Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question.”
          And then we hear later of the resolution of this issue.   First of all, note that “there arose no little dissention and debate” among them.   Does this sound at all familiar?   We have plenty of dissension and debate in our own day: in politics certainly.  But also in many other areas, including the Church.  Just as in the earliest days of Christianity there was a division between those who upheld the Mosaic Law, and especially the requirement of circumcision, against the party of Barnabas and Paul, who held that we are saved by faith in Jesus, not by the Law.  A fundamental and basic difference, and it caused bitter division.
          St. Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, summarizes and frankly papers over the extent and contentiousness of the debate.  The parties go to Jerusalem, lay out their arguments to the Apostles, and they make a decision that gentile converts do not have to be circumcised, and everyone is happy.  But we know historically that is not what happened.  If you read the epistles of St. Paul you can see that he was dogged and criticized and fought with the pro-Law party, the circumcision party, for the rest of his life.  Paul was far from a complete success.  Only later, when Christianity broke completely with Judaism after the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., did the issue finally get resolved. 
           I bring this up for two reasons.  First, in the Gospel today Jesus tells us: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
          It sounds as if the Holy Spirit will come to us and solve all of our issues and problems, teaching us everything, and we will all be at peace and in harmony with each other.  I wish.
          But obviously that is not true.  Because the second reason I bring this up is that all through history, and into our day and time, there have been bitter divisions and dissention in the church.  And it is still here. 
          For centuries the church fought over the nature of Jesus:  was he a man adopted by God as His Son, as some passages of St. Paul seem to indicate?  Or was He God dressed up like a man?  It took centuries for the church to figure out that Jesus is true God, and true man, and truly one and the same.  Mind boggling but true.
          There were more fights over the Trinity.  Over the Real Presence in the Eucharist.  Over the nature of grace.  Over whether the earth or the sun is at the center of the universe.  Over many other issues.
          Historically, teachings change.  For centuries the Catholic Church taught that slavery was natural, part of the nature of things, and condoned by the Bible.  St. Paul tells slaves to be obedient to their masters.  Until the beginning of the 20th Century the Holy Office in Rome defended this teaching on slavery.  But now, if you read Pope Saint John Paul the II on human trafficking – which is another name for slavery – it is fiercely condemned as sinful.   A turn-around of 180 degrees.
           And today we have plenty of controversies about gender, about the role of women, homosexuality, mandatory celibacy for priests, and so on.   Two hundred years from now we will probably know the answer to all these questions.  But then we will have new questions.  Can extra-terrestrials be saved, perhaps? 
          Where is the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, in all this?  Jesus promised that the Advocate “will teach you everything.”  Everything.   But Jesus did not promise that the Holy Spirit would teach us everything immediately.  And that is a great disappointment.  Because it means that we have to work and struggle towards the truth.  And like the experience of St. Paul, that is disturbing, painful, confusing and a lot of work facing opposition.
          But it means that we are part of that search for the truth.  An important part.  We do not receive the truth pre-digested as if we were infants.  Somehow, through the Holy Spirit, we are an integral part of the search for truth.  And ultimately, we have faith that the Holy Spirit will never let us stray too far or too long from the truth, but speaking to our hearts, will continually lead us to the fullness of God’s truth. 
          //        Immediately on promising us the gift of the Holy Spirit, and perhaps knowing that this would not be an easy gift, but a struggle fraught with doubt and confusion, Jesus assures us: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
The Peace of Jesus does not make everything go smooth and calm.  Jesus’ peace does not make things easy for us.  Rather, His peace is a type of strength, a strength to hang in there and remain committed to the truth, even when it is difficult and unpleasant.  Not as the world gives peace - which is the absence of conflict - does Jesus give us peace, but rather as a strength that commits us to seeking His truth.   And He will be with us.  That is why Jesus can assure us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

Inspired by the example of St. Paul, and all those seekers of truth who have gone before us, let us put our trust in the Lord, and patiently, but persistently, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to a fuller and fuller understanding of the Truth.   And ultimately, when we find the Truth, we will find that His name is Jesus.  

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