Peter and Paul Conflict

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.

circumcison knifeWho wrote this? St. Paul. The first pope had erred how?

By acting in a hypocritical manner. Apparently because he feared conflict—over a matter in which conflict could not be avoided.

St. Peter knew by divine revelation that under the New Covenant all foods were “clean.” The Lord had given St. Peter a vision, while the Apostle made his way to the pagan home of…? The centurion Cornelius.

But that doesn’t mean that the problem was simple. God had given the Law of Moses to His Chosen People. Not all of that Law admitted of revision. The Ten Commandments still remained in effect, of course. And circumcision had distinguished God’s people for almost two millennia. Also, in pagan homes, worshiping false gods usually involved eating foods offered to them. Christians had to take care to avoid even the appearance of co-operating with pagan worship.

To try to deal with these difficult matters, they convened the Council of…? Jerusalem.

Much to the relief of the adult pagan men who wanted to enter Christ’s Church, the Council decided that they could retain their foreskins.

That said, the Apostles decided that the prohibitions in Leviticus 18 remained in effect. No homosexuality, and no marriage within the family (including in-laws).

Moral: Sometimes finding our way together as God’s People gets difficult. But the Lord does help us.

Schoolhouse Rules and the New Testament

Roanoke Catholic School

Both our readings at Holy Mass today touch on “the Law.”

We might reasonably wonder whether or not the New Testament actually teaches us to obey the Law.  After all, St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “You are separated from Christ, you who are trying to be justified by the Law.”  And we read in St. Luke’s gospel that “the Pharisees were amazed to see that Jesus did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal.”

Must we, then, follow the rules?  If we walk by pure faith, awaiting our blessed hope in Jesus, can we wear skirts above the knee?  Can we talk in class, even when we’re not supposed to?  Can we butt in line, as long as we believe in Jesus?

Here’s the thing.  We can read the New Testament from beginning to end, and nowhere does it say that the Ten Commandments are wrong.  The Law of God always demands our obedience.  And good school rules, laid down by good teachers and principals, serve a good purpose—namely, that everybody get a good education.

brunelleschi_crucifixSo: No talking when you’re not supposed to, no butting in line, and no short skirts.

But:  We can’t parade around like little Mr. or Miss Goody Two Shoes Pharisee, either.  Everyday we have to look at a crucifix and remember:  Our God and Savior died to save sinners.  He forgives sinners.

The Law of God demands a lot.  All of us fail sometimes.  When we admit the truth, God forgives.  Not only that, He gives us help from heaven so that we can do better.

If it were just us and The Rules, we would find ourselves hopelessly lost and alone.  That’s what St. Paul means when he writes that no one is justified by the Law.  But it’s not just us and The Rules.

God has a special plan for each of us, so that we can become exactly who He made us to be.  Each individual plan unfolds with its own unique beauty and glory.

He gave us His Law to help us find our way.  The Law is good.  But even better is the fact that He was willing to die so that we could always have a fresh start, no matter what.  A fresh start on the journey to becoming our true selves in Christ.

Pope, Vice President, Faith, Kites

The faith of Abraham, the faith of the Church, the saving grace of life, the definitive gift of God: believing in Christ. Believing that God is good, loving, that He hears our prayers, that He forgives our sins, that He is our friend, that He wills our good, our ultimate success—our definitive, permanent success.

On Wednesday, Pope Benedict said:

I believe, then, that we must learn the simplest and most fundamental lessons of the Council, and that is that Christianity in its essence consists in faith in God, who is Trinitarian Love, and in a personal and communal encounter with Christ who orients and guides our lives. Everything else follows from this.

The important thing today, as was the desire of the Council Fathers, is that we see clearly and anew that God is present, that he is watching over us, that he responds to us, and that by contrast, when faith in God is found wanting, all that is essential crumbles, because man loses his profound dignity and what makes his humanity great… The Council reminds us that the Church, in all her members, has the task, the mandate, of transmitting the word of God’s saving love, so that the divine call that holds within itself our eternal beatitude may be heard and welcomed.

Yesterday, he continued:

If today the Church proposes a new Year of Faith and a new evangelization, it is not to honor an anniversary, but because there is more need of it, even more than there was fifty years ago!…

Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual ‘desertification.’ In the Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing.

Yesterday evening, the Vice President said on television that we Catholics hold de fide, that is by faith, that human life begins at conception. “But I would never impose my faith on anyone else.”

The first statement is untrue. The Church has never taught us when human life begins. We conclude by scientific reasoning that human life begins at conception. Believer and unbeliever alike agree that doing violence to innocent human beings is wrong.

What we Catholics believe lies at a much deeper level of truth. What we Catholics believe, what we Christians believe, is that every human being has the chance to get to heaven. We believe that doing good and avoiding evil is our way of being friends with Almighty God. We believe that God has a plan for every human being, that He loves every human being, that He made every human being for a reason

He knows the reason in His infinite wisdom, and He gradually reveals the glorious reason to us, with the beauty of every day that He gives, the air in our lungs–and the transcendent wisdom that grows in our own souls when we pray pray pray our way through life.

Pope says the world has become a spiritual desert. The water that the desert needs is our Catholic faith. We do not impose. We propose. And the truth of what we believe wins souls–like the wind makes kites fly.

Customs and Evangelization (Understanding Galatians)

The first age of history awaited the coming of Christ. Right after the Fall of man, the Lord promised a Redeemer Who would crush the head of Satan. Then He promised Abraham that the world’s blessing would come from among Abraham’s descendants. As a sign of his faith in this promise, Abraham submitted to circumcision.

Forty-two generations passed between the Lord’s promise to Abraham and its fulfillment in the womb of the Virgin. Plenty of time to build up a complex set of customs, even if your nation isn’t being given explicit commandments by Almighty God Himself. When you throw that into the mix, you wind up with customs that have all the trappings of sacredness. Circumcision may not be pretty, but sacred? Yes.

However: The actual coming of the promised Messiah requires a thorough re-evaluation of all customs, no matter how sacred. Yes, the Lord commanded circumcision as a sign of Abraham’s faith in what was to come. But now that the hope of ancient Israel has been fulfilled, and Abraham himself has rejoiced to see the day of Christ, maybe we don’t necessarily have to insist that all new Christian men submit to the mohel’s knife?

Indeed not. The Messiah said baptize, not circumcise. Circumcision was always a symbol of the interior reality anyway. As the Lord put it through the prophet Jeremiah (4:4), Remove the foreskins, not of your outer members, but of your hearts!

Now, certainly it is true that, without our established customs, we lose our way altogether. When in doubt—which we often are—it usually makes sense just to do things the way we have “always” done them. The longer we have been doing something in a particular way, the more likely that there are a million reasons, which we don’t even know, as to why we should, indeed, do it that way.

But no custom can bind us definitively unless Jesus Christ Himself instituted it. Christ Himself, and His love for every human being, must be the measure of all human customs.

We live in the age of the New Evangelization, which means we must consider ourselves the spiritual brothers and sisters of the Apostles and first Christians. A world that does not know the Savior awaits us, and that world needs Christ.

The world, though, does not necessarily need to be like us. Yes, like us, precisely to the extent that Christ has taken over our lives. Yes, like us, if “like us” means like the saints. But, otherwise, Christ wants everyone to be themselves. On the one hand, there are the basic rules of Christian living, the fundamental principles of decency, justice, and respect. Then, on the other hand, there is the breathtaking array of ways in which God has made us to be ourselves.

Our parish communities have excellent customs. Some of them may have been originated by the Apostles, like serving spaghetti dinners one Friday a month, or eating cookies after Mass, or having committees.

But: There are our community’s beautiful particular customs, and then there is the fundamental life of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We always have to keep in mind that everyone is welcome to experience, and indeed everyone has a right to experience, the fundamental life of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church right here in our parish-church buildings.

In other words, everyone has the right to hear the Word of God and to receive the sacraments from the hands of the priest, according to the rules established by a higher authority than us—and that is the fundamental reason why our buildings were built.

The more we keep this in mind, the more evangelical a community we will be.