• David Knight

Thursday, Week Seven of Easter

The Responsorial (Psalm 16) provides deep support for loyalty: “Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.

In Acts 22:30; 23:6-11 we see Paul uniting in himself fidelity to the charismatic and to the juridical. He follows the voice of the Spirit, but insists on his obedience to the Law.

We may be shocked to hear Paul claiming, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee.” We need to remember that the Pharisees began as an authentically Jewish reform movement based on fidelity to the Law. This was what God called for constantly through the prophets. It became corrupted only gradually, as it degenerated into narrow legalism. A focus on law observance that does not pass through contemplation of the mind and heart of God is deadly. But law observance as such is good. It is fidelity to God, and Paul claimed it for himself. He also claimed fidelity to the Spirit who can never be restricted to laws. In this he embodied Christianity.

Christianity is essentially the union of the human and the divine. Laws belong to the human side. Laws are the infinite, indivisible, and ultimately undifferentiated Wisdom and Love of God translated into finite human concepts; broken down into particular directions to guide concrete human actions. Laws are by nature “defined” by fines, limits, specifications. We must keep in mind that they are always imperfect translations of the Infinite, and we must observe them in conscious submission to the Infinite Truth and Goodness they can never completely express. We ob-serve laws, but we only serve the Spirit.

The prayer that accompanies the mingling of water (for humanity) and wine (for divinity) during the Presentation of Gifts captures this:

By the mystery of [the mingling of] this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

Jesus, who was above the Law, subjected himself to the Law, but without contradiction, because he was the Law made flesh. When we who have “become Christ” by Baptism follow the Spirit, it is the spirit of the law we follow. This is not to “abolish the law but to fulfill it. This is our mission as prophets. Only God can keep us authentic. “Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope. 1

Once mixed, the water and wine are indistinguishable, as were humanity and divinity in the actions of Jesus. In John 17: 20-26 Jesus prays that, in spite of the incompleteness of every human insight, opinion or perception of value; in spite of the incompleteness of all human expressions of doctrine and the unintentional exclusivity of all human laws — that cannot explicitly adapt themselves to every exception or particular application — his Church will be one: “Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you.” The human inevitably tends to divide us. The divine unites us. In Christ both are one.

Initiative: Follow the Spirit in a spiritual observance of all laws..

1 John 14:6; Matthew 5:17.

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Wednesday, Week Seven of Easter

Both readings express the concern Jesus and Paul have for the protection of the flock after they are gone. So today’s invitation to “Sing to God” (Responsorial, Psalm 68) focuses on God’s power to “strengthen his people.”

In Acts 20: 28-38 Paul warns the “elders” (priests) and “overseers” (bishops): “Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth.” The Vatican Council accepts this as the normal condition of the “pilgrim Church” and so “urges all concerned to remove or correct any abuses, excesses or defects which may have crept in here or there,” even in the official teaching of the “ordinary magisterium” of bishops, preachers and teachers. The Church does not claim to be perfect in any age. 1

That is why we always have need of the “prophets;” those who, like Paul, “bear witness… to the primacy of an inward communion of faith and love, the perpetually new work of the Spirit.” This, of course, must be in union with the “primacy of Peter,” which it complements: the primacy of juridical authority in the Church, given to Peter with the “keys of the kingdom.” 2

And “therein hangs the tale” of ever-recurring conflict in the Church: true prophets against false prophets, the magisterium squelching truth, teachers of error ignoring the magisterium. Jesus and Paul both predicted it would happen. How do we survive?

We survive, first of all, by absolute, unconditional, commitment to remain united to the Church that celebrates Eucharist in union with all the bishops throughout the world who trace their commission back to the Twelve. This is a non-negotiable. We may argue about all sorts of things, but we must never actually break with the bishops.

We express this in every Mass. The Liturgy of the Word may invite different interpretations, and we may disagree strongly with the homilist, but our next move is to join ourselves to the bread and wine being placed on the altar and present ourselves unconditionally to be offered with Christ in the Church. Doing this consciously and intensely in every Mass will keep us from losing the faith.

In John 17: 11-19 Jesus asks the Father, “Keep those you have given me true to your name, so they may be one like us.” He bases his prayer on the statement: “They do not belong to the world, any more than I belong to the world.” Those who have given up attachment to all the world offers — especially to riches, power and prestige — will have the least to divide them from one another. Regardless of differences of opinion on current questions of doctrine and pastoral practice, if they share with each other their prayer, their devotion and their experience of God, the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” will fill them with “the love of God” and each other, and they will find “communion in the Holy Spirit.” They will be able to lead us in proclaiming: “Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth.

Initiative: In commitment to truth, unity; in pursuit of truth, liberty; in all, charity.

1 Vatican II: The Church, no. 51. 2 See J. M. R. Tillard, O.P., The Bishop of Rome, Glazier, Inc., 1986, pages 74-117.

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  • David Knight

Tuesday, Week Seven of Easter

Today’s verses of the Responsorial (Psalm 68) invite us to “Sing to God” for his generosity in pouring out divine life like rain.

In Acts 20: 17-27 Paul describes how God’s divine life was made visible in him. Not through miracles, visions or ecstasies (although all these are found in his life). He just says, “I carried out the mission the Lord Jesus gave me.” It was “to bear witness to the Good News of God’s grace.” How did he do this?

I lived among you… serving the Lord with all humility… enduring the trials that came to me… I have not hesitated to do anything that would be helpful to you. I have preached to you, and instructed you both in public and in your homes, urging both Jews and Greeks to turn to God and to believe in our Lord Jesus.

None of this strikes us as being so explicitly “divine” — until we ask ourselves how many people we see doing the same, and for what motives.

Plenty of non-Christians and even atheists are dedicated to serving people, and are willing to “do anything helpful” for others if they can, “enduring the trials” that come to them as a result. Do their lives reveal God’s life in them?

Let’s not rule it out. They may well be what we call “anonymous Christians,” people who have surrendered to the grace of God, but under some other name because for them “the true nature of God and of religion” was “concealed rather than revealed” by the Church they experienced. Vatican II lays blame on Catholics, lay and clergy alike, who “are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral or social life.” We have taught errors. 1

The key question, though, is motive. Some people “do good” (and it is good), just because it is humanly rewarding. Also, their social milieu may support feeling disturbed by the disorder and irrationality of injustice, ecological devastation, sickness and suffering. They feel better trying to set things right. Add human compassion and we have love. Some have argued that all love reveals divine grace, but this leads to the conclusion that humans cannot love without grace, which makes human nature radically corrupt. So we must say it is possible to be loving and altruistic without grace. But we never can or should judge this is actually so in a particular case.

For Christian witness, however, it needs to be obvious that human motives cannot explain what one does. And this can appear in very ordinary ministries such as Paul details, especially if they are constant and enduring enough to reveal persevering commitment.

In John 17: 1-11 Jesus saw his crucifixion as the supreme and unambiguous revelation of his divine love, both for God and humans. “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” He in turn is glorified in those disciples whose lives make it clear they “know the Father and Jesus whom he sent.” This, Jesus says, “is eternal life.” What shows we know God is persevering love.

Initiative: Recommit to revealing the light in you that is proof of eternal life.

1 See Vatican II, “The Church in the Modern World,” no. 19, and “The Church,” no. 51. View Today's Readings Here

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