• Immersed in Christ

Friday May 20, 2022 (Fifth Week of Easter)

by Fr. David M. Knight

View today's readings: Acts 15: 22-31; John 15: 12-17

The Responsorial Psalm is the exclamation of one who rejoices in God’s saving love for all people: “I will give you thanks among the peoples, O Lord ” (Psalm 57).

In Acts 15: 22-31 we see this saving love embodied in the Church’s response to the Gentile converts. The community disclaims those who “without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind.” The Apostles and presbyters confidently affirm, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities….”

The spirit of the Church guided by the Spirit is the exact opposite of what Jesus condemned in the Pharisees and “scribes,” or specialists in the application of the law: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:2-4; Luke 11:46). The spirit that should always prevail in the Church is the spirit Jesus expressed when he said, "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

This is the spirit of the prophets, who look, not to the letter of the law, but to the goal of the law, conscious that the intention that governs and determines the goal of every law or regulation in the Church is Jesus’ commission to Peter, “Feed my sheep.” In fulfilling this command we know that we truly love him and those to whom he has sent us (see John 21: 15-17).

The freedom of spirit with which prophets approach laws is rooted in Jesus’ words at the Last Supper (John 15: 12-17):I no longer call you servants, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” Prophets try to judge out of intimate knowledge of God’s mind and heart. Because of this the prophets are constantly ministering to others as priests (by Baptism). This is to live Christ’s love. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.” To minister, serving the needs of others, is literally to “give one’s life” for others, because every minute we give to another in service is a minute of our life. On this earth life and time are synonymous; for any one of us they begin and end together.

Jesus who gave us the commandment, “love one another as I love you” told us later, “I chose you to go and bear fruit.” We show our love for God and others by constantly giving expression to the life of God in us in order to communicate it to others.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Listen, learn and live by the heart (love) of Christ.

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

  • Immersed in Christ

Thursday May 19, 2022 (Fifth Week of Easter)

by Fr. David M. Knight

View today's readings: Acts 15: 7-21, John 15: 9-11

The Responsorial Psalm directs us to focus our attention on what God is doing, and to let that guide our judgments about human behavior: “Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations” (Psalm 96). In particular, our interpretation of laws should be based on what we experience the Spirit doing in the Church. This is what the readings teach us.

In Acts 15: 7-21 the “Apostles and presbyters” resolved the dissension between the missionaries and the Pharisee party in the Church by basing their decision on three things.

First was the spiritual experience that Peter, Paul and the missionaries had of the Holy Spirit blessing their work among the Gentiles. Peter reminded them that God chose “that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the Gospel and believe. And God… bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us” (see Acts 10 and note the immediate opposition of the Pharisee party, Acts 11: 1-18). Then “Barnabas and Paul… told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.”

Second, James quoted God’s words in Scripture to show how “the words of the prophets agree with this.”

Finally, their conclusion reflects political sensitivity to the feelings of the Jewish Christians. The Gentile converts were asked to give up some foods that were especially abhorrent to Jews. These restrictions disappeared as their cause ceased to be an issue.

In their discussion and discernment, the Apostles and elders were in fact following Jesus’ instructions in John 15: 9-11:Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” Their focus was on love, not law observance. The “commandments” Jesus urged them to keep were his own, not the rules and regulations already established in Judaism. And the greatest of his commands was simply, “Love one another as I love you.” Their decision was guided by their desire to love the Gentiles as Jesus loves all.

Jesus told them to keep his commandments “just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.” This focuses us on mission, because that is what the Father sent Jesus to do. And it coincides with Jesus’ great command to Peter: “If you love me, feed my sheep” (John 21: 15-17). To truly obey Jesus with love, we must love and nurture his sheep. That is what guided the community’s decision about what to impose and not impose on the Gentile converts. And that is the spirit that must guide us all today. To do this we must have the courage to interpret laws in the light of the Spirit and their pastoral purpose.

Pope Francis said in his closing address that this is what the 2015 Synod on Family Life was all about: “bringing the joy of hope without falling into a facile repetition of what is obvious or has already been said…

“It was about seeing difficulties and uncertainties in the light of the Faith, carefully studying them and confronting them fearlessly, without burying our heads in the sand…

“about listening to and making heard the voices of the families and the Church’s pastors…

“about showing the vitality of the Catholic Church, which is not afraid to stir dulled consciences or to soil her hands with lively and frank discussions about the family…

“about trying to view and interpret today’s realities through God’s eyes, so as to kindle the flame of faith and enlighten people’s hearts in times marked by discouragement, social, economic and moral crisis, and growing pessimism…

“about bearing witness to everyone that, for the Church, the Gospel continues to be a vital source of eternal newness, against all those who would “indoctrinate” it in dead stones to be hurled at others…

“about laying bare the closed hearts which frequently hide even behind the Church’s teachings in order to sit in the chair of Moses and judge, sometimes with superiority and superficiality, difficult cases and wounded families…

“about making clear that the Church is a Church… not simply of the righteous and the holy, but rather of those who are righteous and holy precisely when they feel themselves to be poor sinners.

“It was about trying to open up broader horizons… so as to defend and spread the freedom of the children of God, and to transmit the beauty of Christian Newness, at times encrusted in a language which is archaic or simply incomprehensible.”

This is the Spirit of Jesus, the true spirit of the Church.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Look to the goal of each law and do what will achieve it.

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

  • Immersed in Christ

Wednesday May 18, 2202 (Fifth Week of Easter)

by Fr. David M. Knight

View today's readings: Acts 15: 1-6; John 15: 1-8

The Responsorial Psalm tells us: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122). The readings give us a choice of what we will rejoice in.

The basic choice appears in Acts 15: 1-6. We can rejoice in “all that God has done” or just in the fact that the rules are being kept. The latter was the obsession of those who “had come down from Judea” to Antioch and were instructing the new Gentile converts whom Paul and Barnabas had brought into the Church, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” They were not rejoicing in “all that God had done” through Paul and Barnabas, and “how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). All they cared about or rejoiced in was law observance and narrow-minded “orthodoxy” according to their own understanding of what acceptable teaching was.

There are still those in the Church — and their “name is legion” (see Mark 5:9) — who perpetuate this same attitude. They are the natural descendants of the Pharisees, identifiable in any parish or diocese by their auto-assumption of responsibility for defending the Church against all pastoral interpretations or prophetic applications beyond the letter of the law. They do not care about “opening a door” for anyone. They just want to close the door to any innovations or change. Any priest or lay minister whose first concern is to “feed the sheep” (John 21: 15-17) will be harassed by them in “dissension and debate” as Paul and Barnabas were. Law and order are all that gives them joy, and they are usually recognizable by their joylessness.

When the Church envoys told of the conversion of the Gentiles they “brought great joy to all the believers” — except for the those who came from the “party of the Pharisees.” These “stood up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to keep the law of Moses.’” What a contrast!

At his daily morning Mass, October 31, 2014, Pope Francis said the Pharisees—of Jesus’ time and ours—“followed the laws and neglected justice… They followed the laws and they neglected love… And for these people, Jesus had only one word (to describe them): hypocrites.”

Francis called them: “Closed-minded men, so attached to the laws, to the letter of the law that they were always closing the doorway to hope, love and salvation… Men who only knew how to close doors.”

“The path Jesus teaches us is totally opposite to that of the doctors of law… Jesus draws close to us… the path God has chosen to save us is through his closeness."

In John 15: 1-8 Jesus teaches us to rejoice in what bears fruit — which really means to focus on union with him. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit…. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” The focus is on union of mind and heart with Jesus, not on law.

Disciples are learners. Learners change and grow. The Father “prunes” them so that they will “bear more fruit.” Not to change, grow and bear increasing fruit may mean that we are not “abiding” in Christ and that his words are not “abiding in us.” And it probably means we will not “go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.

Initiative: Be a prophet. Focus on bearing fruit through live union with Christ.

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry