Immersed in Christ: May 13, 2020
Wednesday, Easter Week Five
The Responsorial (Psalm 122) identifies authentic religion with joy: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.” But some people try to make happiness consist in something that cannot give happiness — law observance — and call it salvation. This is Phariseeism.
In Acts 15: 1-6, when Paul and Barnabas “reported the conversion of the Gentiles, [they] brought great joy to all the believers.” Well, not to all. “Some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, ‘It is necessary for them to be ordered to keep the law of Moses… Unless you are circumcised you cannot be saved.’”
Faith was not enough. Loving God was not enough. Keeping the Ten Commandments was not enough. Even keeping the New Law of Jesus in the “Sermon on the Mount” was not enough. Evidence of having received the divine life of God and the “gift of the Spirit” was not enough. To be saved you had to keep all the rules and observances that made up Jewish religious culture: circumcision, eating kosher food, observing the minute rules of Sabbath observance, etc., etc.
The Catholic equivalent is, or at one time was, abstaining from meat on Fridays, fasting during Lent and for a set time before Communion, never touching the host or even the chalice with your fingers if you were a lay person, going to Mass every Sunday, having your marriage witnessed by a priest or deacon, accepting celibacy as a condition for ordination as a presbyter, wearing a Roman collar if you were a presbyter and, if you were a woman, a hat in church (and never entering the sanctuary during Mass!), making your “Easter duty” by annual Confession and Communion — all Church rules and none of them, in themselves, necessary for salvation. None of these rules was obligatory from the beginning. Others were, such as the rule that women should not come to church “with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes… not teach or speak in church,” and that bishops should be “married only once” and “keep their children submissive and respectful in every way.” Such rules can, do and should change with the times. We do not (repeat: do not) say we should not keep them; just that keeping them must never be identified with “salvation.” 1
John 15: 1-8 tells us what salvation is: being one with Jesus as branches are one with the vine, sharing in his life. That is why we do not stop after hearing the words — and the laws — of God in the Liturgy of the Word but go on to “present our bodies” in the Presentation of Gifts as a “living sacrifice” to be offered with and in Christ during the Eucharistic Prayer. 2 We give our lives to live his life, knowing that “apart from him” we can do nothing. For this we “go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.”
Initiative: Be a prophet. Hear God’s words as words of life, not just law.
1 1Timothy 2:9 to 3:4; 1Corinthians 11:4-15, 14:34-35; 1Peter 3:3.
2 Romans 12:1-2.