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  • Writer's pictureImmersed in Christ

Joy and Peace in the Universal Church

Sunday May 22, 2022 (Sixth Sunday of Easter)

by Fr. David M. Knight

What gives me my greatest joy and security in life right now? Are both of these rooted in my experience of Jesus Christ alive and dealing with me?

The catholic Catholics

In Acts 15: 1-29 the Church made the momentous decision to free Christianity from restriction to any particular culture or cultural ways of living and expressing the faith. By deciding the Church is not a Jewish church, they also decided that it was not a Greek church or a Roman one. The Church is just as much Asian or African or Native American as it is European. Any tendencies (and there have been long-standing ones) to make newly evangelized countries conform to the customs and mentality of the Roman rite of the universal catholic Church have been aberrations contrary to her true nature. We only began to start correcting these since the Second Vatican Council ended in 1965.

The “apostles and elders” assembled in Jerusalem sent word to the new converts from the non-Jewish milieus of Greece and Syria that they did not have to accept all the laws and customs of the Jewish Scriptures in order to be Christian. When God gave those laws to his People, religion and culture were inseparable. With the resurrection of Jesus that changed: Jesus would rise to live in every baptized person, of whatever nation, race or culture, and express his divine goodness and beauty through every legitimate form of human behavior. People would be guided primarily from within, by the Holy Spirit, instead of from without, by the religious laws and customs native to any particular society.

There would be laws and customs, of course, liturgical forms and structures of church government — no human community can exist without them — but no culture’s customs would be normative for another’s. And thus were born the various “Rites” of the universal “catholic” Church: Armenian, Byzantine, Coptic, Greek, Latin and others, approximately eighteen in all, with their own structures, laws and liturgies. But these cultural customs are not the essentials of our religion:

For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.

The stability of Spirit:

John 14: 23-29 identifies the universal sign of true acceptance of Jesus: “Those who love me will keep my word.” They may not all express their faith in the same external forms and ceremonies, but if they love Jesus, they will do essentially what he says. “And my Father will love them, and we will come to them.” God makes no distinctions based on cultures and civilizations. “And we will make our home with them.” God is comfortable and “at home” in parishes and populations some of us might not feel at home in at all. That simply says God is more “catholic” than we are. And there have been times in history when, yes, God was much more Catholic than the pope!

But if we can accept what Jesus says, and accept other believers as he does, he promises, “Peace I leave with you; my own peace I give to you, a peace the world cannot give.” There is a false sense of security in having everything the way it was in the “world” we grew up in. But real peace comes from trustfully following the Holy Spirit who, Jesus promises, “will teach you everything.” Our true security is not in the stability of customs, but in constancy of surrender to the ever-changing winds of the Spirit.

The old in the new

In Revelation 21: 10-23 the “New Jerusalem” incorporates the old into the new. It has twelve gates “and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of Israel….The wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.” The city is the Church Christ founded on the twelve Apostles as an extension of the twelve tribes of the Chosen People. The temple of stone is replaced by the temple of Christ’s body, with all his members. And there is no lamp, because the glory of God is its light.1

1See John 2: 19-21; Exodus 27:20; Leviticus 24:2.

Insight: What makes me feel “at home” in church— the presence of Jesus or what?

Initiative: Think of the Church “stripped down” to bare essentials. What would you miss?

Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry

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