Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sixth Sunday of Easter - May 1, 2016

First Reading Commentary
Many of the converts from Judaism held the belief that circumcision was still necessary for salvation.  They held on to this belief not only for themselves but also for those who converted to Christianity from paganism.  It was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question.  The words “apostles” and “elders” in the Greek text are translated as “bishops” and “priests”.  Paul and Barnabas are following the proper procedure which is still followed today by taking questions concerning faith to the authoritative office of the Church as established by Jesus Christ.  The decision handed down in writing does not absolutely forbid the use of Jewish customs but also does not obligate the use of them either. 

“We have heard that some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind.”  From this statement we can see that heresy existed at a very early stage in Christianity.  There were men who tried to preach and teach without any authority from the Church's governing body which was set up by Christ.  This led to many false teachings.  Christ promised the guidance of the Holy Spirit and here in this Reading the apostles and elders proclaim their decision as being from the great Paraclete. 

Saint John Chrysostom observes that this is not an irreversible decision but only one that is necessary for this particular moment in time; therefore, these current laws or necessities are not unchangeable precepts.  This may actually be the first general council ever held in the Church by which the governing body of apostles along with the chief apostle who is Peter offered guidance to the faithful. 

Second Reading Commentary
In this Reading John is given the privilege of seeing the Bride, the Spouse of Christ coming down out of heaven.  John likens it to precious stones in an attempt to capture the beauty of it.  The gates are inscribed with the twelve tribes of Israel and the foundation stones are inscribed with the names of the twelve apostles.  This is the fulfillment of the Church at the end of time: one, holy, catholic and apostolic in her ultimate identity because in her is the Kingdom of heaven and the reign of God.  The Kingdom came to earth in the Person of Christ Who grows in the hearts of those incorporated into Him until it has, as depicted in this Reading, reached its fulfillment.  This is when all those Christ has redeemed will be gathered together as the one People of God, the Bride of the Lamb (cf. CCC 865). 

There is no temple because God in all His perfection is present to all the blessed where nothing can distract them from their eternal Adoration of Him.  There is no sun or moon because God's brilliance will forever shine on the redeemed.  As John attempts to describe eternal life in all its perfection, we still can only get an inkling of it from this Reading.  The beauty, perfection and reality of it all are still far beyond what we are able to comprehend.

Gospel Commentary
It is God's desire to dwell within us.  Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity offered this prayer:  “O my God, Trinity Whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in You, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity.  May nothing be able to trouble my peace or make me leave You, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into Your mystery!  Grant my soul peace.  Make it Your heaven, Your beloved dwelling and the place of Your rest.  May I never abandon You there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to Your creative action.” 

Jesus tells His disciples that the Father will send in His Name the Holy Spirit Who will teach them everything.  The Holy Spirit is introduced as the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.  This Divine knowledge and wisdom of the Advocate continues to be passed on to the teaching authority of the Church known as the Magisterium which consists of the Pope and the Bishops.  “The Holy Spirit is the Church’s living memory” (CCC 1099).  The Paraclete is always active in the Church bringing to full development the Truth revealed by Christ. 

Jesus says that the Father is greater than Him.  For those in the ancient world who believed that the Father and the Son were not equals or that Jesus was not divine at all, this text in Scripture was surely their proof.  Things, however, are not always as they seem.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are indeed equals.  So what did Jesus mean by this statement?  Jesus is a Divine Person with both a Divine and Human Nature.  He is the Word, the Son of the Father and as Man He is the Word Incarnate.  As Son of the Father He is equal; as Man, He assumed our lowly, inferior nature.  It is this lowly, inferior nature of humanity which God willingly, lovingly and sacrificially entered into that enables Jesus to humbly, - and from our mysterious, incomprehensible, veiled Trinitarian perspective, - perhaps even scandalously proclaim the Father as greater.

And how veiled is our perspective? Well, arguably the greatest mind of the Church, Saint Thomas Aquinas, after all his bedazzling and monumental writings about God, and his mystical encounters with the Almighty, including our Lord saying to him: “You have written well of Me, Thomas,” - towards the end of his life declared his writings as “Straw” – meaning that even in all the brilliance of his sacred writ, and it’s approval by Jesus Himself, doesn’t even scratch the surface of Who God really is.