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His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI
THE SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER 2018
The early Christians made a commitment to live the way Jesus had lived in the interest of changing the world forever for the better. But how could this be realised without leadership rooted in love?
The first official engagement by Peter was to convoke a meeting to establish the nature of authority, beginning with the authority of the Twelve whom Jesus had appointed. Peter and the others acted under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That the election was decided by lot presupposed the equal suitability of both candidates. It also insured that there would have been no politicking regarding the nominees. Jesus had established The Twelve to symbolise the new people of God just as the twelve tribes of Israel were the old people of God. The institution of the Twelve was revered, as was the role of Peter as its head. He described the necessary conditions for candidacy to make up the deficit left by the betrayal of Judas. The candidate had to have been with the others from the time John the Baptist introduced Jesus on the public scene, and been a witness to the resurrection. Matthias was added to the Eleven to restore The Twelve symbolism. The foundational authority for the Church and its future mission was secured.
The apostles invoked the Holy Spirit in recognition of the Scriptures in making their choice. What was being assured was the historical experience of knowing Jesus personally, with knowledge of all that he had said and done, and what had been done to him in his passion, death and resurrection. All major decisions on doctrine and morals belonged to the Twelve. Practices and creeds were to be under their jurisdiction. At the centre was Jesus, to be loved, and a faith content to be embraced. The attitude necessary for this was fidelity to what was called the Tradition. The writings of the New Testament show us what was entailed in the developing global mission. Our other two readings from today’s Mass serve to exemplify the magnitude of their task.
1 John 4:11-16
Our second reading from today’s Mass unfolds for us the importance of love for the existence of a Christian community. The author had introduced the epistle with a very clear prologue of what was and was not acceptable as faith. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life- the life was made manifest, and we saw it and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and made manifest to us- that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete” ( 1 John 1:1-4). This illustrates perfectly what ensued after the Ascension and Pentecost experiences. When the author develops his thoughts further in this First Epistle it is in the context of disturbance, for not everyone in that original community had accepted the faith and honoured the morals preached to them. It became a community divided, and the split was not healed seemingly. Presumably all felt that they were doing the loving thing. Once definitive positions were embraced and reconciliation needed, the problems remained: who has the authority that will be accepted by all for bringing them back together again? There is no compelling answer given in the Epistle. Nor do we find any answer in our Fourth Gospel today.
John 17: 11-19
We have here an excerpt from the Farewell Discourse of Jesus. It is a major plea for love among believers. Key concepts come up here. There is the community of believers. But they are under pressure, from within and without. Those without are called ‘the world’. And the world hates believers just as it hated Jesus. It puts pressure all the time on true believers. Jesus reassures his apostles that he sends his followers into the world to tell the truth. He prays to the Father to protect them. But the divisions are quite clear. And we are told that love and truth go together. The Gospel message is not just a question of attitude: it has content, very specific as to who Jesus is, and about morals, as to how love is to be lived out in practice. It is an engagement for a way of life. To honour it will bring suffering. It cost Jesus his life. The difficulties within divide the community and divisions are not easily healed.
The history of the Church is a great mix of believing experience. In the World Council of Churches there are over three hundred churches and religious communities. The Catholic Church is not a member, but it works very closely through and in the doctrinal and moral commissions of the World Council. Through its decree on Ecumenism the Second Vatican Council set out its programme for working to restore the fullness of unity among Christians, calling all who bear Christ’s name our brothers and sisters. This description would be meaningless if it did not derive from a truly loving attitude. Regret was expressed for former actions and attitudes that prevented respect and affection in the divided Christian family. The present pope accentuates maximally this understanding attitude. This does not mean any diminishment of content that would reflect disloyalty to Christ. The authority is real, and when exercised with compassion begets love and makes for peace. We are back with our readings from today’s Mass. Realism remains. The early Christians shared their achievements and their shortcomings. How they prayed continually for the love necessary to solve the divisive issues! We do in our own natural families, don’t we? And at every Mass before Communion the priest recites: “Lord Jesus Christ…look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever.” Amen.
Spiritual Advisor, MaterCare International