Due Process

*Note: A disclaimer about today’s writings – I spend some time reflecting on the ways and ceremonies by which some denominations practice their faith. I am very poorly-versed in this arena. I don’t know which jargon is fair game and which is horribly offensive. My musings are my own, as are any possible (probable) heresies. I will answer for them, I’m sure. I just hope what I’m saying even makes sense at this time of day and I’m sending this out in faith that the Holy Spirit found His way in there somewhere. -ab

Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers,
“Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice,
you cannot be saved.”
Because there arose no little dissension and debate
by Paul and Barnabas with them,
it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others
should go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters
about this question.
They were sent on their journey by the Church,
and passed through Phoenicia and Samaria
telling of the conversion of the Gentiles,
and brought great joy to all the brethren.
When they arrived in Jerusalem,
they were welcomed by the Church,
as well as by the Apostles and the presbyters,
and they reported what God had done with them.
But some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers
stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them
and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.”
The Apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter.
—Acts 15:1-6

The book of Acts is a gold mine.

The Bible is full of unspeakable depths of beauty and wisdom, and God is His goodness not only teaches us about himself through Scripture, but He also gives us invaluable examples of what it means to be living as a Church in the A.D. world.

Today’s reading makes me proud to be a Catholic. I know our Mother Church doesn’t have the only claim to a “due process” of sorts in theological matters, but in no other church is today’s first reading so faithfully and literally lived out.

I recently had the opportunity to attend one of the largest churches in my hometown of Brainerd. It is a non-denominational church with multiple services on multiple campuses every weekend. The music was wonderful, the sermon was scriptural and sound, and then they began communion. I was confused. Why does a church like this celebrate communion? Every part of the service was so carefully crafted to be accessible, attractive, and modern, and this ritual performance seemed jarringly out of place. Now, I’m Catholic (surprise!), so I have no question about why somebody would want to celebrate the Eucharist! The closeness with Christ and your fellow partakers is unmistakable. But why would a church that was working so hard to establish an identity based on “spiritual, not religious” (one of the songs even had a lyric about God breaking down their ‘religion’) maintain this practice that is historically rooted in Catholicism? A cynical explanation: they want something that feels familiar to all of the ex-Lutherans, ex-Presbyterians, and ex-Catholic in attendance. A more hopeful explanation: even with all of its lack, this celebration with bread and grape juice speaks to the congregation in a deep, yearning that invites them to be truly one with Christ one day in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Now the whole point of this anecdote is not necessarily to examine the theology behind their monthly practice of celebrating communion (which really is fascinating!), but to examine the process by which they crafted their weekly services. When you’re planting your own church and eschewing “stale tradition”, you’re writing your own ‘liturgy’. Who makes the calls? A group of elders behind closed doors? A public vote once a year? The one pastor who founded it all? Who decided to keep this part of tradition when “tradition” and “ritual” are so anathema to your target audience?

No matter how much you might try to avoid having any stances on any issues (a huge part of the “spiritual, not religious” moment), any church that claims a shared identity will eventually have to take some. There will be disagreement, and there needs to be a way to arrive at a consensus. That’s how science, effective democracy, and a healthy church work. Now how do we get there?

See the above reading.

One last, unrelated note that struck me:

“They were sent by the Church…” and “they were welcomed by the Church…”

Paul and Barnabas are fundamental examples of heroic pastoral ministry. Today’s readings, along with many others in Acts and the epistles, show that these saints were servants in every sense of the word. They were cloven to Christ, the true vine, and servants and pruners of His Church, the branches. They were practical, logical, and yet wildly, radically faithful. They were attentive to their flock, saw their needs, and moved quickly to respond to them. They sought the one Truth, hence their need to come to a consensus.

Let us pray to receive Jesus’s Truth in our hearts and trust in the process He and his disciples established.

The Faith to Be Healed

Paul…looked intently at him, saw that he had the faith to be healed, and called out in a loud voice, “Stand up straight on your feet.” He jumped up and began to walk about.

– Acts 15

Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him, 
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.

– John 14

The power of Jesus, working through His disciples (Paul, Barnabas – and us!) can heal others in a profound way – if they have the faith to be healed. The Evangelists tell us several times in the Gospels that Jesus either was – or was not – able to heal people based on their faith.

Do we have faith that Jesus, working through His Bride, the Church, can heal us? Do we have the faith that Jesus actually wants to heal us? That whatever current pain or suffering we experience, from without or within, is not meant to last? And faith that the time of pain can actually bring us closer to Jesus, even when the path is steep and you feel disoriented?

On the flip side, do we have faith that the Lord can make us instruments of His healing in the lives of others, knowing full well our poverty and weakness? Paul was Saul at one point – still somewhat of a piece of work even after his conversion – and yet the Lord used him in ways he could not have foreseen as he was led by the hand to Damascus. When your heart feels crushed or broken, it’s hard to see beyond the pain. But, it is precisely in our crushed and broken hearts that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit want to dwell, revealing their love for us.

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will remind us of all Jesus has told us in the Scriptures and through His Church, that He wants to reveal His Father’s love through us and within us. May we keep His word and know His love for us this day!

Pax et bonum,
Andy

Remain in Me

Domenico_Morelli_-_Conversione_di_san_PaoloToday’s first reading describes the dramatic conversion of St. Paul. Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was “breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,” and yet today we remember him as a great evangelizer and prolific New Testament writer. What happened? Nothing less than an inbreaking of divine grace.

For the powers of humanity, there are a great many situations that are beyond hope: souls that have been irrevocably corrupted, systems that are beyond repair. But for God, no one is beyond hope. No matter how hardened a person, God can break through any barriers to offer them mercy and an opportunity for transformation. He stopped Paul right in his murderous path, turned him away from Damascus and out into all the world a changed man. He channeled Paul’s zeal toward its natural, rightly ordered purpose: building up the Kingdom of God. In the same way, our own human purpose can only be understood through an encounter with the divine.

Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him (John 6:56).
Jesus has given Himself to us in the Eucharist as an opportunity for encounter with Him, that we too might be transformed by His grace. He instituted this sacrament so that we might share a radical intimacy with Him. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati understood this deeply—he received Communion daily, meeting Jesus every morning and carrying Him throughout the rest of the day. This is the key to his sanctity: not Pier Giorgio’s own goodness, but his openness to divine grace, to deep intimacy with and vulnerability before God.

“I urge you with all the strength of my soul to approach the Eucharist Table as often as possible. Feed on this Bread of the Angels from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles.”
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Conversione_di_san_Paolo_September_2015-1aThe great things that Paul achieved after his conversion stemmed from this intense closeness with God and awareness of God’s perfect love. This is what opened Paul’s heart to allow God to work through him rather than imposing his own will. When the scales fell from his eyes and he saw his life with sudden clarity, he fell to his knees in humility before God. Throughout the rest of his life, as he wrote and preached and converted a great many souls, he was ever aware that it was all due to God working in him: It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Paul knew all too well the cold, cruel man he would be without God, and thus he was able to recognize that any good fruits that flowed from his work were not due to his own power or talent or goodness, but from Jesus Christ working through him.


1. Domenico Morelli, Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US
2. Caravaggio, The Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US

Ite Ad Joseph!

Behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

I recently finished the first book in the novel Kristin Lavransdatter. Laverns (father of the main character) strives to be a good father to his daughters, to love them and teach them to God, the Church, their family, and their neighbors, especially the poor. I am amazed that the struggles of fatherhood do not look that different whether you have daughters in 21st-century America or 14th-century Norway. Over the past year and a half I have wrestled with, prayed through, and pondered the questions: what does it mean to be a good father? Am I a good father? How can I become a better father? And often a simple answer comes: Be like St. Joseph – Sleep more and talk less! (I need help with both – just ask my wife)

But this answer – although both humorous and true – only skims the surface. More than his affinity for rest and silence, in St. Joseph we find a friend who was patient, humble, just, merciful, and attentive and obedient to the will of the Lord. He – like all of us – encountered difficult and unexpected situations in his life, and followed the Lord onto uncomfortable, even painful paths on which he would otherwise not dare to trod. He wants to accompany us on the difficult roads of this life, to protect and guide us as he protected and guided Jesus and Mary.

I do not know if Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati had a devotion to St. Joseph, and cannot confess intimate familiarity with his writings. Based on his attraction to his friend Laura and his love for the faith, I imagine that he would have had both a love and respect for St. Joseph, and a deep desire for fatherhood. This desire was frustrated by his parents and his illness/death – yet neither of these roadblocks kept Bl. Frassati from following the Lord and knowing joy even in the sufferings.

What would St. Joseph’s path been had the Father not chosen Him to father His Son? Would He still be a saint? How would he have responded to the challenges of life? And Bl. Frassati – what other great deeds would he have done had he not gone Home at such a young age? As Erin said last week, these final days of Lent can be the hardest. So today during your prayer, turn to St. Joseph and Bl. Frassati, and ask them to pray for you to be open to the will of the Father in your life, to allow Him to lead you into – and out of – the valleys of tears, trusting that He is near, and He is bringing you closer to His love through it all.

Pax et bonum,
Andy