Sometimes you hear people say that the Church has too many rules. In fact we’ve probably all said it ourselves. But when you get right down to it, does she really? Let’s see. We’re supposed to go to mass at least once a week. We’re supposed to go to confession at least once a year. During Lent we have to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from meat every Friday.
We can’t use artificial birth control, or get an abortion. We do have to follow the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule. “Thou shalt not kill” is pretty easy for most of us, but some of the other ones involving adultery, coveting, bearing false witness, and keeping the Sabath day holy may be more of a challenge.
You can’t be married in the Catholic Church unless you go through a discernment process that includes marriage classes, natural family planning classes, and meetings with the deacon or priest. If a Catholic marries a non-Catholic, you have to get dispensation from the Bishop.
But all in all, most of what the Church asks us to do (or not do) isn’t that tough. As most of you know, I’m an adult convert, joining the Church after Vatican II. My wife tells me that today’s Church is a lot less demanding than the one that she, and most of you, grew up in.
In the first century the Church was grappling with an issue that was a little more difficult. Jesus had told the Apostles to go out and spread the Good News to everybody, Jews and non-Jews alike. We know that Saint Paul took the Gospel to Greece and Rome, preaching to the Gentiles. It seems like Jesus’ message was pretty clear. You didn’t have to be a Jew to follow Him. The Gospels tell us many stories of Jesus interacting with non-Jews.
So, what was the problem? Peter and his group thought that you had to follow all of the Jewish laws to become a Christian. Paul and his people didn’t agree. The real deal-killer was circumcision. Of course, Jewish men had been circumcised at birth. But if you were a 30 year old Greek man, that was another story. You’d heard Paul tell about the Savior’s birth and resurrection, and you wanted to become a follower. Then you were told, “oh, by the way…….” You might have lost your enthusiasm real quick. It was a BIG problem.
So we read in today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles, that they decided to get together and work things out. They had a meeting. It was the first Church council. Like all the other Church councils, right up to Vatican II, the Bishops got together to solve a problem, guided by the Holy Spirit.
Fortunately for us adult converts, they decided that you didn’t have to follow all the Jewish laws to become a Christian.
So what did this first council teach us? First, that we can’t have people running around making their own rules. The Apostles sent out a letter to the Gentile converts that said, among other things, “Since 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….” We’re going to get together and straighten this out. The Church had already figured out that every preacher must be working from the same play book.
It also teaches us that everything we need to know isn’t in the Bible. In fact, at this time there was no Bible. Everything was being handed down by word of mouth. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the Apostles, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.
Notice that when the Apostles made their decision they wrote, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities” Then they told them to “abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right.”
Remember that Jesus told the Apostles “Whoever loves me will keep my word and my Father will love them.” Conversely, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” Just in case we forget, the Holy Spirit is here to remind us.
It’s pretty clear that we need the Holy Spirit today, more than ever before. Not that He’s not here; it’s just that so many people are ignoring him. Just this week the Food and Drug Administration ruled that Plan B, the so-called morning-after birth control pill, should be available over the counter to girls age 15 and up. You and I, as God-fearing Christians should be outraged to think that a fifteen-year-old girl can walk into Walgreens and buy an abortion-causing pill along with her fashion magazines and lipstick. But you know who’s really upset about this? The abortion-rights people! They can’t imagine that the government would deny these pills to girls fourteen and under! They don’t think this new rule goes far enough.
The first-century Christians just thought they were living in a hostile environment. You and I may never face martyrdom, but we do face enemies on every side. The Church continues to fight the HHS mandate requiring our institutions to provide birth control, and drugs like the morning-after pill for their employees.
The millions of Catholics who don’t react to such an outrage are contributing to the problem.
In this Year of Faith, the Catholic Bishops of the United States have called for a nationwide effort to advance a movement for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty through prayer, penance, and sacrifice. Catholics across the nation are being encouraged to pray for rebuilding a culture favorable to life and marriage and for increased protections of religious liberty.
During this season of Easter we’re reminded of all the things that happened between Jesus’ resurrection and Pentecost, when He returned to heaven and left us the Holy Spirit to teach us and remind us of what Jesus said during His earthly ministry. You and I have been left here to live out His mission. Maybe we don’t feel comfortable engaging in protests or marches. Maybe we feel like our faith is a private matter and that we aren’t cut out to speak out in public about the things that are happening in the world today. Of course, if you are comfortable doing that, then you should. But we can all pray. We can ask God to enlighten our fellow citizens and to soften their hearts, making them receptive to God’s words. After all, He tells us today that “Whoever loves me will keep my word and my Father will love them.” By keeping His word, we’ll remind our brothers and sisters just what it means to be a Christian.
So I ask you today to pray and pray hard. Let God know that we’ve heard His word. Ask Him to send His Holy Spirit to enlighten us and those around us. Pray for peace. Pray for all life. Pray for religious freedom. And pray for the sanctity of marriage.
Yesterday (Friday) we had a wedding here. We’re blessed to have this beautiful church and a heritage of Czech families that makes so many young people choose to be married here. I’ve been blessed to be called to be the Church’s minister to so many sacramental marriages. I wish all of you could stand where I stand and to see the looks on the faces of these young, and sometimes not-so-young people as they pledge their love to one another. These are the people who will shape our future, as a Church and as a nation.
I’ve left the kneelers out as a reminder of all those men and women who have pledged their love to one another on our altar.
They’ve chosen to be married in church, not on the courthouse steps, or in a park, or in Las Vegas by an Elvis impersonator. They want God to bless their union, just as He’s blessed every sacramental marriage beginning with Adam and Eve. Pray for all these young couples and for all married couples, that they may be an example of Jesus’ love for His Church. Pray, too, that this sacramental union of one man and one woman will serve as an example of what marriage really is.
Sometimes you’ll hear people say, “I’ll pray for you. It’s the least I can do.” WRONG!!! Praying for anyone isn’t the LEAST we can do, it’s the MOST we can do. Kneeling before God and asking Him to intercede for someone is the most powerful thing any human being can do for another. Prayer is our greatest weapon against the evil one. “Love one another as I have loved you”, Jesus said. That’s all we really need to do.
We can write letters, we can picket the abortion clinic, we can get on a soap box and preach what we believe. Those are all good things. But the greatest thing of all is to flood heaven with our prayers. Nothing is impossible for God.
Filed under: Uncategorized |