Grace to you, and Happy Easter!
We continue our reflections on the lessons from the first Christian Council that took place in Jerusalem around 50 AD. The main issue of the deliberation among the leaders of the early Church centered on salvation. It was determining whether salvation depended on God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ or on circumcision and the practice of the Mosaic Law.
The question was whether one needed to be a member of a particular culture by adoption into their rituals to be saved. Or if salvation was through faith in Jesus Christ by God's grace. I call this the problematics of territory-based and culture-based salvation claims.
Often, believers tend to impose their cultural categories as a necessary part of the salvation package, when it isn't. For instance, the Church encourages active participation at liturgy. It will include singing along when a song is intoned. But some cultures hardly sing unless accompanied by an instrument or a choir. Coming from Africa, where virtually everybody sings and dances whether there is a choir or not, we love this. But, I shouldn't suppose that those from regions where people hardly sing during worship are not active at liturgy. Also, some cultures are not expressive. It would not be right for them to insist that any liturgy that is expressive is wrong, either. It is spiritually beneficial if we avoid imposing our cultural heritage as if to say it is a universal norm. The danger is religious syncretism resulting to people not understanding the core identity of Christianity.
I don't believe Paul and Barnabas would have objected if the zealots suggested to the new converts that circumcision was a good optional practice. After all, there were and are, many who are circumcised for other reasons other than for salvation. The critical problem is that they made it mandatory for salvation.
Just like other Councils that have come after this first one, the decision of the magisterium was primarily guided by two principles, all led by the Holy Spirit. First, what does Scripture say? Second, what do we discern from the tradition we have from when Christ preached and worked among us?
Remember, by the time of this council, no part of the New Testament had been written. The only part of Scripture they had was the Old Testament. Still, their interpretation of tradition was enriched by the faith of the faithful, furnished by what they saw Jesus do and teach. The Holy Spirit was guiding them, too, as the Spirit guides the Church today.
In the same way, Scripture and Tradition are the two interlocking poles shaping any valid decision/interpretation the magisterium makes concerning faith and morals. It isn't merely opinion polls from individual bishops, perhaps drawn from their theologians and the faithful. As we know, the magisterium is at the service of Christ, the Word of God. It is at the service of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 86). The magisterium pays attention to the sense of the faith of the faithful, too, through whom the Holy Spirit speaks, enriching the Church's life. Nevertheless, there are many conditions for the validity of a magisterial decision, chief of which is that it must not go against Scripture.
Another lesson from the story of the council was that magisterial decisions do not necessarily end the controversy. History shows that some will still hold on to their erroneous beliefs. The Council of Jerusalem did not stop the heretics. Some listened and understood. Others continued the fight; hence we had the first Christian sect called the Ebionites, though they became extinct over time.
Research the histories of the Councils, from the First Ecumenical Council called the First Council of Nicaea in 325 to the Second Vatican Council. No Council has ended without camps divided between supporters and opponents. Yet the Church remains strong.
Pray: Lord Jesus, keep your Church from heresies; bring unity to her members. Amen.
God love you. God Bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thursday Easter Week 5: Acts 15:7-21; John 15:9-11]
Grace to you!
In today’s reflection, I draw a lesson from Saint Peter as the first Pope (Greek pappas, meaning father) of the Universal Church, and some of its implications for the Office of the Pope.
People sometimes say—explicitly or implicitly—that the Holy Father (pope) as a person has to be perfect. Otherwise he relinquishes his authority as the leader of the Church. Those familiar with Church history would recognize this is an old debate.
What kind of Peter do we want? A Peter that is perfect? One that has all the impeccable perfection of the angels? Is it a Peter that never falters and wavers? Is it a Peter that isn’t human and has thoroughly followed the ways of the Lord?
If this is the kind of Peter we want, then it isn’t the biblical Peter. Such isn’t the kind appointed by the Lord himself as the first pope.
The biblical Peter was born like us, in sin. The Lord chose him from his humble profession (a fisherman) to lead his Holy Body, the Church (Mt 4:18-20). The biblical Peter had humbling mistakes, venial and grave sins too. You may read the following biblical documentations as proofs: Mt 16:21-24; Jn 18:10-11; Mt 26:69-75 see also Lk 22:54-62; Jn 21:1-22; Gal 2:9-14.
The biblical Peter wasn’t a bundle of academic excellence either. Some would argue he was not so much a thorough thinker. He was unstable in many ways and afraid in many ways.
We noticed he was a rustic fisherman. Not always properly dressed (Jn 21:7).
We read about his unguarded and audacious zeal (Mt 26:35; Jn 18:10-11; Mt 14:28) and yet see his unmistakable fears, doubt and little faith (Mt 14:30-31; Jn 18:15-18, 25). He is enthusiastic and at the same time rarely follows through with his commitments.
He is the one who went back to fishing and may have inspired the other six disciples to join him in their old profession (Jn 21:3), whereas the Lord had asked them to wait in Galilea. They were to become fishers of men not fishermen. He was presented as one who is impatient.
Yet it is the same Peter who takes a lead. He wants to serve. He tells the disciples to venture out. He hauls the net when the Lord asked them to do so. He pioneered many of the actions that would lead to the growth of the early church.
Yes, he wasn’t perfect. Yet, his zeal and love for the Lord was evident all the way. He wasn’t perfect; he was rather aware of his imperfections. He was constantly repentant when he faltered. In him, the precious grace of ongoing conversion was real and lived. He was quick to recognize his sins “Depart from me Lord, I’m a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). He was the true candidate of heavenly renewal. That was the Peter the Lord called and told three times to feed, tend his sheep, the Church (Jn 21:17-19).
If anyone is in doubt as to the Lord’s ways in the leadership of the Church, let them read the biblical standards. If anyone is in doubt as to the necessity of central authority in the Church, let them read Jn 21:17-19.
The Pope isn’t a man of his own. He is a man chosen and called to lead the Body of Christ. The pope isn’t expected to be perfect. The Lord himself never used that as a criterion. Neither should we as believers. No one is perfect except the Lord. The Holy Father is holy because the Body of Christ, of which he is the physical head, is holy.
This doesn’t mean the pope isn’t called to holiness of life. He is. In fact, to whom much is given, much is expected, the Lord tells us (Lk 12:48). To whom much is given, to that person the devil’s attacks are prime also. The pope needs our ceaseless prayers too.
Here is the most incredible aspect of this grace of the office of the papacy: It is sustained by the Lord himself. “The Gates of the netherworld cannot overcome it” (Mt 16:18).
You either believe the Lord is God and true and hang on to his Word and the ways and means he has chosen to lead his Church; or, you may choose to explain it away and subvert it with empty philosophy. It is a blessing to do so.
For me, I follow the ways of the Lord. I listen and I obey.
Praying for the grace of the virtue of piety and obedience.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Third Sunday Easter Week 3: Acts 5:27-32,40-41; Rev 5:11-14; Jn 21:1-19]
Author and Goal
Father Maurice Emelu Ph.D., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. The goal is to teach, inspire, encourage, and foster healing through the grace of God's word. They are written in a language that is appropriate for a general audience. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration, and developing your thoughts. They may also be useful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.