Sixth Sunday of Easter
First Reading: Acts of the Apostles 15:1-2, 22-29
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 67:2-3, 5-6, 8
Second Reading: Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23
Gospel: According to St. John 14:23-29
The years before, during, and after Church councils can be difficult, yet exciting, times in which to live. I was five years old when Vatican II ended, and so I literally have no memory of a pre-conciliar Catholicism. I feel like my entire experience of the Church, from my First Communion on to today, could have been best described by the late N.C. State basketball coaching legend Jim Valvano: Survive and Advance.
For those a bit older than I who grew up in the Church prior to Vatican II, and especially for those who wonder “What happened to the good old days?” this weekend’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles should give some consolation. For two millennia the Catholic Church has, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, been the 1983 N.C. State Wolfpack writ large.
Throughout that miracle season, Valvano and his team lived a story that, had it been proposed as a work of fiction, would have been rejected by every publisher as too sentimental and contrived to ever be taken seriously. In the real world what team could go on a nine game winning streak that included seven games where they were losing with less than a minute to go? What team could have, during that win-or-die stretch, defeated Michael Jordan’s North Carolina, Ralph Sampson’s Virginia twice, and finished their run with a last-second put-back of a missed shot against Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and the rest of Houston’s “Phi Slama Jama”?
I am not a fan of N.C. State, but I was rooting for them during that incredible game; and as a Catholic in the post-Vatican II era I can fully appreciate the roller coaster ride that Wolfpack fans were strapped into in the spring of 1983 when March Madness earned its name.
My experience of the Church has had a number of ups and downs, a number of overtime wins, and its share of moments when defeat has looked inevitable. But through it all, one thing that I can take with me is the assurance, from Jesus Himself, that the Church will survive and advance through any and all difficulties until the end of time.
Those who feel otherwise or think that the Church will be brought down by some scandal or by what some loose-cannon prelate or rogue priest says should examine the Acts of the Apostles, especially the reading for this Sunday.
A division among early followers of Jesus focused on the question of how much ‘Jewishness’ needed to be retained by those who were to join the Church. The so-called Judaizers believed and preached that the whole of the Mosaic Law needed to be followed, as opposed to the more lenient approach of St. Paul and his fellow evangelists among the Gentiles.
The debate was ultimately not so much between two sets of believers, but between two sets of beliefs. If the sacrifice of Christ on the cross was definitive, then what was the role of the Old Law for those of the New Covenant? If the Old Law was still binding, then just how definitive was the sacrifice of Christ? And if the Old Law was still binding, then why did Jesus sacrifice Himself on the cross – couldn’t salvation simply come through strict adherence to the Law?
The final statement on the matter, which came from St. Peter, sided with St. Paul and against the Judaizers. It changed the course of the history of the Church by definitively separating Christianity from Judaism, but it also revealed the primacy of the Chair of Peter in all matters pertaining to faith and morals. St. Peter held the Church together because he was led by the Holy Spirit and his authority was adhered to by the faithful. And so the Church survived and advanced, knowing that when the clock eventually shows all zeros the faithful will have been a part of the most improbable, yet the most assured, victory of all time.