Saturday, May 28, 2011

Church, yes, Church

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year A)
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
I Peter 3:15-18
John 14:15-21

Depending where you live in the Catholic world you will either celebrate the Ascension of the Lord on this coming Thursday or as is our case here in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain on next Sunday. The Easter candle is burning lower and the Easter Season is getting away from us. We’ll be back to green as our Sunday color even before we know it!

This Sunday is an Acts of the Apostles meditation meant to cast light on our acts as Church today. It is a reflection caught up, if you will, in the great mysteries of this Easter Season: of the Lord’s Resurrection, of His Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father, of His Sending the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, on Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. Let it be a challenge or incentive to you and me to live as immediately, as intensely as Philip, Peter and John what it means to be loved by Christ, loved by God the Father and thereby empowered to announce Jesus first to family, to friends and associates, but ultimately to all the world. When we lit the candle at the Easter Vigil we sang three times “Christ, our Light! Thanks be to God!” Those words have implications for the way we live our faith day in and day out.

The Opening Prayer for Mass today went:
“Ever-living God, help us to celebrate our joy in the resurrection of the Lord and to express in our lives the love we celebrate.”
The passage from Acts today attributes the conversions to the faith in a Samaritan town to the signs and wonders worked by Philip. The people responded to his acts of power in Jesus’ Name. Hearing of their accepting Baptism the apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John down to confirm them by laying hands on them and thereby pouring forth upon them the Holy Spirit.

This kind of thing should always be happening in the Church. It doesn’t happen often enough today and I am sure it doesn’t simply because we have lost heart. We don’t really get it. Today’s 2nd Reading from St. Peter just kind of washes over us or if we were seriously to think that it was being addressed to us we’d probably deny it and make as if that could not be, even physically turning around and looking for that other person behind us to whom the words must have really been addressed:
“Reverence the Lord Christ in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have.”
When was the last time someone asked you the reason for your hope? Is it really our world that is all that indifferent? Are we that culturally out of sink that people treat us as antiquated or eccentric, not bothering even to disagree with us because we present no challenge to them anyway?

The readings of these Easter days from the Gospel of John repeat again and again the words which open today’s Gospel:
“If you love me you will keep my commandments.”

The way folks pick and choose about obeying the Commandments, about living their faith fully and seriously might be interpreted as an indication that our love has grown cold, that we really don’t love the Lord as we ought.

Today, with the Lord’s Ascension and Pentecost imminent, the words of John quoting Jesus continue:
“I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever, that Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive since it neither sees nor knows him; but you know him, because he is with you, he is in you.”
At the book store this week a kind of nice, but funny older man, standing on the edge of my conversation with one of the managers kept interrupting with pieces of his own view of what being a good Trini Catholic is all about. I know you are familiar with it. It’s a light-hearted sort of thing: you make fun of absolutes and everybody tries to be good together, because we shouldn’t be divided… It’s mediocrity; it’s my stubborn willfulness not wanting to bend to anybody’s rule. This is not the alternative to being sour; embracing truth and witnessing to it in our world is not something we do with either a fat lip or a pout. Nobody wants to be or wants you to be pugnacious, but isn’t there such a thing as a false peace or an essential and unacceptable compromise of the faith? Is the reason for my hope really no different than anybody else’s? I can only invite you to think about this.

This Sunday’s readings point us elsewhere and offer food for the reflection which should fill our Sunday rest. Take the time to go back to the 2nd Reading in the course of your Sunday, if you will! See if it doesn’t invite you to embrace conflict, contrast, persecution, suffering for doing right, for the sake of the truth, just as your Lord and Savior did!

We learned at home as children that we couldn’t always be everyone’s friend, that sometimes we had to stand up for principle. If we didn’t we were lost and could never have true friends, we were told. I fear that as adults we have forgotten that lesson; we’ve also missed out thereby on enjoying the only community of life and love which ultimately counts:

“If you love me you will keep my commandments.”

Remember that Opening Prayer for Mass today:
“Ever-living God, help us to celebrate our joy in the resurrection of the Lord and to express in our lives the love we celebrate.”


VĂ­tor Pimentel Pereira said...

Most Reverend Thomas Edward Gullickson,

I totally agree with you on the point of accepting that men at young age are able to take lifelong commitments. I know many fine priests who at the age of 12 entered seminary back in the old days. As for marriage, things have changed a lot as well: I find myself being questioned by some friends about my marriage, to be held next year. Just a detail: I'm 27 (man) and some friends still say I'm too "young" to make this decision, since I always tell them marriage is a lifelong commitment, so they think I should be getting married later in life. Astonishing, no? I wonder what later in life means to them (maybe 40, starting to have children at 45, in order to enjoy marriage before having children?).

The only problem I see in your post is the one concerning priestly celibacy. I fully understand your concern, specially because you were talking about Latin rite Catholics. Maybe your concern is due to the fact that the Latin rite parishioners making the claims about "married priests" were only about "changing rules" and leaving "old stuff" behind (which is utterly problematic for a Catholic, who must commit to Church Tradition).

But being an Eastern Catholic myself (Melkite), I cannot see priesthood as intrinsically connected to celibacy (for secular priests, of course). Celibacy is a great gift of God for His Church and we should always foster celibate vocations for the priesthood both in Eastern and Western Catholicism (in my personal view - personal alone -, celibate priesthood is the "best part chosen by Mary" - "optimam partem elegit sibi Maria").

Yet we cannot despise the long-held tradition of Eastern Churches, both Orthodox and Catholic, of ordaining married men to the priesthood. Now, I don't want to enter into an argument about which tradition is truer or older (I'm a Catholic, I don't have any problems with any of the systems), but I've recently heard of your nomination as Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine. You will sure have to deal with this issue of married priests over there.

Excellent blog this yours! I have just heard of it through a priest's blog here in Brazil who highly regards your comments on Liturgy. I hope your new activities in Ukraine will not hinder you from posting!

Vitor Pereira - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Thomas E. Gullickson said...

Thank you, Vitor! Be of good courage as you and your bride to be prepare to stand with Jesus against the tide of "common wisdom"! You are right of course in surmising that I speak within the Latin tradition of celibacy. I am looking forward to Ukraine and getting to know another great aspect of the reality of the Church in all its fullness.

When I was in Jerusalem 1993-96 I read a study on the life of married priests and their families in a changing Middle East. Many of the men and women interviewed for the study were Melkites. Most of the women argued that their lives were too hard as their lifestyle in the villages had not changed with the times. As I say, I am looking forward to Ukraine and learning! God bless!