Readings: Acts 15:1-2,22-29; Rev 21:10-14,22-23; Jn 14:23-29
Discerning the signs of the times, divisions, unity in diversity, guidance of the Holy Spirit are some of the phrases that help to focus on the central message of this Sunday. The readings focus our attention on what in the end keeps the Church united or divided. Jesus leaves three tools for his disciples for use in times of crisis that will certainly confront the Church: faithfulness to his word; the gift of the Holy Spirit; and the gift of peace. All three gifts help to discern the signs of the times, particularly in times of crisis, in order to preserve the unity of the Church. The Acts of the Apostles reminds us, that such unity and harmony could have easily been wrecked by dissent, scandal and disagreements. One of the problems in the Apostolic Church involved a serious controversy in Antioch between some new converts from Judaism to Christianity demanding that Gentile converts must keep the Mosaic Law in order to be saved. The controversy led to the first General Council of the Church in Jerusalem. The decision of the Apostles and the Elders was conveyed in writing to Antioch, in order to preserve unity and restore harmony and peace in the Church. The Apostles and Elders reached such a decision through a process of discernment under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus challenges his disciples and us of today to make use of the three tools that he leaves for us. He challenges us to be faithful: “Anyone who loves me will be true to my word.” We find the word of Jesus Christ in Scripture and Tradition. First, we can only be secure if we hold onto that word. The second tool that Jesus gives us is the Holy Spirit who is still at work in a special way through the teaching office of the Church. The same Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church today, in discerning the complex pastoral situations the Church must face today. The third tool is the gift of peace: “My peace is my gift to you...not as the world gives peace.” The world defines peace in terms of the absence of war, pain and conflict, but that kind of peace can be destroyed by a single terrorist; by one single bomb or bullet. It does not last. Jesus Christ is the only lasting peace. In the last decade, Regional Synods of Bishops took place in Rome to discern under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the pastoral situation of the Church in each region. What happened at the Council of Jerusalem is an important example for what the Church in each region of the world needs to do in order to discern the signs of the times. At all levels of Church life, we are called upon to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. But above all the most urgent gift we need is peace, not in terms of the absence of war in the world, but in terms of a restored and renewed relationship with God in the new life we have received in Christ through the Church. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) All three readings challenge us to discern the signs of the times, particularly in times of crisis, in order to preserve the unity of the Church. 2) At all levels of Church life, we are called upon to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us rather than being guided by our likes and dislikes. 3) We are invited to rely on the Holy Spirit in bringing about unity in our families, parish communities and dioceses.
©2016 John S. Mbinda