12Apr 12 April 2013. Friday in the Second Week of Easter

Acts 5:34-42. “If this work is of human origin, it will fail; if it is God’s, no one should resist it.” The apostles were happy to suffer in the name of Jesus.

Jn 6:1-15. The miracle of the loaves and fishes. Jesus fled to the mountain alone when the people proclaimed him the prophet and wanted to make him king.

First Reading: Acts 5:34-42

But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them – in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

They were convinced by him, and when the had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

Gospel: John 6:1-15

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.

When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

Holding to the truth

The Acts speaks today of various Messiahs that had arisen and how people had been confused and misled. How then to judge whether Jesus is the true “Anointed One”? Gamaliel, one of the Jewish leaders, opposed the use of violence to repress the Jesus movement by saying that if a work is of human origin, it will destroy itself; if it is of God, no one can stop it. Even so, the apostles are not fully exonerated for defying convention. The Sanhedrin decides to flog them before releasing them. At this the apostles rejoiced at the opportunity to suffer for the name of Jesus…and continued to preach in Jesus’ name, convinced of his truth.

We are not to follow Jesus for our own advancement or ambition, even for our security and protection. Of course, such motives are not wrong, but they are not enough. Sooner or later, in order to honour our promises in the face of serious threats to our faith in God and in the Church, we are forced to seek strength and guidance from the deepest part of ourselves. It is no longer a question of careers, work, security and good deeds. Now we are faced with the decision of deciding to be true to our conscience – at a personal price.

Our deeper motivation will be tested in one way or another. Our trust in God’s goodness will be stretched to the breaking point. Our loyalty to our family or community or Church will seem almost self-destructive, so much will be expected of us as it was of the apostles. We too like them may suffer. Yet through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and our community, we will rejoice if we have to suffer for the name of Jesus.

Finally, we have his living presence among us. Christ, the Bread of Life, who fed the crowds is still with his people, to nourish us as need requires. His Church is a God-given gift, and if a work is of God, it cannot be destroyed. To radically oppose the Church is to fight against God. No suffering to purify and spread the Church is wasted energy. We stand in living continuity with the apostles if we continue to preach the good news of Jesus the Messiah.

4 Responses

  1. Jo O'Sullivan

    It’s funny how today’s Readings are about following one’s conscience, because that’s something I’ve been grappling with for a while now.
    On watching the Would You Believe programme on abortion on Monday night, I had a very strong reaction to something that John Murray said. I can’t quote it exactly but the gist of it, as I understood it, was that Catholics who think their Catholic views are purely personal are getting it wrong. They don’t understand what the Church teaches.
    The “getting it wrong” and “don’t understand” bits jettisoned me right back to my old self – the self who accepted, unquestioningly, that an educated, academically qualified Doctor, a Theologian, knew better than I did – and that I had no business disagreeing with such a person. I was right back at the “What do I know? I’m a nobody – I don’t have either the education or the capacity to grasp real truths like my betters have. Any views that I might formulate from my own experience of life and my own conscience must be defective. This is what I’ve been told by my ‘superiors’ all my life. How arrogant and prideful I am to dare to think my own thoughts!”
    And I annoyed myself for thinking like that – because, over the last few years I have dared to think my own thoughts. I have gone into very dark places where I had to question everything that I once accepted as true and I have come out the other side with a feeling that I am loved desperately by a Creator I can’t even begin to understand, except through my interaction with the world and its inhabitants. I know that my Creator wants me to develop to my full potential and to live life to the fullest because, in my human experience with the people I love, that’s what I want for them, particularly for my children. So my annoyance with myself was because I wasn’t honouring my own God-given spirit – I was handing over responsibility for forming my conscience to something external again.
    Only not quite…….
    I’ve been thinking about it ever since – puzzling as to why and how I can be so conflicted – how sometimes I feel absolutely at peace that I am following the path God wants me to be on by thinking for myself and taking responsibility for my own conscience – and yet getting thrown back into the “Who am I to question my church’s teaching?” mode so readily by experts.
    Why do those who have studied “the faith” in an academic way intimidate me so much?
    It has been suggested to me that I go and study so that I can meet such people on equal footing. It sounds very logical but something in me has always resisted doing so. It’s not a fear that I’m not clever enough – I’ve a reasonably good brain. So what is it?
    I think I’ve finally worked out why I don’t want to become an academically qualified Catholic. I have to use music as a comparison here.
    I have a lowly degree in music. I studied it as part of an Arts Degree in UCD many years ago. So I have an academic understanding and appreciation of the beauty and structure of music of many genres. I also have a reasonable grasp of the development of music down through the ages – I can appreciate the differences between the Baroque, Classical and Romantic composers. I can explain homophony and polyphony and lots more besides. I know the rules of harmony and counterpoint and can complete adequate lines of same etc. etc. etc.
    But none of this makes me as good a musician as my brother is. He can’t read music – he wouldn’t know Mozart from Mussorgsky – but he’s a better musician than I am because being a musician is not about what you’ve studied or grasped in an academic way. Being a musician is what is in your nature – in your soul.
    And that’s exactly how I feel about my faith life – my spiritual development. It’s not about “understanding church teaching”, it’s about living a life where God, who is Love, is at the very centre – and is lovingly directing and guiding my steps to be the best I can be. That includes using my own conscience as a guide.
    I actually see that I was incredibly lazy before in allowing church teaching to decide my conscience for me. It’s much too easy to say “I believe that because my church tells me it’s so”. It’s a much more difficult path to take when I start asking “What do I believe and why do I believe it?” It’s not done in a superficial way – it takes a lot of questioning, listening to others, listening to the ‘still, small voice within’, asking God’s help to get to a place where it feels right, where my soul is at peace.
    And it’s never the end of the road. There’s always the possibility that, with more experience and more openness to others, I may see things differently. But that’s ok. Because I don’t have to be right all the time – I just have to be seeking the right path!
    I find myself in an incredibly paradoxical state actually – it’s scary that I have to decide for myself what is right (for myself, but not by myself – my loving Creator is right here) – it’s scary that I don’t have the certainty that accepting my church’s teachings unquestioningly would bring.
    But fear has left me – (I know! There’s the paradox – I’m scared but I’m not fearful!) I truly feel that, while I’m trying to be honest and open with myself, I have nothing to fear.
    My day starts with imbibing “The Deer’s Cry” (Shaun Davey) and putting one foot in front of the other with the simplest of intentions – that nobody who meets me today will be diminished by having come across me, and that, wherever possible, I’ll add to the measure of their day.
    So, let the experts own their knowledge – I totally accept and respect that their world view is right for them. But I have to continue to walk my own path now and I have to chastise myself (gently!) every time I fall into the “I’m a nobody” trap!

  2. Eric

    @ Jo O’Sullivan……. i would definitely start learning the Early Church – ways the seeds that were planted – the Doctors of the Church. Learn each Century from when and who the Bible was written, what were the teachings of Christ vs Protestant beliefs like faith alone and bible alone that were never taught in the early church. Study the Councils like Council of Trent and Nicene council…… etc ….this will build your confidence and this will teach you about our Catholic faith, since early Christianity is Catholic Universal…….. You will not only be able to feel Bold and more complete as a Christian, but you will be able to red light any wrong teachings or accustations that come your way ……

  3. Padraig

    Sounds like you on your way, JO 🙂 You might not find or understand ‘church teachings’ – like most of us ever do – but you will find a greater ‘church’ and learn much more than you might imagine.

    Then, maybe one day, return with new eyes and see some of what you had to find elsewhere, right were you left. And that too, seen with newer eyes from another perspective, can also enrich life and help it blossom to that abundance we were told is ours.

    I’ve encouraged two young people in the last two days to break the bond of religion. It was killing them – in a very literal sense. They don’t know who they are, just what they don’t want to be, and need space somewhere to see things more clearly in themselves and good people who can help them grow.

    Truth sets free they say, and most often in life we must look truth for out own life, in its various contexts – and make decisions accordingly – as best we can.

    We answer for ourselves.

    Cut those ties and ropes, spread those wings and fly.

    You’re a fine woman !!! Passionate.

  4. Mark

    Jo, well said.
    We’ve all been told, from our youth, to obey the Church’s teaching and to respect our elders. But it’s not that simple, is it? Four things occur:-
    Firstly, as in all areas of expert knowledge, so with the Church:- it always seems possible to find a theologian who will provide a ‘second opinion’, an interpretation of scripture (or of the canon law) which differs from another theologian’s interpretation.
    Secondly, we know that the Church has, as a matter of fact, changed its mind over certain things, over time. Again, we may discuss whether it’s been a complete change or a change of interpretation. But changes there have been. And so who is to know or to say that the Church will not make yet further changes or re-interpretations?
    So it seems that, even within ‘orthodoxy’, there is lively debate as to what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’.
    Thirdly, we all know that many of our ‘elders’ (including some in this association?, I think so) have changed their views as they have gone through life. I know that I have changed some of my views. I think it must be normal and correct to have done so? Why would I think about life (faith, or sex, or anything else) in exactly the same way today (at age 56) as I did when I was (say) 13?
    Fourthly, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Society has changed in various ways during the course of our own lifetimes. If the Church is to reach all people, it will have to do so in words and actions which make sense to people today.

    For all these reasons – and also because we were made to be inquisitive creatures – many of us will begin to probe and to challenge some of the Church’s answers to (and explanations of) life’s questions, in case the Church’s current ‘official’ line may not be quite correct, or not quite complete, or not sufficiently meaningful to bring today’s men and women to Christ?

    When trying to discuss anything with a theologian (professional or amateur) – and theologians are all over the web, not just in the CDF – my recommendation would be to refuse to let them set the terms of the debate. There are plenty of people who seem to make an idol of dotting i’s and crossing t’s, or of seeking to make others stumble through their rule-books of do’s and don’t. But our Christian faith cannot be determined by such debates. Instead, better to try to bring discussion back to the great commandment, and to ask how does the point-at-issue square with that?
    Mark (Simple layman!)