Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 11:19-26; John 10:22-30)

The archives of the Archdiocese of St. Louis justly speak of Cardinal Joseph Ritter as a man of “courage and decency.” When he arrived in the city as archbishop, the face of the local Church was marred by racism. In his first year of tenure he ordered all pastors to end discrimination against African-Americans in parochial schools. The reaction, as might have been expected, was strong. But ending segregation was the right thing to do.

In the first reading we see the early Church going through a crisis every bit as traumatic as that of the Church of St. Louis in the time of Cardinal Ritter. The Church began in Jerusalem as a sect of Judaism following Jesus’ teaching. Forced to spread, it encountered non-Jews in places like Antioch. Were they going to be accepted into Jesus’ flock directly or did they have to be transitioned through Judaism? In Antioch, at least, a positive answer to accepting directly non-Jews into the Church was given. Barnabas, like Ritter “a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith,” affirmed the direct assimilation.

Today Catholics face a similar challenge in relating to members of Protestant communities. Some of these communities have been openly hostile to the Church in the past. Others have assented to doctrines that wander hopelessly from the Christian tradition. But these should not be reasons for rejecting ongoing prayer, cooperative charitable services, and dialogue. Protestants must be treated as sisters and brothers called and baptized into the large flock of the one shepherd.