Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter
(Acts 15:7-21; John 15:9-11)
For the last two years a great debate has been conducted within the Church. Pope Francis had made it known that he was considering a change in the policy of prohibiting all divorced and remarried people from receiving Communion. Several cardinals reacted with a letter reminding the pope that the prohibition of divorce came from Jesus himself. As intense as this controversy became, it was likely not nearly as passionate as the one of which the first reading today gives account.
It is easy to imagine the polemics of the different sides. Paul and Barnabas come to Jerusalem asking why pagan Greeks need to adopt Jewish customs in order to be part of the Church. After all, they would explain, it is the cross of Jesus that brings salvation. Furthermore, they would add, expecting circumcision is not practical, much less considerate. Then the other side weighs in: because Jews are God’s “chosen people,” one must first join this larger group before being adopted into God’s family. Besides, they surely add, how could one enjoy table fellowship with people who ate the flesh of pigs, apparently the most unclean animal?
The decision of the apostles to accept pagan Greeks into the Church two thousand years ago underlies our presence at mass. Similarly Pope Francis made a momentous decision three weeks ago in his apostolic exhortation The Joy of Love. He upheld the long-standing tradition of the Church forbidding divorce, but he also called for deeper discernment regarding the relationship of married people. Actually the pope is calling all of us to a closer relationship with God through a more loving care for one another. Christian spouses especially have the vocation to love so that they may become for all as well as for each other the door to God.