by Father Mike Stubbs
When a parish makes a major decision, whether it is establishing a new ministry or embarking upon a building project, it does not make it alone. It proceeds under the supervision of the archdiocese.
It may also consult with other parishes to solicit their advice, especially if they have experience in the area. All that reminds us that our parishes do not operate as autonomous units. We are one church.
The incident described in Sunday’s first reading — Acts 15:1-2, 22-29 — also illustrates the catholic nature of the church in an example drawn from the first century of Christianity. A controversy has arisen among the Christians in Asia Minor. To what extent should converts of Gentile origin follow the Law of Moses? “Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.”’ Not all the Christians, including Paul, agreed with this approach.
Accordingly, “it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question.” As a result, the apostles issue a compromise statement. It provides that Christians of Gentile origin should not have to observe the Law of Moses, apart from four specific requirements: They should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols; they should not consume blood; they should not eat meat of strangled animals; and they should not contract an unlawful marriage.
Of these four requirements, only the last one appears relevant to Christians living in our modern age. (However, we should note that Jehovah’s Witnesses point to the prohibition against consuming blood as their reason for opposing blood transfusions. But this is an exception.) The issues we face have changed.
At the same time, the principle that guided Paul and the other early Christians remains the same. They did not act in isolation. They recognized that we belong to one church. That is what we affirm in the Nicene Creed, where we acknowledge “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”
In issuing their statement, the apostles preface it with the words: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us.” By those words, the apostles recognize the importance not only of consulting with others to arrive at a decision but, above all, of seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
That guidance is important for us as individuals. It is even more important for us as a church. That is why meetings that will involve decision making always begin with prayer. We seek to include God.