Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sunday after the Ascension

1 Peter 4:7-11 / John 15:26, 27; 16:1-4

It has become a commonplace in the ecclesial culture wars to pit fidelity to the received word of Christ against the new and unexpected promptings of the Holy Spirit. In their favor, the first sort have the clear words of Jesus Christ himself: When the Paraclete cometh, Whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, Who proceedeth from the Father, He shall give you testimony of Me: and you shall give testimony because you are with Me from the beginning. The point seems clear enough. The Spirit, the Paraclete, knows the Son intimately, is sent by him and proceeds from the Father, who is one with the Son. This divine intimacy is echoed in the ecclesial intimacy of the apostolic band with their Lord and Master. In both cases, it is this intimacy, this knowing Jesus so well as to be able to bear authentic witness to him, that grounds both the divine and the human testimony. To claim to hear the Spirit as speaking against the witness of the Church, then, especially against the witness of the apostles and their successors, the college of bishops, is to fail to hear the Spirit or the Church, or perhaps even both. In any case, it does not support laying claim to the Spirit as a cause for holding against the Church's clear witness.

Even so, while we must indeed, as Peter reminds is, be prudent and watch in prayers, taking care to keep true to the truth we have received in Jesus Christ, the Prince of the Apostles does not regard this as our most compelling task. Rather, he says, before all things have a constant mutual charity among yourselves, reminding us that charity covereth a multitude of sins. While we of course grant the primacy of charity, can we really make this task of mutual charity something before all other things? Might we risk muddying the waters of our testimony, being indulgent with those slow to believe and this give to the world a divided witness to Jesus Christ? When those among us, or even ourselves, have violated the way of life to which the Gospel calls us, ought not our public denunciation of the deviation be just as swift as our charity to our brother? Can we really let the charity come before all things?

The truth is that there is no authentic witness to Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and ascended into glory, that is not always first, foremost, and before all things, a life lived in love. However seemingly accurate our transmission of the apostolic witness is, it is only mere seeming if it does not issue in a love which willingly suffers the worst of rejection by the world on behalf of Christ and of our fellow Christians. This is why the Spirit, who is Love himself, must always be at the heart of our Christian living, and why the promptings of the Spirit, even when they seem to encourage a sloppier handing on of the faith than we might prefer, can never be rejected as if in doing so we can keep our tradition more authentic. There is no Spirit-led movement that opposes the Church, but at the same time there is no authentic presence of the Church's true tradition, the true testimony to Jesus Christ, were there is not suffering, cruciform love.

If we would follow Christ, if our mind and heart would be in heaven where Christ is, then it must be ever occupied with loving those whom he loves, our brothers and sisters in the Church, and all peoples of the world, whom he has called into unity with him through the preaching of the Gospel.

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