Thursday, May 23, 2019
Rev. William R. Campbell, S.J., Vice President for Mission
Acts of the Apostles 15:7-21/ Psalm 96/ John 15:9-11
“After much debate had taken place…”
Those of us who have lived, worked or studied on this campus during the last four years might be forgiven if we stopped paying attention to the readings and let our minds wander in retrospective thought after having heard these first few words proclaimed.
College of the Holy Cross Class of 2019, can there be a more apt introductory adverbial clause by which to describe your four years here on the Hill?
Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Professor Christine Blasey Ford. Black Lives Matter and the #Metoo Movement. DACA and Brexit. The Mulledy/Healy Legacy Committee. The Crusader Mascot Conversation. The Engage Summit and Fenwick Sit-in. Tom Brady as the greatest quarterback of all time!
“After much debate had taken place…”
But, lest we divert ourselves too quickly into memories of your debatable years, let us seek to understand what is being debated in Acts of the Apostles. For by doing so, we might learn something about not just the early Church but also about ourselves for the many debates ahead.
Allow me a brief history lesson:
The debate being referenced is the Council of Jerusalem, a gathering called by leaders of the nascent Church around the year 50AD. They sought to resolve a thorny issue within their faith community. The esteemed Biblical scholar and early Church historian Luke Timothy Johnson writes the following about this Council:
“This formal gathering of the Church is called in order to respond to a crisis that not only threatens the peace of the community but raises fundamental questions concerning the community’s identity and the grounds for its fellowship.”
What was at stake in this conciliar debate? In sum: would Christianity remain a sect within Judaism or would it evolve into something entirely different?
Participants in this debate included the Jewish Christians, those Jews who had espoused the teachings of Jesus, and the Gentiles of the region, those non-Jews who wanted to espouse these same teachings. And so: did these Gentiles have to convert to the Mosaic Law first, or could they espouse the Christian Way directly?
The Council ended in compromise. It was decided that the Gentile Christians did not first have to convert to Judaism, although there were a few ritual practices identified that would be required of both the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians (the specific details of which I will let you research on you own).
But, honestly, I find myself less interested in those specific details and more interested in the description of how the participants reached them. Tradition tells us that the Evangelist Luke is the author of Acts of the Apostles. Writing in Greek, Luke used two different terms that today’s reading unhelpfully translates into English with the single word debate.
But we would do well to note the different implications of Luke’s Greek terms because they connote two very different dynamics. One of these terms is stasis, a term that implies dissent and disorder. But stasis is not the Greek term Luke used to describe what happened at the Council of Jerusalem. Instead, he used the Greek term zetesis, a term that implies inquiry and discussion.
Dissent and disorder. Inquiry and discussion. To “Koine” a phrase: How, then, shall we debate?
Class of 2019, given that you are about to graduate from a Jesuit college animated by the charism of St. Ignatius Loyola, I think it is legitimate to ask: Is there a particularly Ignatian or Jesuit way to engage in debate?
Allow me one last history lesson:
In the year 1546, Ignatius Loyola, at the request of Pope Paul III, missioned three Jesuits to act as theological advisors to Bishops assembled at the Council of Trent, a conciliar gathering in the tradition of the Council of Jerusalem. Ignatius wrote instructions for how he expected them to behave when engaging others in that politically charged and religiously fraught time and place.
His instructions included the following six imperatives:
“Be slow to speak, being deliberate and loving when you do, especially when expressing judgments on matters under discussion;
Be careful listeners, understanding the speaker’s feelings, ideas and inclinations, so you may better respond;
Consider arguments used for both sides of an issue, so as not to appear attached to your own judgment, taking care not to leave anyone annoyed;
Avoid partisanship and do not base your argument simply on a person’s level of authority;
When convinced of the veracity of your position, express it as calmly and humbly as possible;
Finally, when you have something to say, forget your own convenience. Rather, adapt yourself to the convenience of the one with whom you deal.”
These Ignatian instructions should not surprise us, since they echo what Ignatius expresses at the start of his classic manual of prayer called The Spiritual Exercises. There, he urges those both giving and making the Exercises to be more predisposed to save each other’s proposition than to condemn it. Favorable assumptions should always be given first. And if misinterpretation is possible, clarity should be sought with charity.
Class of 2019, your four years as students here on Mount St. James now draw to their close. You have distinguished yourselves in these years as disciplined scholars, creative artists, competitive athletes and people of service, contemplatives in action reflecting upon, wrestling with and (yes, dare I say it?) debating the larger questions of reason and of faith.
Much debate has indeed taken place during your time here, and I have no doubt that you will engage in topical debates as you settle into your new communities beyond us.
But it is my hope that you will do so drawing upon the vision that has been set forth by our readings today. Debate need not paralyze but can serve to empower when grounded in the charity – the caritas – that St. Ignatius call us to. But of course, St. Ignatius is simply echoing what our Gospel calls us to.
Jesus exhorts those with whom he is gathered at table: “Remain in my love.” Today, all of us gather with the Risen Christ at this table of the Eucharist, so these words exhort us as well. When we do what we do and do it grounded in the love of the Risen Christ, then we build up, we edify, the community that surrounds us.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, an eleventh-century Cistercian monk and doctor of the Church, once wrote the following:
“There are many who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge: that is curiosity. There are others who desire to know in order that they may themselves be known: that is vanity. Others seek knowledge in order to sell it: that is dishonorable. But there are some who seek knowledge in order to edify others: that is love.”
Class of 2019, this College has spent the last years trying to edify you, trying to shape you into a community of learned women and men whose knowledge will be at the sake of others. It is now time for you to go forth and edify others with charity – with the love of the Risen Christ grounding your minds and hearts. For only when you remain grounded in this love, will your joy be complete.
And about this claim, I argue, there can be no debate…
Baccalaureate Mass – 23 May 2019
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter
First Reading – Acts of the Apostles 15:7-21
After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to the Apostles and the presbyters, "My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the Gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the Holy Spirit just as he did us. He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts. Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they." The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them.
After they had fallen silent, James responded, "My brothers, listen to me. Symeon has described how God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name. The words of the prophets agree with this, as is written:
After this I shall return and rebuild the fallen hut of David; from its ruins I shall rebuild it and raise it up again, so that the rest of humanity may seek out the Lord, even all the Gentiles on whom my name is invoked. Thus says the Lord who accomplishes these things, known from of old.
It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God, but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood. For Moses, for generations now, has had those who proclaim him in every town, as he has been read in the synagogues every sabbath."
Responsorial Psalm PS 96:1-2A, 2B-3, 10
Gospel John 15:9-11
Jesus said to his disciples: "As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love. "I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete."