The two readings we have just heard in today’s liturgy present complementary features of our Catholic faith, as I view them. This text from the Gospel of Saint John suggests the conservative yet dynamic nature of the body of Christ. Our Lord makes the point that the branches undergo radical change in the course of development so that some are pruned away and so wither and dry out. Their disappearance contributes to the flourishing condition of those that remain, allowing them to yield a more abundant and appropriately formed fruit. The vine stock, meantime, remains stable providing all the needed structure and sap requisite for filling out the fruit growing from the pruned branches. Jesus remains active in his Church, providing all the stability and nourishment necessary for the healthy and full development on the individual members who prove constant and reliably assimilate the abundant supply of the various solids and fluids essential for the ripening individuals that are symbolized by the maturing fruit.

The earlier reading from the Acts of the Apostles reflects the same qualities of the Church community, under quite a different light. The features that emerge from the incidents described in this passage are the individual freedom and at the same time, the diversity of the Church membership. , allowing for its ongoing development in freshly minted forms so as to respond to newly encountered circumstances. This first of a long series of Councils and Synods proved to be a forum that allows for a response to new situations as they arise. The challenge posed by the welcoming of gentiles into the community of Jews, formed by the letter and spirit of Mosaic Law, was met in a direct and courageous way. The leaders of the Jerusalem Church faced directly and openly the objections to the practice of Paul and Barnabas that admitted non-Jewish persons into the Catholic communion while not imposing the obligation of circumcision. The conservative Jews were listened to with respect and in turn gave ear to the explanations of the two disciples who had followed instructions given by the Lord in a private revelation.

We observe on this occasion a tension-filled situation that was resolved in a manner that maintained fidelity to the deposit of faith entrusted to the Church while adapting it to fresh conditions of life. Contrasting tendencies arose with development and spread of the faith that required fresh solutions without infringing on traditional truths.  At particular periods accommodation to new social and political circumstances proved impossible and schism and heretical Churches arose.  At other periods, unity was preserved but some individuals fell away, unable to follow the solutions arrived at by the large majority.

 There are increasing indications that the Church at present finds itself in serious opposition to current federal laws that infringe on her rights and impede fidelity to her teachings regarding both moral and doctrinal issues. The bishops of our country have unanimously protested this law being urged by the government. These days the Supreme Court is considering arguments regarding the Constitutionality of the Health Care legislation. Whether or not the Catholic Church is forced to cease important ministries in education and health care depends on decisions made by that court. Many Catholics in private businesses too are threatened with laws that are hostile to our faith, such as paying for insurance for abortions.

Ultimately, as always, the issue is subject to the guidance of Divine Providence. May our prayer and our participation in this Eucharistic celebration obtain the grace and mercy of our heavenly Father so that we and all his members are able to act with the freedom of the children of God in loyal fidelity to the Church even as our government threatens our liberty of conscience. May we prove strong in faith and firm in our attachment to the Lord Jesus adhering to the heritage he passed on to us through his death, resurrection,, and the sending of his Holy Spirit who is the pledge of life eternal with the Father of us all.V

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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