We have arrived at the Sixth Week of Easter, and continue to bask in the glow of the story of the growth of the early Church in Acts, the vision of heaven from the Book of Revelation, and the consolation of Jesus’ words to the Apostles in the Upper Room from John.  It’s a trifecta of glory in these Readings.
If last Sunday we noted a “kingdom of love” theme, this week we notice an emphasis on the idea of the “kingdom of peace.”  In Acts (1st Reading) we see the measures that were necessary to keep peace in the early Church.  In Revelation (2nd Reading) we see the peace of Eden restored in the heavenly New Jerusalem.  In the Gospel we see Jesus bestowing his supernatural peace on the disciples.

 

1. The First Reading is Acts 15:1-2, 22-29.  Because this reading skips Acts 15:3-21, which I think is very important for understanding the significance of the passage, I have spliced in the missing text below, to aid our understanding:
Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers,
“Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice,
you cannot be saved.”
Because there arose no little dissension and debate
by Paul and Barnabas with them,
it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others
should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders
about this question.

[Acts 15:3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, reporting the conversion of the Gentiles, and they gave great joy to all the brethren.  4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.  5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.”
[Acts 15:6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.  7 And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.  8 And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith.  10 Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?  11 But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
[Acts 15:12   And all the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.  13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brethren, listen to me.  14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.  15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written, 16 ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up,  17 that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,  18 says the Lord, who has made these things known from of old.’  19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is strangled and from blood.  21 For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues.”]
The apostles and elders, in agreement with the whole church,
decided to choose representatives
and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.
The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas,
and Silas, leaders among the brothers.
This is the letter delivered by them:

“The apostles and the elders, your brothers,
to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia
of Gentile origin: greetings.
Since we have heard that some of our number
who went out without any mandate from us
have upset you with their teachings
and disturbed your peace of mind,
we have with one accord decided to choose representatives
and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So we are sending Judas and Silas
who will also convey this same message by word of mouth:
‘It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us
not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities,
namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols,
from blood, from meats of strangled animals,
and from unlawful marriage.
If you keep free of these,
you will be doing what is right. Farewell.’”

This Reading is very important for what it demonstrates about the manner in which the Church should be governed, in order that the peace of the Church may be maintained.  At the beginning of the reading, we see that the peace of the Church is disturbed by theological conflict concerning the role of the law of the Mosaic Covenant now that the community of the New Covenant has been formed.  Some believe, essentially, that one must first become a Jew by entering the Old Covenant (through circumcision) before one can proceed to enter the New Covenant.  Others say, No, direct entrance into the New Covenant is possible for Gentiles.  Notice that this is a matter on which the Scriptures—which at that time consisted only of what we would now call the Old Testament—make no explicit statement.  Therefore a sola scriptura or “Bible alone” approach is of no help whatsoever in solving this issue.  As is so often the case, the Church has to make an authoritative decision about a matter not clearly specified in Sacred Scripture.
How is this done?  A Church council is called, with Peter present to lead it.  We could say that this the “First Ecumenical Council of Jerusalem.”  All the apostles and elders (today, Bishops and clergy) gather around Peter (today, his successor) and strive to come to a consensus.
Non-Catholics and even some Catholics read the account of this Council as if James, not Peter, is the authoritative figure.  This way of interpretation is understandable, because the way James speaks at the end could be understood as if he was the dominant figure of the group.  However, it is not the only way to interpret the account.  Careful reading reveals that after Peter gets up to speak (vv. 7-11), there is no further debate, and the assembly keeps silence.  When James gets up to speak, the first thing he does is to confirm what “Simeon” (Peter’s Jewish name) has already said.  We need to remember that James was the leader of the conservative, “Judaizing” wing of the early Church—the Christians who were inclined to require the Gentiles to follow the law of Moses.  His position has just been thoroughly repudiated by Simon Peter, the leader of the Apostles.  There is tension in the air.  What is going to happen?  Will Peter and James fight publically?  Will James oppose the prince of the Apostles and introduce a schism?
No.  Instead, James stands down.  The reason he speaks last is not because he is the most authoritative member present.  He speaks last, because he is giving his concession speech.  He is conceding the debate to Peter.  He just wishes to make the practical suggest that the Gentiles be requested to at least abstain from the more offensive and repugnant aspects of Gentile culture out of respect for Jewish sensitivities, since Gentiles and Jews were now worshiping together in a common body.  So in the end, the whole Council ends up confirming Peter’s position, together with James’ practical suggestions for implementation.
We note that the early Church does not split up.  The “circumcisers” do not run off and start the “First Circumcision Church of Jerusalem” under the leadership of “Pastor James.”  The whole Church—even those whose theological positions were rejected—accepted the conciliar decision and maintained unity.
Thus the peace of the Church was preserved.
The Church’s teaching authority, called “the magisterium” and exercised most solemnly by an ecumenical council under the leadership of (the successor of) Peter, is a gift to the Church by God to maintain the Church’s peace.  Otherwise, the Church would split into innumerable factions, and conceivably more that 40,000 different churches would spring up, each with its own peculiar little theological twist or emphasis.  God forbid that should happen.
Though Peter appears as a hero in this narrative, putting an end to debate with his stirring exhortation, we must give credit to James, who had the grace and humility to concede the point and abide by the decision of the assembly.  Those who “lose” at councils often face the difficulty of swallowing their pride and accepting a decision with which they are not comfortable.  This requires holiness, humility, and faith.  Pride seeks for schism in those situations.
We should also note the argument that James employs to confirm Peter’s decision:
13 …Brethren, listen to me.  14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.  15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written, 16 ‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, 17 that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name … (Amos 9:11-12)
James cites a prophecy of Amos concerning the future restoration of the Davidic Kingdom.  Once more, the Davidic Kingdom will incorporate Gentile nations.  Now that the Gentiles are entering the Church, James understands that the prophecy of Amos is being fulfilled.  But notice that this interpretation presumes that the Church is the Davidic Kingdom, ruled by the Son of David, Jesus of Nazareth.  James has a “kingdom ecclesiology.”  But this kingdom must be marked by peace, since its ruler is the Prince of Peace.  The Church’s leadership, expressed by her officers gathered around Peter, is the means to maintain this peace.
2.  The Responsorial Psalm is Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8 
R. (4) O God, let all the nations praise you!
May God have pity on us and bless us;
may he let his face shine upon us.
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
May the nations be glad and exult
because you rule the peoples in equity;
the nations on the earth you guide.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you!
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear him!
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!

In response we sing a psalm of the ancient kingdom of David.  This psalm, Psalm 67, calls on all the “nations”—the goyim or “Gentiles”—to praise the Lord.  Many other psalms call on the nations to praise the God of Israel, as well.  This was not all empty rhetoric.  During the reigns of David and Solomon, it is probable that subjected Gentile vassal states sent representatives to the imperial capital of Jerusalem and took part the Temple worship out of respect for their royal overlord.  So some of the psalms were probably composed at a time when it could be expected that Gentiles of various kinds could be found in the sanctuary courts at any given time.  The worship of the ancient kingdom of David anticipated the “universal” or international character of the Catholic Church.
3.  The Second Reading is Rev 21:10-14, 22-23:
The angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain
and showed me the holy city Jerusalem
coming down out of heaven from God.
It gleamed with the splendor of God.
Its radiance was like that of a precious stone,
like jasper, clear as crystal.
It had a massive, high wall,
with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed
and on which names were inscribed,
the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites.
There were three gates facing east,
three north, three south, and three west.
The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation,
on which were inscribed the twelve names
of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

I saw no temple in the city
for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb.
The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God gave it light,
and its lamp was the Lamb.

This is a vision of the Church, primarily the Church Triumphant (whose boundaries are essentially coterminous with heaven) but also with application to the Church Militant (i.e. the Church on earth).  The precious stones that adorn the Heavenly Jerusalem recall the precious stones of Eden (Gen 2:11-12), since the Heavenly Jerusalem is a New Eden in which the peace of Eden is restored.  At the end of Genesis 3, angels are placed at the eastern entrance to Eden (since Eden, being a sanctuary/Temple, had only one, east-facing entrance; Gen 3:24).  The New Jerusalem is more accessible (twelve gates), but at each is stationed an angel to keep out what is impure.  This represents the spiritual nature of the Church, and the spiritual warfare that goes on to protect the Church.  The angels still defend the Church spiritually, and invocation of St. Michael, for example, has begun to return in many dioceses around the country.
The gates for the Twelve Tribes represents the Israelite heritage of the Church (that we are joined to the saints of the Old Testament) as well as the fact that we constitute the “New Israel,” ruled by the Apostles (see Luke 22:30), that is, their successors.
The apostolic foundations of the city point to the fact that we are founded upon the teaching of the Apostles, expressed solemnly in the Sacred Scriptures of the New Testament, but also transmitted in the Church’s living tradition.  But it is not just their teaching, but also their ongoing ministry, carried on by their successors, which serves as our foundation.  Without the authoritative teaching ministry of the Apostles, expressed in the “ecumenical council” in the First Reading, the city would crumple into chaos as each person interpreted the Scriptures in their own way, and all peace would be lost.
4.  The Gospel is Jn 14:23-29:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.

“I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
You heard me tell you,
‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’
If you loved me,
you would rejoice that I am going to the Father;
for the Father is greater than I.
And now I have told you this before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe.”

During these last days before the Feast of the Ascension (Thursday May 9, or transferred to Sunday May 12), we liturgical “re-live” the end of the forty-day period the Apostles spent with Jesus, as he prepared them for his departure.  We have no direct record of Jesus’ teachings during this time, either in Acts or the Gospels.  So the Church turns to Jesus discourse in John during the Last Supper, which suits very well, because in it Jesus speaks extensively about his imminent departure and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
We comment on each section:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.

Here we see the convergence of love and obedience.  Liberal Christianity is fond of forcing a wedge between these, by asserting “we used to follow the commands of a God of justice” but now we “are in a relationship with a God of love.”  There is no disjunction between these relaties.  Commandments and obedience merge into love.  God’s commands are given for our good, to show us the path to love.  Our obedience shows that we both love and trust him.  A lawless (antinomian) Christianity is not loving, no matter how exuberant the worship or how much emotion is expressed in the prayer.
The Father and Son promise to “make our dwelling” with the one who “keeps my word.”  This is a Temple theme, picking up the motifs of the Second Reading.  The one who keeps the word of Jesus becomes the “New Jerusalem,” the dwelling place of the “Lord God Almighty and the Lamb.”
“I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.

This passage is not a promise of infused, infallible knowledge for each individual believer.  We must remember that these words were spoken to the Apostles as a group (the “Apostolic College”), and the Greek is second-person plural (“y’all”, not “you”).  This is a promise of the Spirit to the whole Church, as represented by her officers, the Apostles—and by extension, their successors.  This promise of being “taught” and “reminded” of the truth told them by Jesus is best expressed when they gather as a college to seek to understand and explain the faith better—which is what we saw happening in the First Reading.  The Ecumenical Councils throughout history best manifest the truth of this promise of Jesus that the Holy Spirit would “teach and remind” his Church throughout time.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
On the one hand, this verse is a word of consolation to the whole Church and to each individual believer, that God will provide a supernatural peace that cannot be explained or justified on rational or observational grounds.  Though all seem turned against us, and persecutions and tribulations abound, still we can experience a lasting peace unlike anything natural or of this temporal world.
On the other hand, this promise of peace follows directly from the promise of “teaching and reminding” the Apostolic College in the previous verses.  The authoritative teaching of the Apostles and their successors assembled around Peter (that is, an ecumenical council) brings peace to the Church by settling questions of dispute and establishing doctrine clearly.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
You heard me tell you,
‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’
If you loved me,
you would rejoice that I am going to the Father;
for the Father is greater than I.
And now I have told you this before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe.”
In these last words, Jesus cares for the Apostles and provides pastoral comfort, “pastoring the pastors” so that they remain courageous and confident in their duties even in the apparent absence of Jesus Himself.  But his words of comfort touch all Christians:  we ought not be troubled or afraid, because we have confidence of the return of the Lord.  The tribulations we are experiencing are nothing new and unexpected: He warned us ahead of time that they would take place (“I told you this before it happens”) so that we can maintain our faith during the time of testing (“so that when it happens you may believe”).
To summarize, in these Readings Holy Mother Church speaks to us about how to have peace.  The path to peace includes:
(1) Faithfulness to the teaching of the Apostolic College, rather than trusting in private judgment or rogue pastors.
(2) Obedience to the “word” of Jesus, so that the Father and Son may dwell in our hearts and give us their peace.
(3) Trust in Jesus promise that he will return and bring us to live with the Father.
Originally Posted: The Sacred Page.