Homily for May 27, Friday of the V week of Easter
When we think of the early Church, perhaps we can have an idyllic image of the first Christians as being in perfect unity, sharing everything with each other and only facing conflict and persecution from the Romans and the Jewish authorities. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that they dedicated themselves to prayer, communal life, and the teachings of the apostles, who preached with great zeal, and performed miracles.
However, that is not the full story. As we have heard in the first readings at Mass over the past several days, there were also some conflicts within the community itself. First, the Christians of Greek ethnicity complained that their widows were getting less than the Hebrew widows in the daily distribution of food. That conflict was resolved by the Apostles ordaining deacons to help take care of the service of the community.
Another problem arose when the Christians of Jewish origin wanted the Christians of gentile origin to follow various aspects of the Jewish law. The Apostles and presbyters gathered together to hear both sides of the issue. They concluded that the redemption that Jesus brought us made the old Law obsolete. In short, salvation comes through Christ. Focus on the essentials, in the main, the Ten Commandments.
The Gospel today has a similar message: Jesus tells His disciples that His commandment, the key and central aspect of being a Christian, is to love one another as He loved us. He chooses us out of love and wants us to bring that love to others.
This message of focusing on the essentials is timeless. It is a strong human tendency to build up additional rules and principles based on our own background, experiences, habits, and preferences, and try to impose that on others. As a consequence, sometimes we can allow ourselves to be very bothered because things are not done the way we are used to or the way we expected. For example, we go to our in-laws for Christmas dinner, and they serve ham instead of turkey, when in our family it is always turkey. We go to Mass at a different parish, and the music is not to our taste, or the reader reads too fast (or too slow)… you get the idea. It’s normal for change to be difficult, but it becomes a problem when we make it an issue just because it’s different or doesn’t match our personal taste.
In those moments, we need to remember to focus on essentials, and love others as God loves us: unconditionally. If we think that important principles have been breeched, we can find a charitable way to address the issue, always keeping in mind that God has called the person we are addressing just as He has called us. God makes the rules, not us. May He help us all truly to love each other and accept each other, so that together we may all spread the true Christian message, and God may be praised among all the nations.