• Acts 14:21-27
• Ps 145:8-9, 10-11, 12-13
• Rev 21:1-5a
• Joh 13:31-33a, 34-35
Among the criticisms I once had, as an evangelical, was that Catholics were too preoccupied with “the Church”. They were so focused on the Church, I thought, that they had little time or energy for Jesus. Furthermore, I knew that having a saving, personal relationship with Jesus had little to do with the Church. God’s love, I believed, would only be hindered by the kind of laws and structures found within the awesome but worldly Catholic Church. Simply put, I thought that on one side was love and relationship, and on the other side was law and, well, “rule relationship”.
I finally changed my mind for two basic reasons: my understanding of the Catholic Church was wrong, and my interpretation of what Scripture says on these matters was also wrong. Instead of recoiling in horror, I can now appreciate the Catechism declaration: “The Church is the goal of all things” (CCC 760). I see now that the Church is a lot of love and law, relationship and structure.
This is evident in the Acts of the Apostles, including today’s reading, which describes some of the work of Paul and Barnabas in Asia Minor. Luke is careful to point out how the early Church developed and was governed. The gospel was proclaimed, disciples were trained and then urged to persevere. Elders have been appointed and ordained in every church. And, back in Antioch, the base of his missionary journeys, the Apostle to the Gentiles summoned the local church to announce to the Christians the news of their brothers and sisters in Christ. In this way, Paul fulfilled, in a fundamental way, the triple duty of the bishops, the successors of the apostles, who must teach, govern and sanctify.
Paul spoke of the sufferings that Christians will face upon entering the kingdom of God. The reign of God requires followers of Jesus to endure trials and hardships, even death, just as he willingly endured shame, torture, and death on a cross before being glorified by the Father. Today’s Gospel combines two words that many people think (or assume) are in direct opposition to each other: commandment and to like. We live in a culture that is in love with the notion that love is about feeling and passion – after all, you have to follow your heart! – while the commandments (or laws) are seen as stifling and limiting, and certainly unloving.
Jesus says otherwise: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. It is not, of course, the type of love found in many popular songs and TV shows, but a commitment to putting others first, even unto physical death; it is a gift from the King and is an integral part of the life of the Kingdom.
So the greatest commandment, Jesus said elsewhere, is to love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and the second commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:37- 40; CCC 2054-55). This love declares: “We belong to Christ, who died for the world. And it is this love that maintains and animates the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the house of God.
In this way we can begin to appreciate the important relationship between the Church and the Kingdom. The Church is “ultimately one, holy, catholic and apostolic in its deepest and ultimate identity”. Catechism teaches, “because it is in her that the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, the ‘Reign of God’ already exists and will be fulfilled at the end of time” (CCC 865). The Kingdom was established in the person and work of Jesus and grows over time.
Ultimately, as the Book of Revelation describes today, the Kingdom is not an earthly reign, but the final triumph of Christ over the power of sin and Satan, culminating in an eternity spent in communion with the Triune God (cf., CCC 865), free from death, sorrow and pain. In Christ, through the Church, all things are made new.
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the May 6, 2007, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)
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