As a result of missionary work by St. Paul and his companions, there were many non-Jews who embraced the message of Christianity. Inevitably, as in any growing organization, questions of correct practice began to emerge. In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (15:1-6) we see the serious question: Must the Gentiles first become Jewish (i.e. follow Jewish law/practice) in order to become Christian? The questions were about the necessity of circumcision and other tenets of Mosaic Law. This moment in history was a crucial one and occasioned the first “ecumenical” (or “whole church”) council – the 23rd of which was the monumental Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965 that transformed the Roman Catholic Church in many ways.
Today’s reading stops short of the decisions of the Council of Jerusalem (stay tuned) but the important line for me was the last of today’s text: The Apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter. In times of confusion or disagreement about serious issues, whether in family, church or in any organization, we can do no better than to come together in a stance of discernment to find the best direction in which to proceed. Discernment is not about the strongest person or group prevailing. It is about deep listening to one another in trust that all have the good of the whole in view, allowing a solution to emerge from the silence that accompanies the conversation. It is, if allowed to be so, a holy thing to experience, as the result may be something that no one in the group has foreseen that arises from the common spirit existing deep within each and all of the participants. It is the way of the heart.