Summary: The God who is himself reliable gives us a city which is reliable.
Thursday of 7th Week of Easter 2014
Lumen Fidei (St. Boniface)
The uproar between Pharisee and Sadducee that Paul engineered here almost ended in his premature death. Sadducees, the priestly class in Jerusalem, believed in the divine inspiration of only the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Pharisees, the lay class who believed that all true Jews should obey all the six-hundred plus regulations in Torah, also believed in the inspiration of the rest of the Old Testament, the prophets and the writings like psalms and proverbs. By the time of Jesus, the big break between the two Jewish parties had to do with belief in the Resurrection of the dead. Since that doctrine cannot be found in the books they attributed to Moses, the Sadducees did not believe it, and, we see in other places, they ridiculed it. The Pharisees held that as a core doctrine–after all, what is the reward for keeping all those commandments if when they died, they just turned into dust. Rich and poor, believers and not, all went to the same sad place called Sheol. Surely God would raise up those who were faithful to him to an eternal life of glory. Paul, a Pharisee, believed that with all his heart and mind, because he had seen the risen and glorified Jesus on the Damascus Road.
The prayer of Jesus, that all His disciples be one, is set off in stark contrast from the scene in Acts. He did not want parties, sects, denominations to rend the fabric of His body. The one Spirit, the Holy Spirit, perfectly unites the Father and the Son. Jesus gives us the Spirit of unity, which He calls glory in this passage. The glory of the Trinity is the Spirit of unity. The glory of husband and wife is their spirit of unity, indissolubility, perfect union of heart and mind that issues in children. The glory of the Church is supposed to be unity. Anything that tears that glorious garment of unity is not of God. That’s why it is so encouraging to see the Holy Father and the Patriarch of the Eastern Church agreeing on a gathering at Nicaea, the place where the first great ecumenical council was held. Now it’s eleven years away, but the great East-West Schism is almost a thousand years old, so that’s a relatively short preparation time. Watch for an appeal from the Holy Father for additional prayer for reunion between East and West. The Church needs to breathe with both lungs.
The popes in their encyclical remind us that the One faith which is a gift of God is not presented only as a journey, but as a building process: “the Letter to the Hebrews highlights an essential aspect of [the] faith [of the men and women of the OT]. That faith is not only presented as a journey, but also as a process of building, the preparing of a place in which human beings can dwell together with one another. The first builder was Noah who saved his family in the ark (Heb 11:7). Then comes Abraham, of whom it is said that by faith he dwelt in tents, as he looked forward to the city with firm foundations (cf. Heb 11:9-10). With faith comes a new reliability, a new firmness, which God alone can give. If the man of faith finds support in the God of fidelity, the God who is Amen (cf. Is 65:16), and thus becomes firm himself, we can now also say that firmness of faith marks the city which God is preparing for mankind. Faith reveals just how firm the bonds between people can be when God is present in their midst. Faith does not merely grant interior firmness, a steadfast conviction on the part of the believer; it also sheds light on every human relationship because it is born of love and reflects God’s own love. The God who is himself reliable gives us a city which is reliable.
“Precisely because it is linked to love (cf. Gal 5:6), the light of faith is concretely placed at the service of justice, law and peace. Faith is born of an encounter with God’s primordial love, wherein the meaning and goodness of our life become evident; our life is illumined to the extent that it enters into the space opened by that love, to the extent that it becomes, in other words, a path and praxis leading to the fullness of love. The light of faith is capable of enhancing the richness of human relations, their ability to endure, to be trustworthy, to enrich our life together. Faith does not draw us away from the world or prove irrelevant to the concrete concerns of the men and women of our time. Without a love which is trustworthy, nothing could truly keep men and women united. Human unity would be conceivable only on the basis of utility, on a calculus of conflicting interests or on fear, but not on the goodness of living together, not on the joy which the mere presence of others can give. Faith makes us appreciate the architecture of human relationships because it grasps their ultimate foundation and definitive destiny in God, in his love, and thus sheds light on the art of building; as such it becomes a service to the common good. Faith is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good. Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the Church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope.”