Francis draws light from the persecution that lead to the important first Council of Jerusalem
Pope Francis today reflected on how the the Gospel arrived to Antioch, the first place that believers in Jesus were called Christians. Paul went there because of the intense persecution that had arisen after the death of Stephen. The persecution, instead of being a “hold” on evangelization, the pope said, “becomes an opportunity to expand the areas where the good seed of the Word is being sown.”
“The Christians don’t get scared,” Francis said. “They have to flee, yes, but they flee with the Word, and they spread it everywhere.”
The Holy Father went on to speak of what’s known as the Council of Jerusalem, which arose because of the questions that resulted from this new area of preaching. Did the Christians need to first become Jews? Did they need circumcision before baptism?
“They are dealing with a very tricky theological, spiritual, and disciplinary question, that is, the relationship between faith in Christ and the observance of the Law of Moses,” the pope explained. He noted how Peter and James give decisive discourses to the assembly, as “pillars” of the Church.
The Acts of the Apostles record that there is “much debate” but from the discussion comes a common decision, ratified with an “apostolic letter” that is sent to Antioch.
The Council of Jerusalem provides important light on how to deal with differences and seek the “truth in charity” (Ephesians 4:15). It reminds us that the ecclesial methodology for resolving conflict is based on dialogue, made up of attentive and patient listening, and discernment carried out in the light of the Spirit. In effect, it is the Spirit who helps overcome the tensions and acts in their hearts so they reach truth and goodness, so that they reach unity. This text helps us understand synodality. It is interesting, as they write in the Letter – the Apostles begin by saying, “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us …” This is characteristic of synodality, of the presence of the Holy Spirit; the contrary is not synodality – it is parliamentary, a parliament … something else.
The pope concluded by calling us to pray for all Christians, but especially bishops and priests, so that we might have the desire for unity and communion, and take responsibility for building it. He asked that God would help us live in a spirit of dialogue, of listening and encountering others… “to manifest the fruitfulness of the Church, who is called to be in all times the ‘joyful Mother’ of many children” (cf Psalm 113:9).