Memory of the Saints and the Prophets

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Memorial of Saint John XXIII, pope, who died in 1963.


Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people acquired by God
to proclaim his marvellous works.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Acts 15,6-21

The apostles and elders met to look into the matter, and after a long discussion, Peter stood up and addressed them. 'My brothers,' he said, 'you know perfectly well that in the early days God made his choice among you: the gentiles were to learn the good news from me and so become believers. And God, who can read everyone's heart, showed his approval of them by giving the Holy Spirit to them just as he had to us. God made no distinction between them and us, since he purified their hearts by faith. Why do you put God to the test now by imposing on the disciples the very burden that neither our ancestors nor we ourselves were strong enough to support? But we believe that we are saved in the same way as they are: through the grace of the Lord Jesus.' The entire assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul describing all the signs and wonders God had worked through them among the gentiles. When they had finished it was James who spoke. 'My brothers,' he said, 'listen to me. Simeon has described how God first arranged to enlist a people for his name out of the gentiles. This is entirely in harmony with the words of the prophets, since the scriptures say: After that I shall return and rebuild the fallen hut of David; I shall make good the gaps in it and restore it. Then the rest of humanity, and of all the nations once called mine, will look for the Lord, says the Lord who made this known so long ago. 'My verdict is, then, that instead of making things more difficult for gentiles who turn to God, we should send them a letter telling them merely to abstain from anything polluted by idols, from illicit marriages, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For Moses has always had his preachers in every town and is read aloud in the synagogues every Sabbath.'

 

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You will be holy,
because I am holy, thus says the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The apostles and the elders gathered in common assembly in Jerusalem. Acts reports that the debate was quite lively. Finally Peter addressed them and referred to the case of Cornelius. He said that the Holy Spirit had descended on the Roman centurion and his family, “just as he did with us, and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us.” Coming from his own experience, Peter supported the position held by Paul and Barnabas, that grace alone, and not ritual practice, brings salvation. Everyone then waited for Paul and Barnabas to tell of the precious fruits born by their mission among the gentiles. The miracles that happened, thanks to the proclamation of the Word of God among the pagans, were a clear sign of the strength of the Gospel, and showed the way for the Church to follow. What Luke says is poignant, “The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul as they told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles.” It was neither eloquence nor righteousness of doctrine that amazed people, but rather the extraordinary fruit of conversion that followed the preaching of the two. So it was in the beginning and so it should happen also now. That is to say the Gospel needs to be proclaimed and to grow in people’s hearts so that they may together form the one family of God that embraces all those who believe. Proclaiming abstract truth and keeping what is already in existence is not sufficient. It is necessary that the Gospel is proclaimed and reaches the hearts of those who listen to it, so that it may lead them to join God’s family. At the end of the meeting, James spoke and, recalling Peter’s words, defended the legitimacy of Paul’s opinion. It is faith in the Gospel that saves, not the law; it is passionate love that makes the Church grow, not cold and over planned ritual. The Church is an assembly of people united not by external obligations or by rituals but by the faith of disciples who entrust all their lives to Christ and his Gospel.