The Acts of the Apostles records six summaries of the “missionary discourses” which were addressed to the Jews during the Church’s infancy (cf. Acts 2:22-39; 3:12-26; 4:9-12; 5:29-32; 10:34-43; 13:16-41). These model speeches, delivered by Peter and by Paul, proclaim Jesus and invite those listening to “be converted,” that is, to accept Jesus in faith and to let themselves be transformed in him by the Spirit.
The witness is for the person to accept Jesus, then let go. We get an idealized version of Peter and Paul, and that is fine. We need to realize that each of us is a flawed disciple, and we will not always perceive the calling to which we are invited. We can make errors. Of course, it is worse to refuse or deny the call. By embracing the call, we show ourselves willing to cooperate with the mission.
I was having a conversation earlier today in which a parishioner was critical of our bishop and the caution exemplified by the slow reopening of churches. A bishop may indeed be mistaken. But assigning a motive of malice is inappropriate. A person can feel the impulse of the Spirit, but err in what they believe they hear, or flub the actions they take. But as Thomas Merton once prayed, we trust that the desire to please God is in fact, pleasing to him. It seems much harder for the Spirit to utilize passivity.
The second half of Acts looks to the mission as it spread through the Gentile world:
Paul and Barnabas are impelled by the Spirit to go to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 13:46-48), a development not without certain tensions and problems. How are these converted Gentiles to live their faith in Jesus? Are they bound by the traditions of Judaism and the law of circumcision? At the first Council, which gathers the members of the different churches together with the apostles in Jerusalem, a decision is taken which is acknowledged as coming from the Spirit: it is not necessary for a Gentile to submit to the Jewish Law in order to become a Christian (cf. Acts 15:5-11, 28). From now on the Church opens her doors and becomes the house which all may enter, and in which all can feel at home, while keeping their own culture and traditions, provided that these are not contrary to the Gospel.
We arrive at the essence of the Lord’s mandate: all are called, without prerequisite. The assumption is that if anything is contrary to the Lord’s values in the life or culture of a seeker, that the opportunity for conversion is present and, to a degree, we can let go and permit the Spirit to work.
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