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Blessing of the Advent Wreath
A fairly common misconception is that “the Jewish people rejected Christ.” Of course this is true in the case of the leading Pharisees and priests of the Temple—those who perceived Jesus as a threat to their own authority, or felt that the Romans would destroy their nation if the general population paid too much attention to Him—those who felt it “expedient ... that one man should die for the people and that the whole nation perish not.” And of course it is true that not all of the common people accepted Jesus—but, yet many did, which is clearly demonstrated by the rulers of the Temple and the need they perceived to have Him crucified.
The Apostles were all Jewish, and they remained in Jerusalem for some time with other convert Jews. Where missionary activity is mentioned in the epistles, it almost always begins at the synagogue in the cities visited. Some of the passages in the Epistle to the Romans, of which we read a small portion today, suggest that Jewish people made up a significant portion of the Christian community at Rome—Paul wrote to them of “Abraham, our father according to the flesh”; wrote about the Mosaic Law; and in today’s reading, quoted the Psalms and the prophet Isaias as authorities they would recognize.
If anything, Saint Paul’s writings reflect the tendency of many of the Jewish converts, not only to accept Christianity as the fulfillment of Judaism, but also to demand that converts from among the Gentiles first become Jews, observing the Law of Moses, before they could be baptized. This would come to be called the “Judaising heresy,” and would be a constant problem for Paul in his missionary work. In today’s epistle, Paul is pointing out that even in the Old Testament it was clear that salvation would one day be possible for all the nations of the earth, not for Israel alone.
But, in spite of his ability to cite the Old Testament (and Paul was a Rabbi, a Doctor of the Law), Paul had an “uphill struggle” against the Judaizers. Even Cephas, the Aramaic name for Saint Peter, Paul “resisted to his face” because Peter was giving in to the pressure from those who insisted that Christians must first become Jews. Even Paul, himself, was guilty, for we read in the Acts of the Apostles that he circumcised Timothy in order to make him an acceptable missionary among the Jews in Lystria and Iconium. These seem to be merely human weaknesses on the part of Peter and Paul, caused by the desire to “get along” with the converts from Judaism, and not by some sort of doctrinal mistake.
Officially, the early Church was quite clear about the matter. God had manifested Himself to Saint Peter in a vision, indicating that the Kosher food laws about clean and unclean animals would no longer be in force. Christians could eat pork, and shrimp, and other foods that had been forbidden in the Old Law. At the same time, God arranged for Peter to baptize the centurion Cornelius and his household—the first non-Jews to receive the catholic Faith.
There was also a meeting of the Apostles at Jerusalem to discuss the problem. Peter presented the problem to the Apostles:
Saint James proposed the solution that was accepted by the Apostles and became the law of the Church:
Apart from these few things, which are part of the Natural Law, and therefore unchangeable even by the Church, Gentile converts would no longer be required to follow the practices of Judaism.
In this, we should recognize the universality of the Catholic Church. Indeed, that is how the Church was named, for Catholic is simply the English equivalent of the Greek word for “universal—καθολικός.” In the Universal Church of Christ there would be no distinction between Jew and Gentile. “There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This universality is the miracle Jesus told John’s disciples to report in today’s Gospel—no one is excluded from the ministry of Jesus Christ. Not only are the Gentiles invited, the Greeks, the Romans, the Jews, and the Barbarians, but all of the people who might find themselves outcasts in many societies: the blind, the lame, the lepers, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them; the sick are cured and even the dead are made to rise; no one is excluded.
If today were not Sunday, it would be the feast of Our Lady of Loreto, a feast that commemorates the transference by angels of the house wherein the Holy Family lived in Nazareth to its current resting place in the town of Loreto. The lesson in the breviary indicates that the house was moved five or six times until the angels found a town where the people were at peace with one another. The house of God must be a house of peace.
The lesson to be learned from this is the need for our own acceptance of all who would profess the Catholic Faith. It is easy to accept those who look and speak life us; it is easy to deal with the successful, and the well dressed, and the attractive; it is easy to welcome those who are sound in mind and body. But that is not enough if we want to be the followers of Jesus Christ. We must “receive one another, even as Christ has received [us] to the honor of God.” If we are to be truly Catholics; members of the Universal Church, recipients of the one Body and Blood of Christ, members of His one Mystical Body, we must be, as Saint Paul tells us “of one mind toward one another, according to Jesus Christ,” for only in that way can we join together in the public worship of the Church “and with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
 Epistle: Romans xv: 4-13.
 John xi: 50.
 Romans iv: 1; viii:1; vii: 4; viii:2, 15; today’s epistle xv: 4-13.
 Galatians ii.
 Acts xvi: 1-5.
 Acts x: 9-16.
 Acts x: 17-48.
 Cf. Acts xv: 6-12.
 Cf. Acts xv: 13-21..
 Galatians iii: 28.
 Epistle: Romans xv: 4-13.