Friday, April 20, 2012

Sound advice from Gamaliel

Gamaliel I with students from New World Encyclopedia
At Mass today we heard (Acts 5:34-42) this wise advice from Gamaliel, "a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin..., a teacher of the law, respected by all the people", concerning the apostles:
If this endeavor of this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.
Gamaliel was the great teacher of Saul, who set out to persecute the Christians of Damascus but who himself encountered the once dead but now risen Lord.

Gamaliel referred to two earlier movements that had risen and fallen. One was promoted by a man named Theudas who gained about four hundred followers. But once he was killed they disbanded and the movement came to nothing. The other was started by Judas the Galilean. He also gained followers but once he was killed, "all who were loyal to him were scattered."

And so we have the followers of a supposedly dead Jesus. Surely they would disband and scatter too, if what Jesus started was simply another troublesome group like the other two.

We know that the Church still stands. It has not been destroyed, in spite of attempts from those from outside who would wish to suppress it, and those from within who would seek to divide it.

We too must always ensure that we look upon the Church as coming from God. It is not ours to do what we want with. The Gospel of today's Mass (Jn 6:1-15) speaks of the twelve baskets of fragments from the five barley loaves. Twelve baskets for each of the twelve apostles and their successors from which they are able to feed the flock that comes after them. The Bishops have been entrusted with the deposit of the faith. It is an awesome responsibility with which they have been entrusted, the faithful handing down of the Word through their teaching. And we (laity - consecrated or not; deacons and priests) who are not Bishops must ensure that we think with the mind of God, that our initiatives do not have as their origin a human way of thinking but that they be - as far as we can be sure - from God.

Any initiative in a parish, any changes that might be seen necessary, must be subjected to this question: is this from man or is it from God? We do not have any right to think that we, who live in April 2010, own our parish. We hold it in trust for the generations that will, hopefully, come after us. This can also be a way of discernment when there is potential for division in a community. What is the more divine way of proceeding now? Is it to insist on my position, to be so convinced that I am right that I will not climb down? Or is it better to concede a point, to compromise, to let others have the day, and thus preserve a greater good of unity and harmony.

Naturally, there can be no compromise on sin, or the defined truths of our faith. But often, whether it be in a parish or in a family or some other enterprise, people get hung up on little things, when a little bit of give and take would be the more divine way of acting.

And how do we get into the habit of a more God-like way of thinking and acting? Becoming men and women of prayer. Spending time in quiet prayer, particularly before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, will help us distinguish the human from the divine.

PS: the New World Encyclopedia gives this interesting comment on Gamaliel.
Because of his sympathetic attitude to the early Christians, at an early date Christian ecclesiastical tradition has supposed that Gamaliel I embraced the Christian faith, and remained a member of the Sanhedrin for the purpose of secretly helping his fellow-Christians. According to Saint Photius, he was baptized by Saint Peter and Saint John, together with his son and Nicodemus. His body was said to be preserved at Pisa, in Italy. Contemporary Jewish records, however, continue to list him and his sons as respected leaders in the non-Christian branch of the Jewish community. This would be highly unlikely if he had been a convert to Christianity.

Gamaliel and Nicodemus portrayed as mourning the death
of the Christian martyr, Saint Stephen, c. 1615
From New World Encyclopedia

1 comment:

  1. It is said - and attested to by St. Augustine - that Gamaliel appeared to the priest Lucian and told him where to find the relics of Gamaliel and of St. Stephen the Protomartyr. They were found.


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