During His conversation with the apostles on the night of His arrest, Jesus looks into the future. What does He see?
Gospel (Read Jn 14:23-29)
In a long section of St. John’s Gospel that we call “the Last Supper Discourse” (see Jn 13-17), Jesus begins to anticipate His departure from this world and what that will mean for His friends, the apostles. He emphasizes that to love Him means to live as He taught them. Those who love Jesus in word and action will live in communion with the Trinity here on earth, even before they reach heaven.
Then, Jesus moves on to describe something that is yet to happen and is of vital importance as we seek to understand how His followers will know what they need to know about Him and His Word after His departure. How will the Gospel move from this band of apostles and those who traveled with them into all the world? Once Jesus leaves, how can we know we have the truth about Him and thus be able to live it?
Jesus has a plan to make sure all those who wish to follow Him, in all the years that must pass before His return, will know what they need to know: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” If we have read the Gospels carefully, this promise by Jesus has to bring some relief. We have seen how little the apostles actually understood of what Jesus said and did while He was still with them. Notice that this promise is made uniquely to the apostles in this conversation. Jesus switches from speaking about “whoever” (all believers) in vss 23-24 to “you” (the eleven who were with Him at the Last Supper) in vss 25-29. We can understand by this that although the Holy Spirit will be sent to all believers, He will do a particular work of teaching and reminding the apostles. Later in this same discourse, Jesus tells the apostles that the Holy Spirit will “guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:13). This is an even more expansive promise, because it anticipates that the apostles will, in the future, need to know more than they did on this night. In all this, the work of the Holy Spirit is of supreme importance. Jesus knew that He had chosen mere men upon whom to build His Church. The worldwide proclamation of the Gospel, through all the ages of the Church’s history, would have to come through ordinary flesh and blood. How could this be anything other than risky? There is only one way: a supernatural charism of the Holy Spirit, working in the apostles and their successors, would guarantee “all the truth.”
Because of this magnificent promise, Jesus can leave His apostles with “Peace.” How is this peace different from what “the world gives”? Peace in the world depends on circumstances. The peace of Jesus goes much deeper than that. His peace grounds us in the truth of God’s love and power, no matter what our circumstances might be. How can we be sure of this truth? We look to these promises right here. The charism given first to the apostles and then passed on through the laying on of hands to their successors enables us to know “all the truth,” expressed now in both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
What an incredible plan! Did it work? Our first reading gives us the evidence we need to answer this question.
Possible response: Lord Jesus, please help me love You in ways that go beyond words and emotions.
First Reading (Read Acts 15:1-2, 22-29)
In Christendom, ever since the Reformation, there are Christians who interpret our Gospel reading differently from the Catholic Church. They believe the Holy Spirit’s charism of teaching, reminding, and guiding into “all the truth” is given to every believer, not just those who are ordained successors to the apostles (the bishops). Certainly Catholics recognize the way the Holy Spirit teaches and guides us in our individual lives with God. However, the Church makes a distinction between that universal work of the Holy Spirit and this particular work of revealing “all the truth,” which we understand to be the dogma we must all believe and the way of life we must all live in order to have the fullness of what Jesus intended to give us. The Church believes this teaching charism is a gift given exclusively to the apostles and those appointed to follow them.
Fortunately, we can look to the Book of Acts for evidence about which interpretation is the most biblical. St. Luke tells us about the first episode of confusion over truth experienced by the New Testament Church. In Antioch, where many Gentile pagans converted to Christianity, some Jewish Christians, “who had come down from Judea,” told the believers that they needed to be circumcised (always a sign of being in covenant with God) in order to be saved. This caused quite a rift in the Church there, with Paul and Barnabas insisting that circumcision wasn’t necessary. Which group had “all the truth”? They were all believers; they all had the Holy Spirit. The circumcision group had the Old Testament Scriptures on their side (the New Testament didn’t exist yet). Jesus hadn’t said anything about a situation like this. How would it be resolved?
“It was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question” (emphasis added). Here we see that the Christians in Antioch knew they couldn’t arrive at the truth about circumcision on their own. They did not expect the Holy Spirit to lead them into “all the truth” on this question. They did expect that the apostles in Jerusalem could settle it, because Jesus had promised that charism to them. However, notice that it was not only the apostles but also “the elders” who were called upon to render a decision. Who were they? The “elders” (or “bishops”) were those appointed by the apostles to help lead the new Church (see Acts 14:23). We can see that right away the apostles were passing along their special charism through the laying on of hands (the growing Church would need many more than twelve leaders). Because the elders, by their ordination, received this gift of truth from the Holy Spirit, they were included in the decision about “all the truth” concerning Gentile circumcision.
This meeting of apostles and elders (the Council of Jerusalem), led by Peter, declared that salvation is by grace (see Acts 15:6-11). They also sent out a letter explaining how Jewish and Christian converts could peacefully coexist without undue provocation of Jewish sensibilities or undue emphasis on Jewish legal requirements. These pronouncements were for all Christians. The Council’s ruling prevented a split in the Church, which surely would have happened if individual Christians followed their individual convictions about circumcision of Gentiles. Some of our non-Catholic brethren will suggest that this apostolic conciliar method of arriving at “all the truth” was only necessary until all the New Testament was written. Once that was done, according to this way of thinking, the only teaching authority was the Bible itself. History before the Reformation refutes this, however. Even when the New Testament had been completed, the question of its interpretation needed to be addressed. Major dogmas like the Trinity, the Incarnation, and even which books actually were Scripture were all resolved by apostolic conciliar declarations. There were many good-hearted, devout, holy Christians who had many different ideas about what the words in Scripture actually meant. It was, in all these dogmatic matters, ultimately up to the bishops of the Church, in union with the Pope, to make a final determination. History makes this very clear.
So, we see that the New Testament Church understood apostolic authority in the way it has been preserved in the Catholic Church. If we are looking for “all the truth” in the many dogmatic and moral questions that arise during the course of human history, we will need to look to those who can trace their ordinations back through a succession of hands to the apostles. Jesus made His promise of the Holy Spirit’s charism of truth to them, and Scripture tells us they passed it on to others. Today, by that gift, the Voice of Jesus continues to ring out through His Church to the whole world. The plan worked!
Possible response: Lord Jesus, thank You for building a Church that will always be able to teach us “all the truth” about life with You.
Psalm (Read Ps 67:2-3, 5-6, 8)
The psalm captures for us the joy that comes to “all nations” when God’s way may “be known upon earth.” In the Gospel, when Jesus looked out to the future, He saw God’s plan for that to happen through His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Two thousand years later, we can see its fruit. Therefore, we want to sing: “O God, let all the nations praise You!”
Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.
Second Reading (Read Rev 21:10-14, 22-23)
Here we see a splendid vision of the Church at the end of time. Notice how it is built on the foundation of the “twelve apostles of the Lamb.” It is not built solely on the bible; it is built on twelve fallible human beings who were given the charism of infallible truth to build it. All the teaching and preaching authority of the Catholic Church rests right there. The beauty of this vision, written by an apostle to whom the charism of truth through the Holy Spirit had been given (see Rev 1:10), helps us understand why Jesus promised His peace in the Gospel. The past, the present, and the future all belong to “the Lord God and the Lamb.” Alleluia!
Possible response: Heavenly Father, thank You for the splendor that lies ahead for Your people, the Church—You will dwell with us. Thank You for its foretaste in the Eucharist at every Mass.
Image: Warsaw, Poland – August 2021: Apostles of Jesus Christ, Apostles in the New Testament. Shutterstock/Mateusz Kuca