30th April. Monday of the 4th Week of Easter

Acts 11:1ff. How Peter was inspired to baptise the first pagan converts.

John 10:1ff. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who keeps his sheep safe from harm.

Expanding the Flock

Apostolic leadership in the Church, in the example of St. Peter, requires vision and courage to see where exactly the Spirit is leading. No bishop, no pope, can effectively gather Christ’s flock just by repeating tired old formulae, like a mantra, regardless of whether they reach the mind and heart of the faithful; still less so, by stifling all conversation upon topical and troubling issues.

See in the Acts how Peter finds himself baptizing gentiles, not to in order to give them their first taste of the Holy Spirit but precisely because he sees they have already been graced by the Spirit. This was forward-thinking, genuine pastoral care, respectful of the evident reality. Even though he was an observant Jew, like Jesus, obeying the dietary laws and other observances of his people, Peter could no longer refuse them the baptism they requested. So, apparently without instructing these gentiles in the Jewish law, he went ahead and baptized them! What, his critics would wonder, might such an action do to weaken the Jewish bonds of race, family, ritual customs, legal observance and continuity in the Church of Jesus? When Peter was challenged  by other members of the Church in Jerusalem about performing this baptism for his pagan converts, he explained his reason in a way that convinced and brought joy to the believers.

Today, perhaps more than ever, we need this kind of reasoned, charitable dialogue  in the Catholic Church, if we are to continue united as a community of faith. The early Church hotly debated this idea that gentiles can become Christian without first becoming Jews. There is no sign that Peter used his authority to stifle debate about that thorny issue, even when, uncomfortably perhaps to the original apostles, the newcomer Paul of Tarsus devoted so much energy to proposing a radical freedom from the Law, in order to open the faith to a whole new set of converts. Such questions were, and probably still should be thrashed out theologically within the Church with an eye to tradition and earlier practices, certainly, as was anticipated by Jesus in the parable of the Good Shepherd, who knows each of his sheep by name.

Because the Good Shepherd calls us by name and leads us forward from our ancestry into our future, Jesus compares himself to the door of the sheepfold. As the sound of our name is spoken by the same Good Shepherd, and we are led back into our own depths, to silent prayer and sleep. He calls our name in order to summon us to nourishment and pasture and show us the way of total commitment to his gathered flock. Jesus, in many ways so silent that we do not realize his presence, lays down his life for his sheep.

First Reading: Acts 11:1-18

The apostles and believers in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.

At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Gospel: John 10:1-10

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

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