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A mini case-study focused on St. Peter and Pope Francis

The divisions in the Church 2000 years ago were just as serious as they are today.  (In both eras we see the eternal struggle for balance between two necessary poles – what is of value in the past and the need to adapt to new situations.)

I am not concerned with taking sides on any issue. I am more concerned with how St. Peter and Pope Francis tried to discover the core truth in apparently conflicting positions. What can we learn from how these two shepherds faced division then and now?

Facing divisions in the early church

Within some 20 years of the death of Christ we see deep disagreement over whether Greeks and other non-Jews had to adhere strictly to Mosaic law as part of their salvation — for example, did they have to be circumcised first and then baptized? It is hard for us to realize how deep these divisions were as revealed in the Acts of the Apostles.

A delegation, led by the Apostle Paul and his companion St. Barnabas sought the advice of the Apostles and of the elders of Jerusalem in the first Council or Assembly of Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1-10).

Keep in mind that Peter initially resisted what Paul was asking. He then accepted what Paul was calling for.

This event sheds important light on the way to face differences and to seek the “truth in love” (Eph 4:15).  They came together in open and frank exchange in the context of mutual respect and openness to guidance from the Holy Spirit.

This council constituted a highly significant paradigm for all subsequent councils.

Pope Francis facing division in the church today

There is little need to list the many serious divisions in the church today. But, let’s look at how Pope Francis thinks about them.

‘”The Jerusalem Assembly teaches us how to deal with differences and look for “the truth in charity.” It helps us understand that synodality is an ecclesial method for reflection and confrontation.”

“It reminds us that the ecclesial method for resolving conflict is based on dialogue made of careful and patient listening and on discernment undertaken in the light of the Spirit. Indeed, it is the Spirit who helps to overcome closure and tension and works within hearts so that they may achieve unity in truth and goodness.”

“It is interesting how they write the letter (of promulgation): the Apostles begin by saying: “The Holy spirit and we believe that…”. The presence of the Holy Spirit is proper to synodality, otherwise it is not synodality. This is why a synod is not a parliament with different factions where the majority wins, but a path that all must travel in unity.“The Jerusalem Assembly teaches us that synodality is an ecclesial method for reflection and confrontation.”

Writing in the context of three recent Synods he has presided over…

“… the Synod of Bishops must increasingly become a privileged instrument for listening to the People of God: For the Synod Fathers we ask the Holy Spirit first of all for the gift of listening: to listen to God, that with him we may hear the cry of the people; to listen to the people until breathing in the desire to which God calls us”.[23]

“the Bishop is both teacher and disciple. He is a teacher when, endowed with the special assistance of the Holy Spirit, he proclaims to the faithful the word of truth in the name of Christ, head and shepherd. But he is a disciple when, knowing that the Spirit has been bestowed upon every baptized person, he listens to the voice of Christ speaking through the entire People of God, making it “infallible in credendo/”

What is you take-away from this very brief case study?