In our readings we are presented with the confidence, boldness, and enthusiasm of the first witnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus. Peter and the apostles throw down the gauntlet to the religious authorities when they declare "We must obey God rather than men". We cheer for them and their courage. However, it becomes more complicated when we look at the history of dissent in the church during these last two thousand years. Such a defense did not save Joan of Arc from being burnt at the stake. And certainly this argument did not go very far in defending Thomas More’s refusal to obey the Act of Supremacy in the time of King Henry VIII. Closer to home, and a little less momentous since it is not a matter of life or death, what do we think of dissent in the church today? How far do I allow myself to disagree with a moral teaching of the church or a liturgical norm? If I do, do I fall under the warning in our gospel reading: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him".
I sometimes just don’t know. But I truly believe what the evangelist John also declared in speaking of God: "He does not ration his gift of the Spirit".
God does not partially give the Spirit, but pours the Spirit out on us as he did on Jesus. If I am attentive to the Spirit I will know when my dissent will separate me from Christ and the Church.
Fr. Michael Hoolahan, C.P. is on the staff of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.