As a preacher, the greatest "resistance" I experience from Catholics centers on 1) the interpretation of the Bible, and 2) what Cardinal John Henry Newman called "the development of Christian doctrine."
Today’s readings thunder with these kinds of controversies and disagreements.
I am repeatedly surprised with the number of Catholics who believe that the Sacred Scriptures are to be understood word-for-word, or literally, as if the Bible were a science or history book, or a manual – while, actually, it is a wonderful book of metaphor and story to help us on our journey to God. When Mark (chapter 9, verses 42-48) quotes Jesus, for example, saying that if our hand is a source of temptation, cut it off… or if our eye is a source of temptation, pluck it out – he doesn’t mean it literally!
Also, our faith and our understanding of religion and doctrine must develop, or evolve; it is not static or frozen, but fluid and dynamic. That is why Jesus says "no man born of woman is greater than John the Baptist, yet least born into the Kingdom is greater than he"! This means that Jesus introduces a whole new world order, a completely new paradigm. Also, in today’s Gospel, when Jesus tells his disciples that "greater things than these you will do" he means religion and science must evolve and change.
Ever since Pope Benedict’s resignation and the conclave unfolded in March, the Catholic and secular media have been talking stridently about reforming the Church. Now more than ever it seems necessary to read and prayerfully ponder these middle chapters of the Acts of the Apostles (today’s first reading). The perennial disputes call us to that reform or personal and communal conversion.
Recently Archbishop John R. Quinn, emeritus ordinary of the San Francisco Archdiocese, wrote a book entitled Ever Ancient, Ever New: Structures of Communion in the Church. Archbishop Quinn speaks powerfully of the need for de-centralization in the Church, if we are serious about reform… a reform to be manifested in how bishops are appointed, the creation of dioceses, and the determination of liturgical texts.
The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit because they realized God’s plan was taking root.
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P., is the director of the Office of Mission Effectiveness. He is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.