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A Beginner’s Guide to Dissent

First Reading: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29

Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers,
“Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice,
you cannot be saved.”
Because there arose no little dissension and debate
by Paul and Barnabas with them,
it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others
should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders
about this question.

The apostles and elders, in agreement with the whole church,
decided to choose representatives
and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.
The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas,
and Silas, leaders among the brothers.
This is the letter delivered by them:

“The apostles and the elders, your brothers,
to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia
of Gentile origin: greetings.
Since we have heard that some of our number
who went out without any mandate from us
have upset you with their teachings
and disturbed your peace of mind,
we have with one accord decided to choose representatives
and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So we are sending Judas and Silas
who will also convey this same message by word of mouth:
‘It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us
not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities,
namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols,
from blood, from meats of strangled animals,
and from unlawful marriage.
If you keep free of these,
you will be doing what is right. Farewell.’”

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8

R. (4) O God, let all the nations praise you!
May God have pity on us and bless us;
may he let his face shine upon us.
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
May the nations be glad and exult
because you rule the peoples in equity;
the nations on the earth you guide.
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you!
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear him!
R. O God, let all the nations praise you!

Second Reading: Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23

The angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain
and showed me the holy city Jerusalem
coming down out of heaven from God.
It gleamed with the splendor of God.
Its radiance was like that of a precious stone,
like jasper, clear as crystal.
It had a massive, high wall,
with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed
and on which names were inscribed,
the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites.
There were three gates facing east,
three north, three south, and three west.
The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation,
on which were inscribed the twelve names
of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

I saw no temple in the city
for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb.
The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it,
for the glory of God gave it light,
and its lamp was the Lamb.

Gospel: John 14:23-29

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.

“I have told you this while I am with you.
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.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.
You heard me tell you,
‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’
If you loved me,
you would rejoice that I am going to the Father;
for the Father is greater than I.
And now I have told you this before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe.”

NAB

may 1

Disagreement with Catholic teaching is something that saints and heretics have in common. The great Saint Paul himself, we read about in today’s First Reading, was a dissenter and debater. But the difference between the saints and the heretics has always been in how they’ve gone about dissenting.

We see in today’s reading, and in Paul’s own description of the incident in his letter to the Galatians, that Saint Paul disagrees with what he calls the “circumcision faction” (Gal. 2:12) within the early Church. That is, those who believed that Christians should adhere to Jewish law, including being circumcised and following Jewish regulations about food and eating practices.

Saint Peter, the Pope, had gone back and forth on the matter. Saint Paul was deeply convinced that it was wrong to make Gentiles conform to Jewish law in order to become Christians. So Paul prayed about it. He received a “revelation” from God on the matter. Then he consulted with those in positions of authority, “I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain” (Gal. 2:2). Having convinced those church elders, Paul began to engage in debate with those who opposed him within the church. He went to Peter and “opposed him to his face” (Gal. 2:11).

At every step, Saint Paul was agitating for change via prayer, study, and intellectual argument, rather than through disobedience, sedition, and personal sin. He didn’t claim that his conscience dictated that he should do as he pleased, and encourage others to do so.

What he hoped to change was a changeable matter of Church practice, rather than an infallible teaching on a matter of faith or morals.

He wanted to create peace, not division, and correct, rather than exacerbate, the discord within the Church, “some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind” (Acts 15:24).

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most modern Catholic “dissent” doesn’t really live up to the term as Paul lived it. Most modern Catholic “dissent” is based on fear, personal preferences, misunderstanding of Church teaching, or the modern unpopularity of that teaching.

Let’s avoid that. Let’s dissent like Saint Paul.

Let’s dissent like Saint Paul. Or not at all.

Kendra Tierney lives in Los Angeles, CA where her interests include blogging, homeschooling, looking after her eight children, and fixing up a hundred year old tumbledown mansion. You can find out more about her here.

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