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Called to follow the authoritative teaching of the Church

I hope you pay attention to the Scripture readings at Mass. By the time you read this, the reading I am going to comment on will have been proclaimed a couple of Sundays ago. However, I find it a very instructive passage and very clear.
Paul and Barnabas were on a missionary journey. I want to focus on what happened in Antioch (please read Acts 15 for the whole story). The preaching of Paul and Barnabas is winning huge numbers of souls for Christ among the Gentiles. Then some from Judea showed up and stirred up trouble by telling the new converts that they had to follow Mosaic law (specifically the requirement for men to be circumcised) in order to be saved. “Because there arose no little dissention …” a debate rages between Paul and Barnabas against this teaching. Here is what is instructive … don’t miss it.
Please notice that they handle the dissention in a very Catholic way. They decide that they must gather with the rest of the Church, not just their congregation, and resolve the issue. It was not an option for them to just do their own thing apart from the rest of the Church. It was also not an option for there to be a split in the Church. In other words, they did not decide that our church will require circumcision while your church does not. The motivation to do so is obvious; give people the option so that no one leaves in a huff or rejects Jesus over this “insignificant” issue. Nope, they knew that they had to settle the issue, and settle it in union with each other.
So Paul and Barnabas travel to Jerusalem to meet with the other Apostles and presbyters (priests) to discuss the question. It is also instructive that there is much debate about the question and then Peter speaks. It seems as though his voice is authoritative because that is the end of the debate. Then James writes the letter to the Church to clearly proclaim the decision.
This is a very Catholic way to handle the problem. We too are called to unity. This means following the authoritative teaching of the Church as proclaimed by the Church and whoever Peter is currently.
— Pat Arensberg is the Director of the Office for Evangelization and Family Life. Email him at
For more information concerning the events of this office, visit us at

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