|The early church was subject to strife regarding its direction and what defined someone as a true believer in God. The initial Christians were composed mainly of two distinct groups. There were the Jewish converts that Peter lead, and there were the Gentile converts that Paul lead. Many of the Peter-lead Jewish converts were still holding fast to their cultural customs, traditions, and racial identity, and this was a source of friction between Paul and Peter that plays out in today’s first reading.
The strife detailed in today’s reading is still with us today. There are constant tugs on what the position of the Church or our country should be on many of the polarizing issues that are deeply aligned with our faith. So, let’s look a little more closely at the thought-provoking question Paul presents Peter when he asks, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
If Paul’s confrontational question was presented to us at Mass today, how would it be phrased to address our current world? Would Paul’s question be, “If you, though a Catholic, are living like a non-believer and not like a Catholic, how can you compel the non-believers to live like Catholics?” More importantly, how would we, today, respond to Paul’s question?
The “nationalism” Paul was confronting in Peter is very easy for us to be swept up in. It is easy to adopt the “mob mentality” and follow the crowd on many issues that, as Catholics, we know in our hearts what position or action we should proudly take. But sadly, what is so apparent upon reflection is not the course of action we often take. And by not being true to our faith, we, too, are guilty of the hypocrisy Paul chided Peter about.
So, how do we respond to conflict and crisis? When we perceive something as being in conflict with our beliefs, or that a crisis affecting our deep seated values is imminent, are we more like Peter and begin to assess the level of threat by first looking at it based upon our race, or our country of national origin; or, do we have the courage of Paul, and assess it based upon our beliefs as practicing Catholics?
Today, as we spend our quiet time with God, doing our daily Examen of Conscience, and we open our hearts to God’s presence and love, let’s focus on being more like Paul and less like Peter in our decision-making.
While we acknowledge the pride we have in our heritage, our traditions and our nation, we must rely first and foremost on the guideposts of our Catholic faith to help us determine the right course of action. Maybe then when we are faced with affronts to our culture, values and ideals, we can “recognize the grace bestowed upon” us by God and use it to help make decisions for a more just world for all people.