I rejoiced because they said to me,
"We will go up to the house of the LORD."
And now we have set foot
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
R. Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.
In today's first reading we hear that Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to settle a sticky problem that confronted the Church at that time -- and to this day: Do we have to accept outsiders?
They would soon realize Holy Spirit insists upon announcing the gospel to every living creature, a practice that Saint Anthony and Francis took literally. A church that systematically and intentionally bars certain human beings from membership for whatever reason is not Christian.
Our responsorial psalm today celebrates the journey Paul and Barnabas made. It is "a song of ascents" attributed to King David, meaning a song pilgrims sang as they traveled to the holy city Jerusalem. Walking through the gate and setting foot within its walls was a moment of great joy.
This trip for Paul and Barnabas was not simply a pious devotion; it might even be called "a business trip." Without the presence of Psalm 122, which the Church introduces at this moment, we might suppose the apostles had things other than worship on their minds as they traveled.
But Saint Luke tells us it was a very happy journey. As they traveled through gentile territory, Phoenicia and Samaria, the newly converted gentile Christians received them with great joy. They were honored by the apostles' presence and delighted to learn that the faith was spreading so rapidly.
So the trip took on the trappings of a pilgrimage already as travelers and residents along the route shared prayers, songs and religious dances.
The travelling apostles could also look forward to a reunion with their brothers in the faith. At one time they had fled from Jerusalem after Stephen was murdered by a mob and Herod Antipas decapitated James; but now they returned confident of a friendly greeting from Peter and the mother church.
So this business trip is a pilgrimage and their business is a sacred consultation, an urgent invitation to the Holy Spirit to "Settle this matter for us. We cannot manage without you."
Their prayer and their confident joy set the example for parish councils and all their committees, for gatherings of religious sodalities and communities, of synods of priests and bishops, and for ecumenical councils of the Church. We should always be delighted to be in one another's company and eager to welcome strangers. There will never be an end of this controversy and there will never be an absence of God's hospitality among us.