Ever since Easter Sunday our first readings have been from the Acts of the Apostles. From these readings, along with Paul’s writings to the early churches, we learn that the church was, shall we say, "lively," exhibiting a rich and powerful variety of gifts. We also learned that charismatic leaders and their followers emerged from the community. The church also had its chaotic moments and sometimes could get out of control. Those first Christians were not unlike us modern Christians. Through his letters to the nascent churches and the narratives in Acts, we observe that Paul tried to exert his authority to keep the members unified and focused on their primary task: giving witness to the risen Christ.
Because of Paul’s missionary travels, he had to do most of his work of instruction and unification from a distance, through his letters and those he delegated as his representatives. This lack of immediacy caused him difficulties and frustration. For example, read what Paul has to say to the Galatians (3:1-3), "You senseless Galatians!"
In today’s Acts reading, Paul and Barnabas are in the midst of their missionary journeys; which sounds like a travelogue of the ancient world. Their travels take them far and wide. Eventually they set back for Antioch, their home base. Acts tells of the success of their preaching. They returned to cities where they had formally preached and where they had "made a considerable number of disciples." The backdrop of the stories reveals that, besides the church’s growing numbers joining the communities, there was also suffering among the Christian converts. Hence, we read when Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, "they strengthened the spirits of the disciples."
That is the sober note that flows throughout Acts. While there is an enthusiastic growth in numbers as the preachers spread the word of God, there is also suffering of those who accept the faith. Paul and Barnabas were not working on their own. The church in Antioch had sent them to preach and. after they finished their appointed preaching. they returned to their base in Antioch to make a report of what, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they had done. They may, or may not, have been eloquent speakers. Even if they were, they attribute the success of their mission to God working through them.
Through their preaching Paul had noticed a remarkable phenomenon: Gentiles were responding to the gospel message. From their Jewish roots they never would have anticipated this. Although prophets like Isaiah had said that Israel would be a light to all nations. (For example, we heard Isaiah’s message to us during our Holy Week readings. Monday, 42:1-7; Tuesday, 49:1-6.) With the arrival of the Gentiles into their community Paul, Barnabas, and the early Christians were experiencing God’s open-armed acceptance of all people. So, Paul tells the gathered church in Antioch what he and Barnabas had experienced on their missionary travels: God "had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles." Paul was a major instrument in God’s invitation to "the nations" i.e, the Gentiles.
Acts helped the early Christians accept and receive non-Jews into their communities. Gentiles could now, by their faith in Christ, claim the heritage and promises God gave Israel. Luke is showing that the church’s experience with the admittance of the Gentiles demonstrated the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that God’s people, Israel, would be "the light of the nations" (49:6). Jesus’ words to his disciples before his ascension really give the central theme and outline of the Acts of the Apostles: "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
While the Acts of the Apostles has historical references about the early church, it is not primarily a history book. It is a faith document. It is a look back to help us look present and forward at our a contemporary Church and our own Christian lives. We tend to idealize the first generation of Christians. They were closest to Jesus’ time on earth so, we figure, they got it right – how to act like Christians and be a model, closely-linked community. But, as we read Acts and the epistles we realize they were just as human as we are. Like our contemporary Church, they had their rabid doctrinal disputes, liturgical variations, sexual scandals, feuds among the leaders, clericalism etc.
Some have said that the Acts of the Apostles should really be named the "Acts of the Holy Spirit." While we observe Paul, Barnabas and the other missionaries spreading the gospel far and wide and making "a considerable number of disciples," we are really witnessing the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise at the beginning of Acts: that his meager group of disciples would,
"Receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you. Then you are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth" (1:8).
The early missionaries were able to continue their efforts despite many hardships. And yes, there were conflicts, scandals and serious divisions in the early church. The same can be said of our Church today. But hearing the "Acts of the Holy Spirit" should give us trust that, despite the shadows and dark times, God has not left us on our own – not back then, not now!
The Lucan author tells us Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch and "strengthened the spirits of the disciples." – a sign of the Spirit’s active presence in their midst, despite the hardships they faced. That same Spirit continues to "strengthen the spirits of the disciples" through spirit-filled preachers, teachers, musicians, lectors, parents, theologians, etc. Can you name a few spirit-filled disciples in your worshiping community and give thanks to God for them at today’s Eucharistic celebration?
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/051522.cfm
"Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race."
I wonder what God must think regarding how we are taking care of the Garden given to us to tend in Genesis? Fifty-one years ago, the World Synod of Catholic Bishops had some very specific thoughts about the environment in their document, Justicia in Mundo (Justice in the World). Fifty-one years ago--think about that as you read their words:
"The new technological possibilities are based upon the unity of science, on the global and simultaneous character of communications and on the birth of an absolutely interdependent economic world. Moreover, people are beginning to grasp a new and more radical dimension of unity; for they perceive that their resources, as well as the precious treasures of air and water--without which there cannot be life-- and the small delicate biosphere of the whole complex of all life on earth, are not infinite, but on the contrary must be saved and preserved as a unique patrimony belonging to all human beings (8).
"Furthermore, such is the demand for resources and energy by the richer nations, whether capitalist or socialist, and such are the effects of dumping by them in the atmosphere and the sea that irreparable damage would be done to the essential elements of life on earth, such as air and water, if their high rates of consumption and pollution, which are constantly on the increase, were extended to the whole of humanity (11).
"We consider that we must also stress the new worldwide preoccupation which will be dealt with for the first time in the conference on the human environment to be held in Stockholm in June 1972. It is impossible to see what right the richer nations have to keep up their claim to increase their own material demands, if the consequence is either that others remain in misery or that the danger of destroying the very physical foundations of life on earth is precipitated. Those who are already rich are bound to accept a less material way of life, with less waste, in order to avoid the destruction of the heritage which they are obliged by absolute justice to share with all other members of the human race (70).
May 22-29 is Laudato Si Week, reminding all that Pope Francis’ beautiful encyclical asks the people of the world to hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor with positive actions. Let’s give the Lord a beautiful dwelling place.
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Acts reading:
"They strengthened the spirits of the disciples ,
and exhorted them to persevere in the faith..."
That same Spirit that strengthened and brought new followers to the early church continues to "strengthen the spirits of the disciples" through spirit-filled preachers, teachers, musicians, lectors, parents, theologians etc.
So we ask ourselves:
I don’t want a moratorium on the death penalty, I want the abolition of it. I can’t understand why a county [USA] that is so committed to human rights doesn’t find the death penalty and obscenity.----Bishop Desmond Tutu
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, P.O. 247 Phoenix, MD 21131
Please note: Central Prison is in Raleigh, NC., but for security purposes, mail to inmates is processed through a clearing house at the above address in Maryland.
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:http://www.pfadp.org/
"First Impressions"is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.
You can order the CDs by going to our webpage:www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.
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4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to Fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.
Thank you and blessings on your preaching,
Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736
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