One of the bonuses of this radiant Easter season is our Bible readings at Mass from the Acts of the Apostles. This book of the Bible was written by St. Luke the Evangelist, the inspired author of the Gospel bearing his name, and is sometimes called “The Fifth Gospel,” or “The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.”
These Acts of the Apostles relate to us the earliest days and years of the Church, and clearly present us the basic features of the Church Jesus gave us. Here are some of those characteristics:
For one, the Apostles and first Christians believed that Jesus had not left them at all! Sure, he had ascended back to His Father in heaven, as we celebrated last week, but He was still powerfully and personally with them, as much as He was when they could physically hear Him, touch Him and see Him.
Two, God was actually with them even more potently than He was those three years He had walked among them, because He had sent them the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, fifty days after He had risen from the dead, the feast we celebrate Sunday. Not only was God the Father still with them, as He had been among the people of Israel; not only was God the Son with them, as He had been those years on earth, but now the power and person of God the Holy Spirit was bouncing around within them!
Three, they prayed hard, trusting that God—Father, Son, and Spirit—heard and answered their prayers;
Four, they were especially convinced that God was with them as they prayed as one community; being united with each other in the community of the Church was essential to them. They weren’t just close to the Lord individually, but in their togetherness.
This was especially true when they gathered each Sunday for Mass, the Eucharist, and the other sacraments—Baptism and confirmation are explicitly mentioned—and that’s feature five.
You still with me? Characteristic six is that they huddled around the apostles, whom they revered and listened to because they had been especially close to and commissioned by Jesus Himself.
Seven, they had a compelling sense of right and wrong. The moral teachings they had cherished as faithful Jews, like those Ten Commandments, were still normative, and these first-generation Christians were also noted for their care for the poor and the sick, their loyalty to marriage and family, their sense of honor, virtue and integrity, and their defense of all human life and all persons.
Eight, and we’re in the eighth inning here, they took our Lord’s final mandate—to teach all the nations—very seriously, eager were they to share their faith in and love for Jesus with others.
Finally, they knew suffering, harassment, and persecution were part of their way.
Now, folks, we just don’t look at those nine features of the earliest Church, as portrayed in the Acts of the Apostles, with nostalgia, observing that “too bad those ‘good old days’ are gone!” Au contraire! We believe that’s still the case in our one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church!
Do we not still believe that Jesus is alive and with us, His grace in our hearts, in the Church, in others, in the world?
Do we not still hold that the Holy Spirit is bouncing around all over?
Are we not still convinced that prayer is so effective, and that in the Church we have a bond with God and each other?
And do we not still hold that this is especially true when we gather for Mass, and share His life through the sacraments—baptism, confirmation, marriage, anointing of the sick?
Do we not still believe that the apostles are still around, the apostles today as imperfect and at times clumsy as those first men, in our bishops, especially in the bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter, the Pope?
Are we not still trying our best to live in virtue, a clear sense of right and wrong?
Do we not still believe that we are bound to the duty of evangelization, letting others know by word and example about Jesus and His teachings?
And, are we not still aware of the persecution, misunderstanding, and difficulties that come with carrying our cross with Jesus!
Do we not still believe all of this? Hope so...
Our Holy Father has asked us to ponder all of this as we engage in what he calls synodality, examining our conscience to make sure that we now in the Church share the same qualities that shone in the Acts of the Apostles!
For the last four months, led by many of you, this archdiocese has engaged in this process of synodality, to make sure that we’re faithful to those nine characteristics and will let the successor of St. Peter know the results. Thanks for helping out!