This glorious Easter Season often presents to us daily Mass readings from the Acts of the Apostles, that inspired book of the New Testament, written by St. Luke, often called, “The Fifth Gospel,” or The Gospel of the Holy Spirit.”
It is a bracing message, indeed, and its main point is that Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, crucified and risen, is alive and active, here and now, in His Church!
In this masterpiece, St. Luke describes for us some characteristics of the early Church: While in the world, the first followers of Jesus also realized they were not of it, and knew they had to nurture their communal togetherness if they were to fulfill our Lord’s Will; they looked to the apostles, and their delegates, as authentic teachers of the primitive faith revealed by Jesus; they gathered together often, most pre-eminently on Sunday, to listen to the Scriptures, the preaching of the apostles, to praise God, and to do what Jesus did the night before He died—the Eucharist; their faith in Jesus was strong, their hope in his assurances durable, and their love for God, and for one another, especially those sick or in need, was tender; they lived simple lives and held goods in common so they could help the poor and support the Church; and finally, they evangelized, telling others about Jesus by word and example, inviting others to a conversion of heart, repentance for sin, a profession of belief in Jesus, and initiation into His Body, the Church, through Baptism. Oh, the Acts of the Apostles shows that all was hardly easy, as they had more than their share of persecution, misunderstanding, rejection, and intramural tension. Yet, their numbers grew and the Church began to expand beyond Jerusalem!
Reflecting upon the Acts of the Apostles during paschaltide is an examination of conscience to see if we are loyal to the characteristics of our first-generation Christian ancestors.
If we’re lucky, we have attractive models today who base their daily lives on the gospel and the paradigm of the Acts of the Apostles.
We here in the archdiocese are indeed so fortunate, as we enjoy friendship with such a remarkable community, the Bruderhof.
And, these Easter days, we are particularly united with them as they commend their Senior Elder, Pastor Johann Christoph Arnold, to eternity.
The Bruderhof is an international Christian community of almost 3,000 people in 23 settlements on four continents. Their goal is radical discipleship in the spirit of the first days of the Church in Jerusalem.
From eight years of friendship with Pastor Arnold, his wonderful wife, Verena, and the hundreds of members centered at Woodcrest in Rifton, I can tell you they are “a light to the world.” I love them, and have learned much from them, and my predecessors claimed the same. As the late Father Benedict Groeschel whispered to me, “They’re better Catholics than I am!”
Pastor Arnold was especially courageous in his rock solid conviction that God’s Word as revealed in the Bible was true and reliable, and that the Word Incarnate, Jesus, was “the way, the truth, and the life.” He was eloquent in sensing God’s presence in adversity and setback, especially in the recent loss of his daughter to cancer, the fragile health of his dear Verena, and his own suffering from cancer that led to his death on Holy Saturday.
His fortitude was vividly evident in his ability to forgive, and his advocacy for causes thought today by the world to be out-of-touch and backward: marriage as between one man and one woman, united forever in lifelong, faithful, lifegiving—babies!—love; his defense of the life of the baby in the womb; and his efforts to protect religious liberty from the intrusion of government and secular society. We labored shoulder-to-shoulder on these pivotal issues.
Pastor Arnold exuded a warmth and wisdom, and inspired a trust. I will miss him greatly, and will never forget him.
The good news is that the charism of the Bruderhof comes from the Holy Spirit, not one man, even one as towering as Johann Christoph Arnold. He admitted as much on Palm Sunday, six days before he “passed over”:
“The main thing is that God’s kingdom advances, and if any one of us had the chance to play a little part in it, it’s not because we are great or mighty, but because God is merciful and he’s granting us the possibility to show love. God is the Creator of everything. All he wants in return is that we love and worship him, and most of all Thank Him!”
By the way, they brew the finest beer, make the best bratwurst, grow the most delicious produce, raise the finest turkeys, and bake the best pies, that this pro has ever savored...and they are a lot of fun!
Most of all, they show us that the Church of the Acts of the Apostles is still very much alive!