As we conclude the Easter Season on Pentecost, we move away from the readings from the Acts of the Apostles. For the past six weeks, these stories have packed our weekday as well as our Sunday liturgical readings. It has been exciting and encouraging to hear about the way in which the early Church began to grow after the death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. The courage which begins to take hold of the disciples receives its due attention in the lives of the apostles Peter and James, the deacons Stephen and Philip, and the couples Priscilla and Aquila as well as Ananias and Sapphira. Characters like Barnabas, Timothy and John Mark make important appearances. Women begin to take up roles of leadership in the Church beginning with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the influential women of the different communities. We also recognize the emergence of the greatest missionary of the first Christian century: Paul of Tarsus.
On the one hand, the Acts paints a rosy picture of the members of the early Church and their care for one another.
“The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” (Acts 4:32)
On the other hand, we have played out the first major disagreement among the first followers of Christ: how should the Jewish Christians welcome the Gentile Christians into full communion?
“Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)
This controversy gives rise to the First Council of Jerusalem, and the subsequent decision to welcome all Gentiles into the Church on an equal basis with all Jews.
The energy that enlightens and empowers this early movement of the Christian community is, as we know, the Holy Spirit whom Jesus had promised. In fact, the Acts of the Apostles is sometimes referred to as the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit.” The same attention to the role of the Paraclete can also prove valuable today. Accepting this guise, however, requires patience and humility as well as an ability to listen and learn. It demands an openness to new possibilities joined to a hunger for the truth in action.
Every age needs to recognize its need for the gifts that the Spirit brings. That reality certainly holds sway in our time. We pray that God will raise up women and men to lead us in faith and charity— people like Vincent, Louise, Rosalie, Frederic, and Elizabeth Ann. We seek a deeper understanding of the Word of God and an Advocate who pleads our cause. Perhaps, we can pray in a special way for peace and hope in a time that challenges both. The Spirit brings unity to the Christian community; may we embrace this call as we labor together as a Vincentian family for our less fortunate brothers and sisters.