May 16, 2014

Fifth Sunday of Easter / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Acts of the Apostles once more is the source of the first reading. The early chapters of Acts marvelously reveal to us the lives led by the early Christians. Very obvious, and important, in this glimpse into events so long ago is the place of the Apostles and, among them, the place of Peter.

The Apostles led the community. Moreover, the Christians recognized the Apostles’ leadership. The people listened to the Apostles. Indeed, reverence for the Apostles was so deep that the people placed their possessions at the Apostles’ feet, allowing the Apostles to control even the material assets of the community.

In Acts, this community was situated in Jerusalem. Although the very heart of Jewish life, and a city extraordinarily unique in meaning for Jews, Jerusalem was not Corinth. It was not Antioch. It most certainly was not Rome. In the total scheme of things in the Greco-Roman world, it was not a very important city.

Actually, the Romans maintained as their capital for Palestine the city of Caesarea, a seaport on the Mediterranean Sea. (The ruins of this city now are in the suburbs of modern Tel Aviv). In Caesarea, the Roman governor resided, and the Roman occupation had its headquarters.

(It is interesting, incidentally, that the only relic of the administration of Pontius Pilate as governor, aside from mention in the Gospels, is a stone carved with his name, and the stone was found in the ruins of Caesarea.)

The vast Roman Empire, under one system of laws, allowed for movement from place to place. Thus, nationalities mixed. So Acts refers to Jews, but also to “Greeks,” as Jews at the time called foreigners.

Care of the needy—and widows were very needy—seemed to prefer Jews. The Apostles responded that their task was to proclaim the Gospel, but they did not dismiss the obligation to care for the needy.

So they chose seven holy men to be deacons to carry out this service to those in need. It was an exercise not just of organization but also of innovation, in the name of Jesus.

The passage from the First Letter of St. Peter in the second reading focuses on Jesus as essential in salvation. He is the promise of God. The reading urges Christians to be true to Jesus.

St. John’s Gospel supplies the last reading. Not a Resurrection narrative, it recalls the Lord’s discourse during the Last Supper with the Apostles, consoling them as to what they should expect in the future.

He will be with them always. He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6), which belong only to the Son of God.

Reflection

Almost a month has passed since Easter. For weeks, the Church joyfully has told us of the Resurrection. Christ lives!

Before long, the season will end. We will return to life in 2014, with its burdens and uncertainties.

The Church tells us not to lose heart. Jesus still is with us. He is our rock and our shield. He lives in the community of Christians that is the Church. However, if authentic, this modern community must be the same as the community described in Acts.

Applying the picture in Acts to the present is interesting. Which Christian community actually resembles the gathering of Christians in Jerusalem long ago, precisely in their reliance upon the Apostles with Peter at their head? It has to be the Catholic Church.

The community profoundly is dedicated to the Lord. It cares for the sick and the needy. Care for others is no charming sideline for Christians. It is of the essence of the religion.

The Church tells us, as the Easter season winds down to its conclusion, that Christ is with us. But, in turn, we must draw ourselves into the Church that the Lord established. He is in this community.

Being in the Church, however, is more than joining a club. We must completely give our hearts to the Lord. †

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