May 12, 2017

Fifth Sunday of Easter / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionOnce again in this Easter season, the Acts of the Apostles provides the first reading. The early chapters of Acts clearly reveal to us the lives led by the early Christians. They demonstrate the primary place of the Apostles and the superior position of St. Peter among them.

The Apostles led the Church because the Christians recognized the Apostles’ special relationship with and calling from the Lord. Indeed, reverence for the Apostles was so deep that the people placed their possessions at the Apostles’ feet, allowing them to control even the material assets of the faithful.

The Church in its earliest days was situated in Jerusalem. Although the very heart of Jewish life and a city supremely symbolic for Jews, Jerusalem was not Corinth. It was not Antioch. It most certainly was not Rome. It was not a great city in the Greco-Roman culture of the time.

Even in Palestine, Caesarea, a seaport on the Mediterranean Sea, was more important. The Roman governor resided in Caesarea, and the Roman occupation had its headquarters there. Jerusalem was secondary.

The ruins of Caesarea now are in the suburbs of modern Tel Aviv. 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, found at the site of ancient Caesarea.

The way of life for the first Christians was clear. Care of the poor and widows who were very needy, was their priority. The Apostles evidently directed such care. They also proclaimed the Gospel and taught the faith, with Peter as their chief spokesman.

To assist in providing this care and to evangelize, the Apostles chose seven holy men to be deacons. Calling deacons was an exercise not just of organization, but also of their authority to act in the name of Jesus.

The First Letter of St. Peter provides the second reading, centering Jesus as essential in salvation. The reading urges Christians to be true to Jesus.

St. John’s Gospel supplies the last reading. It recalls the Lord’s discourse with the Apostles at the Last Supper in which he tells them what to expect in the future. As it looks ahead and frankly suggests that obstacles await, it is an appropriate reading now as people contemplate Christian living amid modern troubles.

Reassuringly, Christ promises to always be with us. He is “the way, the truth, and the life ” (Jn 14:6), which belongs only to the Son of God.

Reflection

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

Before long, the season will end. We will return to life in 2017, with its burdens and rewards.

The Church tells us that Jesus still is with us as our Savior, teacher and guide, our rock and our shield. We the faithful are the Church today, but to be authentic, we must mirror the community described in Acts.

Applying the picture in Acts to the present is interesting. Which Christian tradition most fully reflects the gathering of Christians in Jerusalem long ago? It has to be the Catholic Church, precisely because it still relies upon the Apostles with Peter clearly and actually as their head.

The Church revealed in Acts was profoundly dedicated to the Lord in its care for the sick and needy. Ever since, the ministry of charity has been no charming sideline for Christians. It is of the essence of faith in Christ.

Finally, as the Easter season approaches its conclusion, the Church tells us that Christ remains with us. In turn, we allow him to draw us more deeply into the Church that he created.

Being in the Church is more than joining a club. We must give our hearts to the Lord freely and totally. †

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