“They devoted themselves to the apostles instruction and the communal life, to the breaking of bread and prayer.”
In today’s reading from Acts, we find the essentials of what it means to be Church: Apostolic instruction, communal fellowship, Eucharist, and prayer. All four components are necessary if we are to experience the same dynamic results as the Early Church, that is, “everyday the Lord adding to their number those who were being rescued.” As we seek to follow the teaching of the “New Evangelization” we should look more closely at this primitive model.
It does seem difficult to find all four components at the same place. There are some Christian traditions which seem to specialize in preaching. We, as Catholics, may rather put forth that Apostolic teaching refers to the doctrine handed down to us from the Twelve, but I believe it further speaks of a dynamic, authoritative preaching that comes only from the life of a man or woman who is immersed in the scripture and who, like the first twelve, “live” with Jesus on a daily basis. It is not that all preachers need be like a televangelist. Paul, in fact, is said to have been poor in his presentation. It was his relationship with the Lord and his grounding in the Scriptures that ministered to the people. I know these are rough times for the morale of our priests. Understand, however, that, in regard to preaching, it is not important that they should be liked by me or you. They could be tempted to merely deliver warm fuzzies. Rather, I would ask our priests, deacons, and teachers to boldly preach the cross and Christ crucified! No other message has the same liberating power.
Prayer is a strong-suit for us. Among many of our religious orders daily routines of Scripture reading, private and communal prayer are still common. The cloistered life continues to offer much fruit for the cause of missions due to the dedicated life of prayer of these women. In the wider church we find a growing prayer movement. It is rare to go to any Catholic gathering where it does not begin with a well crafted, meaningful prayer service. Many parishes now have charismatic prayer groups. And contemplative prayer is promoted in conferences and retreats. Still, for too many of us, prayer is only the blessing before meals and what we do in a time of crisis.
While it is true that the communal arrangements of the Jerusalem church were due to the special circumstances of many people from other cities being present at Pentecost and staying on afterward, none-the-less, the principles of mutual aid and equality continued on and were established wherever groups of Christians were formed. The ministry of the diaconate, in fact, was institutionalized specifically to insure justice and equality in the distribution of the community’s bounty. No one was to be discriminated against because of their ethnic or racial background. Paul applied this practice of insuring equality to the universal church. Whenever visiting a wealthy church, he would take a collection to be delivered to a poorer church. As he writes to the church at Corinth, “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality.”
Eucharist was also essential to the life of the early church. The practice was less formalized than today and often took place as part of a meal as Christians would visit in one another’s homes. The small group movement derives its authority from this passage. Meeting in homes was a means of evangelization as non-Christian neighbors would see “how they love one another,” something not easily done behind the walls of our large meeting places.
Breaking of bread was not only a door for evangelization, it was a sign of justice. When Paul chastised the Corinthians for not discerning the Body of Christ at their Eucharistic feasts it was not that they did not believe in the Real Presence. It was in the context of some members living in poverty while others had too much. To be Catholic means to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world. We all make up the Body of Christ. If we do not see this , if we do not discern our essential unity and accountability to the common good then we by our acts deny the very Body of Christ we say we are in union with through our reception of Eucharist. In other words, to take the bread and drink the cup in the security of abundance while our brothers and sisters eat and drink in poverty is to bring condemnation upon ourselves. It is this sin of injustice we must reflect upon and repent of as we prepare for Liturgy each Sunday.
If we, as the Early Church, will live in accordance with Apostolic instruction, being strengthen by prayer, supported by radical fellowship, and committed to a life of solidarity that flows from our justice understanding and experience of Eucharist, then we too will see, everyday, the Lord bringing to us those who are being rescued from the idolitries of this world.
Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:42-47; 1 Pt. 1:3-9; Jn. 20:19-31
Peace Connections: Making the connection between the Sunday Readings and issues of peace and justice. Copyright 1995, by Thomas L. Garlitz. “Not for profit” permission to reprint granted.