The past helps us understand the present. Acts 11, 19-26, our reading at Mass today, describes emissaries of the church of Jerusalem arriving at Antioch in Syria, where the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians.” The emissaries were from Jerusalem, the center of Christian power after the resurrection of Jesus, where the Holy Spirit came upon crowds in tongues of fire.
Now, the Jerusalem church blessed a new church, which in turn brought the faith to other places through apostles like Paul and Barnabas.
Who would have predicted what would happen to these powerful churches in future years? Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Antioch continued to be a flourishing Christian stronghold for a few hundred years until Moslem invaders in the 7th century gradually made it a Moslem city.
Visit Antioch today, now part of modern Turkey, and you will see few signs of its Christian past. Paul and Barnabas once walked its streets; St. John Chrysostom and teachers like him were famous throughout the world. Now, only scattered Christian relics remain, largely in the city’s museums.
As Christian churches and other religious institutions close in our part of the world now, as religious communities decline, we wonder: Are we Jerusalem and Antioch today?
The church shares the mystery of Jesus Christ, it dies and rises again, but it grows through it all.