Tag Archives: Acts of the Apostles

Welcome to Ordinary Time

Creation
The Easter season ends with the Feast of Pentecost and we’re into ordinary time in the church year. Unlike other feasts, Pentecost has no octave; ordinary time is its octave. Most of the church year is ordinary time; most of life is ordinary too, but the Spirit is there just the same.

“Their message goes out to all the earth.” We read the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter season as Jesus’ apostles, led by Peter and Paul, ventured on their way from Jerusalem to Asia Minor and to Rome, empowered by strong winds and tongues of fire, Yes, the Spirit can bring us to the ends of the earth, but the Spirit is also there in the few steps we take every day, though we’re hardly aware.

We tend to minimize ordinary life. Just ordinary, nothing’s happening, we say. Yet, day by day in ordinary time the Risen Lord offers his peace and shows us his wounds. Every day he breathes the Spirit on us. No day goes by without the Spirit’s quiet blessing.

 

The Voice of the Faithful

The mention of Apollos in Saturday’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us that Peter and Paul and the other apostles were not the only teachers in the early church. Others brought the message of Christ to the cities and towns of the Roman Empire. Apollos was one of them.

He’s described as an eloquent, learned teacher who came to Ephesus from Alexandria, one of the great centers of Jewish and Christian learning, and drew a following by preaching about Jesus.

But Apollos doesn’t know everything, so an ordinary Jewish couple, Priscilla and Acquila, “took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.”

They were disciples of Paul who supported  him by giving him some work in their tent business. They traveled with Paul and certainly listened to his teaching, but I don’t think they were ever considered teachers as he and Apollos were. They were considered “hearers of the word,” more likely. Well informed, for sure, but still among those we would call today “the faithful.”

Yet, let’s not forget what important teachers “the faithful” are, as Priscilla and Aquila remind us.

I remember a story a priest I knew, a brilliant teacher, told me long ago about a baptism he was conducting for an infant born to a member of his family. His father was the baby’s sponsor and according to the rite then was expected to recite the Creed.

“Can you say the Creed, Dad?” the priest said to his father.

“Who do you think taught it to you?,” the father sharply replied.

Faith can’t survive in this world without the ordinary Priscillas and Aquilas explaining it and  passing it on.

6th Week of Easter

Monday                             Acts 16, 11-15
John 15, 26-16,4

Tuesday                             Acts 16,22-34
John 16,5-11

Wednesday                      Acts 17, 15, 22-18,1
John 18, 12-15

Ascension Thursday                        Acts 1, 1-11
Ephesians 1,17-23
Luke 24, 46-52

Friday                                                    Acts 18,9-18
John 16, 20-23

Saturday                                               Acts 18, 23-28
John 16, 23-28

The Feast of the Ascension is celebrated on Thursday this week in the eastern United States and on Sunday in the western dioceses of the United States. Would be better to celebrate this feast at the same time, I think.

 

In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul takes the stage at Athens, the intellectual capitol of the Roman world, but his words chosen carefully are met only with curiosity. “We would like to hear you some other time.” (Wednesday)

Paul gets a better reception in Corinth, not far from Athens, but worlds away from the proud self sufficient city. “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.” Jesus says to Paul in a vision. (Friday)

In the reading from Acts on Saturday, Luke reminds us that Paul had great people with him like Priscilla and Aquila, the wife and husband, who instruct Apollos, a good speaker but weak in his theology.  “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.”

I told a cousin of mine recently who wasn’t sure about a sermon she heard in church. “You may be right and he’s wrong.”

The Council of Jerusalem

Our reading at Mass today from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 15, 7-21) brings us to a critical moment in the life of the early church– the Council of Jerusalem, which decided whether and on what terms gentiles would be accepted into the new Christian movement. Its decision to admit the gentiles led to a rapid expansion of the church as non-Jews from all parts of the Roman world became Christians.

Luke Timothy Johnson has a fine commentary on this crucial event. (Acts of the Apostles: Sacra Pagina, Liturgical Press 1992)

Did a meeting really take place? Johnson writes “we can state with considerable confidence that in the first decades of the Christian movement an important meeting was held concerning the legitimacy and basis of the Gentile mission; that participants included Paul and Peter and James and Barnabas; that certain agreements were reached which, in one way or another, secured the basic freedom of the Gentile initiative. The most striking agreement between the sources comes, in fact, at the religious level. With only very slight variation, both Luke and Paul agree that the basis of the mission to the Gentiles was a matter of God’s gift, (Acts15,11. Gal 2,9) and that God was equally at work in the Apostle Paul as he was in the Apostle Peter. (Acts 15,7-8.12; Gal 2,8)

Notice the hesitancy of  the original Jewish followers of Jesus to accept gentiles into their ranks. That’s evident in Peter’s strong reluctance to meet the Roman centurion Cornelius as he visits believers of his own kind around Joppa. Not only are the disciples slow to recognize their Risen Lord, they’re slow to accept his plans for expanding their ranks. Peter must see signs of God at work in Cornelius before baptizing him and his household. Paul, James and Barnabas also must see God’s gifts in the outsiders they meet before they recognize that God is calling them to believe.

God sows seeds of faith, but we’re as slow to recognize the action of God in others and other situations as the first disciples were. We have trouble seeing God’s action in the stranger and in the unexpected. We need  enlightenment.

Johnson notes that the Church’s journey through time is marked by conflict and debate. We must accept those conditions today too. Those who follow Jesus will not always agree with each other; there are strong opinions and differences among believers.

One thing I would add. Besides conflict and debate, our reading today speaks of the “silence” that comes as they debate. We’re in the presence of our transcendent God, whose ways and thoughts are above ours. We need silence to discern God’s will. Debates can get in the way.

Silent Clay

The daily Mass readings for Eastertime, from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John, are so different in tone. As its title suggests, the Acts of the Apostles is a fast-moving account of a developing church spreading rapidly through the world through people like Paul of Tarsus and his companions. Blazing new trails and visiting new places,  they’d be prime targets today for frequent flyer programs and travel sites on the internet.  Always on the go.

The supper-room discourse of Jesus from the Gospel of John, on the other hand,  seem to move slowly, repeating, lingering over the words of Jesus to his disciples. They tell us to listen and be quiet, sit still. Don’t go anywhere at all.

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, was inspired by St. Paul, the Apostle, to preach and to teach. Many of his letters end telling his reader that he has to go, he’s off to preach the gospel somewhere. He was a “frequent flyer.”

But the Gospel of John also inspired him; it was the basis for his teaching on prayer. Keep in God’s presence, in pure faith, he often said. Enter that inner room and remain there. Don’t go anywhere.

“It’s not important for you to feel the Divine Presence, but very important to continue in pure faith, without comfort, loving God who satisfies our longings. Remain like a child resting on the bosom of God in faithful silence and holy love. Remain there in the higher part of your soul paying no attention to the noise of the enemy outside. Stay in that room with your Divine Spouse…Be what Saint John Chrysostom says to be: silent clay offered to the potter. Give yourself to your Maker. What a beautiful saying! What the clay gives to the potter, give to your Creator. The clay is silent; the potter does with it what he wills. If he breaks it or throws away, it is silent and content, because it knows it’s in the king’s royal gallery.”  (Letter 1515)

 


Welcome to the Easter Season

www.usccb.org   (Readings for the Easter Season)

Weekday Readings for Easter Week

Monday: Acts 2:14, Octave of Easter22-23; Matthew 28,8-15
Tuesday: Acts 2, 36-41; John 20,11-18
Wednesday: Acts 3,1-19; Luke 24, 13-35
Thursday: Acts 3,11-36 Luke 24, 35-48
Friday Acts 4,1-12 John 21,1-14
Saturday Acts 4, 13-21 Mark 16,9-15

The weekday readings at Mass for the next 7 weeks of the Easter season come mainly from the Acts of the Apostles and the gospel of John. Read the introductions and commentaries to these books in the New American Bible, available  at the US Bishops’ site. (www.usccb.org )

The Acts of the Apostles, which continues St. Luke’s Gospel, is an important reading in the Easter season because it describes how God’s promise of salvation to Israel was brought to the world under the guidance of the Holy Sprit.  Acts describes the beginnings of our church and also offers insight into how our church develops today.

From its Jewish Christian origins in Jerusalem the church gradually incorporated the gentiles, non-Jews, and steadily spread throughout the Roman world, eventually reaching Rome itself. The church today is growing globally. Its early growth described in the Acts of the Apostles can help us understand its growth in our time.