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"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

2nd SUNDAY OF EASTER (B) or Divine Mercy - April 8, 2018

Acts 4: 32-35; Psalm 118; I John 5: 1-6; John 20: 19-31

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

When we look for signs of the resurrection we need look no further than Luke’s description of the early church in Acts: "The community of believers was of one heart and mind." That’s not the way Luke described the followers of Jesus in his first account, the gospel. In that narration the disciples’ flaws came through loud and clear. Hardly a group of "one heart and mind!" At times they were competitive, argumentative, vindictive and jealous. Finally, as Jesus’ death drew near they deserted him.

In Acts, Luke paints a different picture of this first generation of Christians and it is very idealistic. If they were like any congregation we have experienced, we can be sure they also had their "issues."

As we age we tend to romanticize "the old days." We even do this in our church. Remember the filled pews, full parochial schools, abundance of priests and sisters, etc.? The "good old days." But anyone who does, must also remember the social and religious unrest bubbling beneath the surface: racial and gender issues that emerged when African-Americans, recent immigrants from poor countries and women, received better education and acceptance. Things were not as good in the "old days" as they sometimes seemed on the surface.

Just as we tend to romanticize a former time, we must acknowledge that Luke was doing the same thing in today’s Acts reading. Was there really not a "needy person among them?" Were they actually of "one heart and mind" and didn’t claim "that any of their possessions were their own?"

I want to ask Luke: weren’t they still human beings with the same faults and weaknesses we modern Christians have? I have heard preachers idealize the early church, using this Acts reading as an indictment against modern worshipers. Do we know any Christian community that could measure up Luke’s criteria for believers – "one heart and mind?" I don’t. I’ve been to wonderful parishes, monasteries, convents and retreat house. As impressive as these communities are, none would match Luke’s sanitized description of the early church.

But, for example, Luke was certainly aware of the divisions concerning the admission of Gentiles into the church. This was concretized by the difficulties Peter and Paul faced from the Jerusalem community for their preaching to and baptizing Gentiles. If things weren’t perfect in that early community, should we just dismiss our Acts reading as hopelessly naïve and otherworldly? Not so fast. Luke was not a simple Christian from a bygone day in a rarefied church. The text should cause us to reflect on the effects of Jesus’ resurrection on our lives, and the faith community to which we belong.

Today’s selection shows there was a continuity from Jesus’ life and ministry to the early church – a continuity that continues to this day. Remember that in Luke’s gospel Jesus stood before the synagogue worshipers to declare a "year of the Lord’s favor (4:14ff) – a Jubilee year when debts were to be forgiven, the sick and poor cared for. Jesus challenged people to share from the abundant gifts God had given them. They were to be a loving community of forgiveness and compassion. Throughout Acts this new community strove to be a concrete sign that Jesus had risen from the dead. How were outsiders to know that? Because what Jesus did, the church, animated by his Spirit, was continuing to do.

Here is where we need to reflect on our own lives and the witness of our faith communities. The renewal of our baptismal commitment at our Vigil Service, serves as a fresh reminder and challenge. Does my life and the witness of the local church to which I belong, show evident signs of Jesus’ life in us? We are transformed by the light, death and resurrection of Christ: is it obvious?

Acts might present an idealized picture of the early church, but it also challenges us. The life of the risen Christ has revitalized us. Shall we act out of that new life and be of "one heart and mind" with our faith community? Where is reconciliation and forgiveness needed and how can I be the instrument in my parish for that unity? Unlike "the old days," parishes today are more diverse with sub-communities and many cultures. Many traditional parishes consist of: long time founders of the parish; older descendants from Europe; newly arrived members from Spanish-speaking countries, Africans, Asians, Haitians etc. Do we witness being "believers… of one heart and mind" to those in our neighborhood and city? Acts says, "There was no needy person among them." Is that true in our parish? How do we care for the new arrivals, and occasional visitors? I was a parish recently that had a banner on its front gate, "Immigrants Welcome Here."

Can you imagine the diversity in the early church? Previously in Acts, the frightened disciples were huddled in one place behind locked doors. Then the Holy Spirit came upon them and they burst out of the room to spread the Good News. Luke tells us that assembled in Jerusalem were "devout Jews from every nation under heaven" (2:5). After hearing Peter’s Pentecostal preaching, 3000 people were baptized. The recent converts did what we do: "They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers" (2:42).

Those were the first steps to being a Christian community. Today Luke tells us what else is required to be called Spirit-filled followers of Christ: unity in heart and mind; sharing our resources; witnessing to the resurrection and caring for the least. If our faith community witnessed these signs to the world, who would not want to join us?

There were many signs of diversity in the church, but one sign united them. They gave clear witness to Christ alive in their midst by their words, shared life and outreach. When such concrete signs are visible to the observing world then they will know that, "Jesus Christ is risen!" Or, as St. Paul puts it, "The life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me" (Gal 2:20).

Today Luke may have given us an idealized glimpse into the early church. We can dismiss what he envisions for us as impractical, unrealistic and fanciful. Or, we can accept his dream and strive to reflect the light of Christ in us, "For with God all things are possible" (Mt 19:26).

 

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040818.cfm

QUOTABLE


"Grace pours all beauty into the soul."

~~~~~~~~~~

----Meister Eckhart

 

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

"The community of believers was of one heart and mind. ..."

Acts 4:32

Last week I mused about envisioning a beloved community and this week, in the first reading, we see an early Christian community living in Jerusalem and aspiring to live a way of life that was radically new in the ancient world. Their leaders, the Apostles, enjoyed God’s favor in their powerful acts of witness to the resurrection of Jesus. This new community was based on merciful care for one another, compassion and solidarity, and focus on the common good.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, I read, in the Collegeville Pastoral Dictionary, that God’s mercy takes the form of practical action in relieving the suffering of this life, an action that we see in this early Christian community.

The compassion of Jesus and his solidarity with the poor inspires both his teaching to relieve spiritual confusion and his determination to relive sorrowful physical conditions. Again, this is apparent in the Jerusalem community: "of one heart and mind" and "there was no needy person among them."

Focus on the common good elevates this entire ancient community and helps them achieve a safety net and create a family-style bond of peace and love. Pope Francis writes in "Laudato Si": "Each of us here shares a calling to work for the common good. Fifty years ago, the Second Vatican Council defined the common good as ‘the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment.’" On a personal level, it may mean giving up one’s wants when it will help another’s needs to be met. This sharing is no small thing.

The question for us today is whether we will allow ourselves to be changed by the resurrection of Jesus; to change our own way of living and being in order to be revealers of God by the witness of our own lives. Can we truly express merciful care for others? Can we be compassionate and in solidarity with those who are different than us? Can we focus on the common good when it might mean giving up personal goals?

There is no other way to achieve the beloved community. Beloved Community--can you envision it in the midst of the diverse world where we live?

---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Director of Social Justice Ministries

Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

From today’s Acts reading:

The community of believers was of one heart and mind,

and no one claimed that any of their possessions was their own,

but they had everything in common.

Reflection:

The question for us today is whether we will allow ourselves to be changed by the resurrection of Jesus; to change our own way of living and being in order to be revealers of God by the witness of our own lives.

So we ask ourselves:

  • Can we truly express merciful care for others?
  • Can we be compassionate and in solidarity with those who are different than us? Can we focus on the common good when it might mean giving up personal goals?

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out." ---Pope Francis

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • William Gregory #0156529 (On death row since 8/15/94)
  • Phillip Wilkinson #0438643 (9/15/94)
  • Daniel Cummings #0095279 (12/16/94)

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:  http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory 3150 Vince Hagan Drive Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: http://www.PreacherExchange.com - Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilías Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

Jude Siciliano, OP - Click to send email.

St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626


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