May 17, 2011

"Catholic" Christianity: fruit of the Easter message

St. Barnabas - Veronese

The stories of events in the early Christian communities are inspiring. This is the fruit of the Easter Gospel; the fulfillment of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It must have been quite an exciting time as we hear in the first reading for Tuesday’s Mass:

Acts 11: 19-26

Those who had been scattered by the persecution
that arose because of Stephen
went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch,
preaching the word to no one but Jews.
There were some Cypriots and Cyrenians among them, however,
who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks as well,
proclaiming the Lord Jesus.
The hand of the Lord was with them
and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
The news about them reached the ears of the Church in Jerusalem,
and they sent Barnabas to go to Antioch.
When he arrived and saw the grace of God,
he rejoiced and encouraged them all
to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart,
for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith.
And a large number of people was added to the Lord.
Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul,
and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch.
For a whole year they met with the Church
and taught a large number of people,
and it was in Antioch that the disciples
were first called Christians.

Once the Greek speaking Gentiles embraced the new Gospel message, all bets were off. No longer was this a faith exclusive. Now it became a faith “Catholic.” Though scattered by persecution, which obviously didn’t take very long to develop, the manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s presence went far and wide in the ancient world.

“The hand of the lord was with them . . .” Barnabas, a “good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith . . .” was instrumental at the Church in Antioch. Large numbers of new Christians were born and for the first time the name “Christian” is given to these early followers of Jesus the Christ. It seems that the Spirit’s early work was to give this boost, this jump-start to the Church in order to embed the roots of the faith deeply in the ground so that nothing would shake it. And we today have received the fruit of their blood and preaching.

We all bear the name Christian; the “name” given us at our baptism. Our identity as Catholic-Christians describes the personality, the inclusive nature of our faith. We are a global community which incorporates a myriad of cultures and languages; of customs and viewpoints. Men and women, young and old, black, white, brown, yellow and all shades in between mark our membership in Jesus Christ. The universal nature of our Church not only is testimony for truth but so is our 2,000 + years of history, tradition, and spirituality's passed down to our time.

But another characteristic also mark our lives as Christians; that of persecution. It was so for the early Church as we read and the sometimes uncomfortable relationship between the sacred and the secular lives on. In a true sense, we live in two worlds, as St. Augustine reminded us: that of heaven and that of earth. For Christians it is a kind of dual citizenship.

Ours is to live life as fully as we can as citizens of the Covenant God has made through his son to all of us. The next time you’re at Mass, take a quick look around the Church. We don’t all look the same do we? There are clear differences in size, age, color, language, and certainly in our personalities. What better testimony to what we read in the Acts of the Apostles and to what it means to be truly catholic in our Christian faith.