May 24, 2011

The "door of faith" is opened

St. Paul's First Missionary journey: Acts 14

As the Easter season comes soon to a close, our attention turns to the age of the Holy Spirit in which we all now live. Any surface look at the time of the early Church, when both the Apostles and St. Paul were busy in the work of evangelizing their ancient world, would convince us that the Holy Spirit has been hard at work since their time.

In Tuesday’s first reading for Mass we hear:

Acts 14: 19-28

In those days, some Jews from Antioch and Iconium
arrived and won over the crowds.
They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city,
supposing that he was dead.
But when the disciples gathered around him,
he got up and entered the city.

On the following day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.
After they had proclaimed the good news to that city
and made a considerable number of disciples,
they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.
They strengthened the spirits of the disciples
and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying,
“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships
to enter the Kingdom of God.”
They appointed presbyters for them in each Church and,
with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord
in whom they had put their faith.
Then they traveled through Pisidia and reached Pamphylia.
After proclaiming the word at Perga they went down to Attalia.
From there they sailed to Antioch,
where they had been commended to the grace of God
for the work they had now accomplished.
And when they arrived, they called the Church together
and reported what God had done with them
and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
Then they spent no little time with the disciples.

“Catch me if you can” may have been St. Paul’s slogan as he moved from city to region to country in the work to which God called him: Antioch, Iconium, Derbe, Lystra, Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga, and Attlia. All that in just nine scripture verses! The peripatetic St. Paul and his companion Barnabas and others give pause even today. How could they have accomplished so much considering the primitive means of travel: foot, horse, ship? This was the first of Paul’s three missionary journeys and they are filled with excitement, inspiration, persecution, suspicion, imprisonment, and “many hardships,” as St. Paul relates in this passage above. As the Acts of the Apostles relates in this reading, it appears that their movement was with ease and carried out swiftly. Yet, the duration of time in between, weeks and months, is immaterial to the preaching of the good news wrought in Christ Jesus.

As you notice, they are principally to the Gentile communities of the ancient world among whom the Spirit worked mightily. That is not to say that the Jews themselves, though not in great numbers, were also moved by the words and works of Paul and the Apostles.

We Christians sometimes feel that we have a particular mission to the Jewish people. History has show the relationship between Jews and Christians have had their good times and difficult times to say the least. In our own day, the witness of Pope John Paul II to the importance of Christian/Jewish relationships inserted a whole new confidence that we are united in history, tradition, and fundamentally in our monotheistic faith.

Recently, the newest book of our present Holy Father Benedict XVI claimed a somewhat new perspective. Pope Benedict stated in Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: “Israel is in the hands of God, who will save it ‘as a whole’ at the proper time, when the number of Gentiles is full . . .” The duration of this “proper time” is open ended. Then he quotes St. Hildegard Brem: “The church must not concern herself with the conversion of the Jews, since she must wait for the time fixed for this by God.”

Interesting? The ultimate recognition by our Jewish brothers and sisters of Jesus as Messiah will at some time in the future come about – but that “time” or process is known only to God. Our task is to live our faith authentically as disciples of Christ and take that Gospel to the Gentile world far and wide. The Jews have a special place in the heart and mind of God – but he isn’t telling us his entire intent. Yet, as all human beings, they too have free will as did St. Paul.  We know the grace of God is greater than any human resistance.

It strikes me that we have come a very long way over the past 20 centuries of Christian history and that there is something deeper at work here. Though Catholic -Christian/Jewish relationships are historically a very mixed bag of love-hate relationships, our acceptance of Judaism as separate yet related to us and the tolerance and good relations between the two is truly a sign of the Spirit among us in this present time. I wonder what St. Paul might say to us today?

Perhaps something like, “Do what the Lord has called you to do. In all things, Charity.”