Apr 13, 2016

How committed am I?

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles 8: 1-8 this Wednesday seems to take a sudden turn in what may have seen a relatively brief peaceful time after Jesus' resurrection.  The reading tells us: "There broke out a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem."  The deacon Stephen has just been stoned to death and his followers have taken off his body to be buried and they "made a loud lament over him." 

Meanwhile Saul (Paul) was making a concerted effort, at the order of  his higher ups, to destroy the Church.  Stephens' death and the crowds reaction must have been too much for the Roman and Jewish authorities so they felt they needed to crack down hard and fast against on these heretical followers of the Nazarene who are clearly in sighting a revolution among the people.  So Paul must have been given orders to arrest any who would claim to follow Jesus. 

Meanwhile the early Christians scattered, left Jerusalem for Samaria or Judea. (north or south) of the city. Since history has shown us time and again that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church" this tactic was failed from the beginning.  But, the time must have been frightening and encouraging because the Apostles continued to preach about the Lord and the crowds continued to align themselves with them.  

Even more astounding than the Apostles determination will be the later conversion of Saul from an enemy of Christianity to it's great Apostle to the Gentiles.  God's choice may surprise us at time but it reminds us all of the need to ask ourselves the question as to how committed am I? 

While persecution of Christians seems to be on the rise these days in the middle east, we will likely hear of stories eventually of bold leaders among them and of great martyr saints.  When the heat is on, can I hold steadfast or do I remain silent.  

I have often heard stories from parishioners about conditions at their workplace or in public education or from members of their own families about great prejudice against the Catholic Church.  Or if not overt prejudice, certainly a strongly secular attitude towards living life and subjective morality - relativism.  

Although many people would not claim to be atheists, they may live as if there is no God. God and the pursuit of spiritual things simply have no place in their lives. If a family member or co-worker is known for being a Church participant, they receive either scorn, indifference, or sometimes only quiet support.  Often other brothers or sisters have left the practice of the Catholic faith they were raised in and joined another Church community for a variety of reasons. Or, we see it among our youth.  If a young person finds friends who they enjoy, for whatever reason, and he/she is identified as the only one who attends Church, for the sake of friendship, that youth will stop going because they don't want to be branded.  I've seen that in one of my nephews actually.  

So the reasons for prejudice and the situations are many.  Yet, Christ calls all of us to take note of the early Christians.  It's very good reflection in this Year of Mercy and this Easter season.  May we be open to the Holy Spirit to stay strong and align ourselves with like-minded Catholic/Christian people. There is great strength in numbers which is all the more reason for regular parish attendance and participation.  The reading below is good reflection: 

Acts 8: 1-8

There broke out a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem,
and all were scattered
throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria,
except the Apostles.
Devout men buried Stephen and made a loud lament over him.
Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church;
entering house after house and dragging out men and women,
he handed them over for imprisonment.

Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.
Thus Philip went down to the city of Samaria
and proclaimed the Christ to them.
With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip
when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.
For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice,
came out of many possessed people,
and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured.
There was great joy in that city.