During the Easter season the Church proclaims excerpts from the New Testament book “Acts of the Apostles”. This text, a companion volume to the Gospel of Luke, presents the divine life and presence of Jesus Christ alive and active in the Church. The Lord Jesus did not just disappear after his resurrection. What happened is that his manner of being with us was transformed.
Once, Christ’s divine life and presence was given to us in the body of his Incarnation and now Christ’s divine life and presence is given to us in his Body, the Church.
This is what Acts of the Apostles is all about.
The book of “Acts” also presents a glimpse of the earliest years of the Church’s life. We learn some important details about the ministry of the Apostles and the identity of some of the pivotal players of the Church’s first missionary efforts- particularly the great saints Peter and Paul.
This week we have heard about one of the controversies that beset the Apostles and the first Christians- how the Gentiles who knew Christ and had accept a relationship with him in the Church, but who were not born Israelites and knew little or nothing about the Israelite way of life, how would these Gentiles be incorporated into the Church?
Would they have to comply with the Law of Moses? Would they have to be circumcised? How was the Church the new Israel and how did the new Israel relate to the old Israel?
The readings from Acts of the Apostles for this week have permitted us a look at how the early Christians came to terms with what the Church actually was and their own identity and mission in relation to the identity and mission of the Church.
What does any of this mean to us who live centuries after the apostolic age?
How do Christians now understand the own identity and mission? Or the identity and mission of the Church? Has our relationship with Jesus Christ in the Church become little more than an addendum to our ethnic identity or ideological concerns? Do we think of the Church as nothing more than a faith based club? Do we think of the Church’s relationship to the culture as little more than one of accommodation and assimilation, where out of complacency or self interest, we try to make the Church into the servant or cultural trends, rather than a unique way of life?
Have we forgotten who the Lord is, and in forgetting him, forgotten who we are, and in forgetting both, forgotten what the mission of the Church is actually all about?
All that remains in our forgetfulness is self-reference and narcissism.
Pope Benedict XVI once remarked that the Church does three things- she worships God in Christ, she takes care of the poor and she evangelizes. These three things sum up what it means to be in relationship to Christ in the Church.
But the first two, according to both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, are made possible by the last- evangelization. It is for this reason that the Church is, according to Pope Francis, meant to be in a constant state of mission. A Church that does not evangelize, that is, invites people to have a relationship with Christ in the Church, is an anti-Church.
The Spirit will not bless the efforts of an anti-Church, no matter how well intended those efforts might be.
Are we in a constant state or mission? Is this parish? In order to be missionaries we must know the Lord Jesus, know who we are in relationship to him, and accept as our mission, the mission he gives to the Church: Worship God in Christ. Take care of the poor. Evangelize.