For the first Christians, Christianity was a lifestyle. They shared a common life. Living in community, they often worked together, prayed together, and studied the Scriptures together. Their faith was the center of their lives and it affected everything they did. They shared meals together, played together, and cared for each other in sickness. They allowed the principles of the Gospel to guide them in the activities of their daily lives. They comforted each other in their afflictions and challenged each other to live the Gospel more fully. There was unity and continuity between their professional lives and their family lives, between their social lives and their lives as members of the Church. They allowed the Holy Spirit to guide them in all they did. Then, at the pinnacle of their common life, they celebrated Eucharist together.
At least this is what many writers would have you believe. But was it really like that? If you read Acts 2:43-47, and just these verses, you could be led to believe it. But the rest of Acts demonstrates that everything was not so idyllic among the first Christians.
The first deacons were chosen because the Gentile widows were not being cared for by the Jewish members of the church (Acts 6:1). There was conflict over how to treat the Gentiles (Acts 15:1-21). Paul had to take Peter to task because he refused to eat with the Gentile converts (Galatians 2:11-14). In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul severely criticizes the community for selfishness, with the rich eating with their friends and the poor in their midst going hungry.
The first Christians were not perfect, but there was a real rigor among them for truth. It may not have been true of every member, but as a community they were rigorously seeking the best way to live the Christian life. Are you and I rigorously seeking the best way to live the Christian life?
Today, amidst the busyness and complexities of modern life, the great majority of Catholics are challenged merely to make it to Mass each Sunday.
In modern society, a great separation has taken place between the various aspects of our lives. Many people feel that they need to leave the values and principles of their faith outside of certain activities in the same way you leave a coat in a waiting room. The modern world tries to separate faith from reason, the professional from the personal, the means from the ends. This separationalist approach destroys “unity of life” and creates the modern madness of feeling torn in two. We feel torn in two because our very nature tells us that you cannot divorce faith from reason, or the personal from the professional, or the means from the end. Living the Gospel is difficult.
It always has been and it always will be. This is what today’s Catholics have in common with the first Christians, and with Christians of every place and time.
There has never been a time when the Church was the perfect society Jesus calls us to be. There have been moments when certain individuals and communities have celebrated Christ’s vision in awe-inspiring ways. But sustaining these is the real challenge. Think of how easy it is for you to turn your back on the-best-version-of-yourself. Consider how difficult it is for you to choose the-best-version-of-yourself in different situations each day. Now multiply that by 1.2 billion and you will have some sense of how difficult it is for the Church to be the-best-version-of-herself for even a single moment. Every time you engage in a self-destructive behavior the Church becomes a-lesser-version-of-herself. And every time you bravely choose to become a-better-version-of-yourself, the Church becomes a-better-version-of-herself.
I don’t know what the essential differences are between the first Christians and Catholics today. I do know that the ways of man will not get us from where we are today to where we are called to be. I also know that in every place and in every time since Pentecost the Holy Spirit has been present to guide you, me, and the whole Church. I am certain that the Church needs less and less of your ideas and mine, and more and more guidance from the Holy Spirit.
So pray with me for a moment, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your spirit and we shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.”
Posted by Matthew Kelly