Tag Archives: Acts of the Apostles

Feast of St. Matthias

Thomas

May 14th is the Feast of St.Matthias, chosen by lot to take the place of Judas. He brings the number of apostles back to twelve, symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel who await the promises of God. The Spirit comes after Matthias is selected in Luke’s account. j

The qualifications for a new apostle seem simple enough. Peter says it should be someone “who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us. He joins us as a witness to his resurrection.”

Two have those qualifications. Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthias.

Then, they pray:
“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all,
show which one of these two you have chosen.”
Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias,
and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles.” (Acts 1,15-17, 20-25)

Yet, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. For Matthias to be a witness to Jesus it wasn’t enough to get all the details right about what Jesus did or said, as a reporter or witness at a trial might do it.

In John’s gospel read for Matthias’ feast, Jesus describes a disciple as one who abides in him, who remains in him– a friend committed to him. So, a disciple cannot be just an on-looker, but one who enters the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He’s one who weathers doubts and uncertainties as the disciples listening to Jesus’ Farewell Discourse did. He’s like Thomas who sees the wounds in the Lord’s hands and side and learns to trust and believe through them.

Rembrandt’s wonderful portrayal of Jesus showing his wounds to Thomas (above) presents Thomas, not as a lonely skeptic, but someone representing all the disciples. All the disciples must come before Jesus’ wounds.

Pope Francis in a homily  spoke of the importance of the wounds of Christ for a disciple of Jesus. We’re on an exodus beyond ourselves, he said, and there are two ways open for us. “one to the wounds of Jesus, the other to the wounds of our brothers and sisters.”

“If we are not able to move out of ourselves and toward our brothers and sisters in need, to the sick, the ignorant, the poor, the exploited – if we are not able to accomplish this exodus from ourselves, and towards those wounds, we shall never learn that freedom, which carries us through that other exodus from ourselves, and toward the wounds of Jesus.”

The wounds of Christ and the wounds of our brothers and sisters– we learn from both to see victory of death and to trust in the passion of Jesus.

Like Matthias, we’re called to be witnesses..

The Council of Jerusalem

Our reading at Mass  from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 15, 7-21) brings us to a critical moment in the life of the early church– the Council of Jerusalem, which decided whether and on what terms gentiles would be accepted into the new Christian movement. Its decision to admit the gentiles led to a rapid expansion of the church as non-Jews from all parts of the Roman world embraced the faith.

Luke Timothy Johnson has a fine commentary on this crucial event. (Acts of the Apostles: Sacra Pagina, Liturgical Press 1992)

Did a meeting really take place? Johnson writes “we can state with considerable confidence that in the first decades of the Christian movement an important meeting was held concerning the legitimacy and basis of the Gentile mission; that participants included Paul and Peter and James and Barnabas; that certain agreements were reached which, in one way or another, secured the basic freedom of the Gentile initiative. The most striking agreement between the sources comes, in fact, at the religious level. With only very slight variation, both Luke and Paul agree that the basis of the mission to the Gentiles was a matter of God’s gift, (Acts15,11. Gal 2,9) and that God was equally at work in the Apostle Paul as he was in the Apostle Peter. (Acts 15,7-8.12; Gal 2,8)”

Notice the hesitancy of  the original Jewish followers of Jesus to accept gentiles into their ranks. That’s evident in Peter’s strong reluctance to meet the Roman centurion Cornelius as he visits believers of his own kind around Joppa. Not only are the disciples slow to recognize their Risen Lord, they’re slow to accept his plans for expanding their ranks. Peter must see signs of God at work in Cornelius before baptizing him and his household. Paul, James and Barnabas also must see God’s gifts in the outsiders they meet before they recognize that God is calling them to believe.

God sows seeds of faith, but we’re as slow to recognize the action of God in others as the first disciples were. We have trouble seeing God’s action in the stranger and in the unexpected. We need  enlightenment.

Johnson notes that the Church’s journey through time is marked by conflict and debate. We must accept those conditions today too. Those who follow Jesus will not always agree with each other; there are strong opinions and differences among believers.

One thing I would add. Besides conflict and debate, our reading today speaks of the “silence” that comes as they debate. We’re in the presence of our transcendent God, whose ways and thoughts are above ours. We need silence to discern God’s will. Too much talk can get in the way.

Saint Stephen, the Deacon

Stephen martry
Our readings from the  Acts of the Apostles this week  tell us one thing about the early church: it doesn’t evolve through human planning but from God’s plan. The disciples  certainly didn’t expect Stephen.

The church was pretty settled in Jerusalem after Jesus rose from the dead, according to Acts. The followers of Jesus, good Jews, continued to worship in the temple. Yes, there  were occasional squabbles with the Jewish leaders, but they worshipped and preached in Jerusalem. It was their world. Besides praying in the temple, they met together, probably on Mount Sion where the Last Supper was celebrated. They broke bread and prayed there.

They were mostly Galileans at first, then others joined them from elsewhere. One of them was Stephen.

Stephen was a new-comer. He may have been a Samaritan, which may explain his polemic against the Judaism of the day.  The scriptures see him as one who follows Jesus in his passion. So many of his sufferings are like those Jesus endured. But he was also the cause of the first scattering of believers to other places. He was brash and undiplomatic. I would guess some of the Galileans didn’t like him.

Yes, he was a saint, but a hard-nosed saint.

He brought  change, or better, God did.

Readings here.

Morning and evening prayers, 3rd week,  here.  

 

Easter Saturday: We’re Slow, like the Apostles



Like the apostles we’re slow to understand the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus are not the only ones slow to understand, and we are slow too.

Peter, who preaches to the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost, certainly was slow to understand. He speaks forcefully at Pentecost, forty days after the Passover when Jesus died and rose from the dead, but the days before he’s speechless. It took awhile for him and for the others who came up with Jesus from Galilee to learn and be enlightened about this great mystery..

Mark’s accounts of Jesus resurrection appearances, read on the  Saturday of Easter week, stresses the unbelief of his disciples. They were not easily persuaded.

For this reason, each year the Lord refreshes our faith in the resurrection, but it’s not done in a day. Like the disciples, we need time to take it in, and for that we have an easter season of forty days.

The disciples were slow to understand the mission they were to carry out, a mission that was God’s plan, not theirs, a plan that outruns human understanding. A new age had come, the age of the Holy Spirit, and they didn’t understand it. The fiery winds of Pentecost had to move them to go beyond Jerusalem and Galilee to the ends of the earth.

The Holy Spirit also moves us to a mission beyond our understanding. Luke says that in the Acts of the Apostles. “The mission is willed, initiated, impelled and guided by God through the Holy Spirit. God moves ahead of the other characters. At a human level, Luke shows how difficult it is for the church to keep up with God’s action, follow God’s initiative, understand the precedents being established.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles)

“You judge things as human beings do, not as God does,” Jesus says to Peter elsewhere in the gospel. We see things that way too.

Peter’s slowness to follow God’s plan remained even after Jesus is raised from the dead. He doesn’t see why he must go to Caesaria Maritima to baptize the gentile Cornelius and his household. (Acts 10,1-49) It’s completely unexpected. Only gradually does he embrace a mission to the gentiles and its implications. The other disciples are like him; God’s plan unfolds but they are hardly aware of it.

One thing they all learned quickly, though, as is evident in the Acts of the Apostles. Like Jesus, they would experience the mystery of his cross, and in that experience they find wisdom.

Acts of the Apostle: The Crippled Man


By the old temple gate
lay a poor crippled man,
forced to beg
for the daily needs of life.
He was lame from his birth
with no hope to be healed
until Peter and John came to pray.

Those two friends of the Lord
saw the man lying there
and were filled with compassion and love.
They had no money to share,
so Peter reached out his hand
and gave him the best that they had.

“I have no silver, no gold,
but I give you what I have –
in the Name of Jesus, stand up and walk!
Take this gift of new life
and proclaim to all the world
that the Name of the Lord has set you free!”

By the old temple gate
stands a man strong and free,
singing praise to the Name of the Lord!

Gloria Ziemienski
April 1997

The man crippled from birth who is cured by Peter and John as they enter the temple precincts after Pentecost is an important figure in our readings for the last four days of Easter Week. Crippled from birth, over 40 years old, he’s carried to the gate of the temple each day to beg for alms.  Everyone knows him, he’s a regular. 

After he’s cured he goes into the temple to hear Peter’s message to the crowd about Jesus of Nazareth. As he stands there, relishing his cure, he’s a sign God’s power is a work. Can we see him becoming a believer? The temple leaders, on the other hand, find him an annoying presence whom they try to silence. 

How can he be explained away?

The man was surely at Peter’s side when he spoke to the people in the temple area. Just as miracles accompanied the teaching of Jesus, so now they will accompany the teaching church. We have to expect signs like this, that raise up the poor, to be part of the church’s witness, especially in an unbelieving age.

What other signs can we see in Peter’s words to the crowd as he witnesses to the Resurrection? He points to the tomb of Jesus, in contrast to David’s tomb. It’s empty. We have to keep the holy places associated with Jesus as part of our witness.  He points to the scriptures. We have to keep reflecting on them to enrich our witness. His message is overwhelming a message of forgiveness. Mercy and forgiveness should be our witness too. 

Words are not the only way we witness the Resurrection of Jesus.

Readings here.

Morning and Evening Prayer.  Sunday, Week 1 http://www.praydaybyday.org

Children’s prayers here.

April 5-I0 : the Easter Season:The Long Day

www.usccb.org   (Readings for the Easter Season)

Weekday Readings for Easter Week

Monday: Acts 2:14; Matthew 28,8-15
Tuesday: Acts 2, 36-41; John 20,11-18
Wednesday: Acts 3,1-19; Luke 24, 13-35
Thursday: Acts 3,11-36 Luke 24, 35-48
Friday Acts 4,1-12 John 21,1-14
Saturday Acts 4, 13-21 Mark 16,9-15

The gospel readings this week recall the Easter appearances of Jesus to his disciples. The Acts of the Apostles, which continues St. Luke’s Gospel, is an important reading in the Easter season because it describes how, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the first witnesses gave their testimony and were received.   Acts describes the beginnings of our church and also offers insight into how our church develops today.

The gospels for the Octave of Easter describe the appearances of Jesus to the first witnesses, Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, the Emmaus disciples, the women at the tomb, Thomas, the disciples from Galilee who came up with him to Jerusalem.

In our readings from Acts on Monday, the witnesses begin to speak. Peter is the first. Just as it was with Jesus, his words are accompanied by a sign from God. The crippled man, a temple regular whom everyone knows, is cured by Peter and John as they come to the temple to pray. He becomes one of those who follow Peter and listen to him. He will be a sign that’s contradicted. The temple leaders refuse to credit him as a sign. (Acts, Wednesday to Friday)

From its beginnings in Jerusalem the church gradually spreads into the Roman world, incorporating gentiles, non-Jews, and eventually reaching Rome itself. It will depend on believers in the Risen Christ who give their testimony and signs that accompany their witness.  Its early growth described in the Acts of the Apostles can help us understand its growth in our time.

Morning and Evening Prayers here. Week I, Sunday readings all week.

Children’s Prayers here.

 

Readings for the 6th Week of Easter

Lent 1

17 SUN SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17/1 Pt 3:15-18/Jn 14:15-21

18 Mon Easter Weekday
[Saint John I, Pope and Martyr]
Acts 16:11-15/Jn 15:26—16:4a 

19 Tue Easter Weekday
Acts 16:22-34/Jn 16:5-11

20 Wed Easter Weekday
[Saint Bernardine of Siena, Priest]
Acts 17:15, 22—18:1/Jn 16:12-15

Ecclesiastical Provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, Philadelphia:

21 Thu THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD (Solemnity and Holy Day of Obligation)
Acts 1:1-11/Eph 1:17-23/Mt 28:16-20 

All Other U.S. Ecclesiastical Provinces:

21 Thu Easter Weekday
[Saint Christopher Magallanes, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs]
Acts 18:1-8/Jn 16:16-20

22 Fri Easter Weekday
[Saint Rita of Cascia, Religious]
Acts 18:9-18/Jn 16:20-23 

23 Sat Easter Weekday
Acts 18:23-28/Jn 16:23b-28

Ecclesiastical Provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, Philadelphia: 

24 SUN SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 1:12-14/1 Pt 4:13-16/Jn 17:1-11a 

All Other U.S. Ecclesiastical Provinces:

24 SUN THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD (Solemnity)
Acts 1:1-11/Eph 1:17-23/Mt 28:16-20

When the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated on the following Sunday, the Second Reading and Gospel from the Seventh Sunday of Easter may be read on the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

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The Feast of the Ascension is celebrated on Thursday this week in the eastern United States and on Sunday in the western dioceses. Better to celebrate this feast at the same time, I think.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul takes the stage at Athens, the intellectual capitol of the Roman world, but his words chosen carefully are met only with curiosity. “We would like to hear you some other time.” (Wednesday)

Paul gets a better reception in Corinth, not far from Athens, but worlds away from the proud self sufficient city. “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.” Jesus says to Paul in a vision. (Friday)

In the reading from Acts on Saturday, Luke reminds us that Paul had great people with him like Priscilla and Aquila, the wife and husband, who instruct Apollos, a good speaker but weak in his theology.  “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.”

I told a cousin of mine recently who wasn’t sure about a sermon she heard in church. “You may be right and he’s wrong.”

Silent Clay

The daily Mass readings for Eastertime, from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John, are so different in tone. The Acts of the Apostles is a fast-moving account of a developing church spreading rapidly through the world through people like Paul of Tarsus and his companions. Blazing new trails and visiting new places,  they’d be frequent flyers today, always on the go.

The supper-room discourse of Jesus from the Gospel of John, on the other hand,  seem to move slowly, repeating, lingering over the words of Jesus to his disciples. Listen, be quiet, sit still, they say. Don’t go anywhere at all.

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, was inspired by St. Paul, the Apostle, to preach and to teach. Many of his letters end telling readers he has to go, he’s off to preach somewhere. He was a “frequent flyer.”

But the Gospel of John also inspired him; it was the basis for his teaching on prayer. Keep in God’s presence, in pure faith, he often said. Enter that inner room and remain there. Don’t go anywhere.

“It’s not important for you to feel the Divine Presence, but very important to continue in pure faith, without comfort, loving God who satisfies our longings. Remain like a child resting on the bosom of God in faithful silence and holy love. Remain there in the higher part of your soul paying no attention to the noise of the enemy outside. Stay in that room with your Divine Spouse…Be what Saint John Chrysostom says to be: silent clay offered to the potter. Give yourself to your Maker. What a beautiful saying! What the clay gives to the potter, give to your Creator. The clay is silent; the potter does with it what he wills. If he breaks it or throws away, it is silent and content, because it knows it’s in the king’s royal gallery.”  (Letter 1515)

 

May, the Month of Mary

Mary Garden, Immaculate Conception Monastery, Jamaica, NY

We celebrate Easter through the month of May. The Risen Lord stays with his church on her pilgrim way and walks with her step by step. Jesus is with us; he won’t leave us orphans. He gives us his gifts.

One of his gifts is Mary, his Mother. We honor her this month and ask her to guide us into the mysteries of Jesus, her Son. She knew him better than any of his creatures. I have been out in our Mary Garden these last few days visiting her.

In the Acts of the Apostles, our primary scriptural source for knowing how the church developed, Luke describes that development mainly through the missionary journeys of Peter and Paul. But let’s not forget Mary, a key figure in that development. She’s “embedded” in the story of Jesus’ life and in the development of the church. I like that word to describe her–”embedded.”  

After Jesus ascends into heaven, forty days after his resurrection, a group of his followers, whom we already know from Luke’s gospel, go back to the upper room in Jerusalem.  Luke describes them:

“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” 

As he says earlier in his gospel, Luke depends on eyewitnesses who not only have seen and heard what Jesus said and did, but also are given prophetic gifts for preaching and teaching in the church. They tell us Jesus rose from the dead but, inspired by the Holy Spirit, they also tell us what that mystery means for the world. 

Luke’s eyewitnesses are the eleven apostles, paired up two by two as Jesus told them for  preaching the gospel. There are also women, like Mary Magdalen, followers of Jesus during his ministry and important witnesses of his resurrection. And finally Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers, his relations, who knew him from the beginning.

Mary, who kept all these things in her heart, is the chief eyewitness.