Acts 17:15, 22-18:1
As I reflect on the first reading from Acts, I am struck with the similarity of St. Paul’s times to our own. In the Areopagus, Paul is doing something different from his former work as a pious committed Jew. He’s following a call entirely new, and one whose newness keeps growing. An ardent Jew, he was first knocked to the ground to become an ardent Jewish Christian, preaching to his fellow Jews belief in the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth. Working with the Jews spread through Turkey and the Middle East, he then heard himself called to preach Jesus Christ directly to the Gentiles. This is startlingly news. Jews never proselytized directly among the Gentiles. The Apostles were called, as Peter had announced, to declare the good news of the true Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, to their fellow Jews – those spread throughout the Roman empire. And in those days the question of introducing the Gentiles directly to Jesus Christ without first leading them through Moses rapidly became a bone of contention. The "Council of Jerusalem" settled the matter, with Paul standing forth firmly and reminding Peter of his own witness of the gift of the Spirit to Cornelius and his gentile family members without any circumcision. The energy and commitment of Paul, his drive and intensity in those times of ongoing intermixing of races and diverse faiths and religions, remind me of our own days.
Shortly after the closing of Vatican II, theologians began to analyze the extent and the depths of the new call that the Council presented to the church. It was a call to move from a European church to a world church – to move from a church of the hierarchy to a church of the people of God. (K. Rahner et al.). It was a call to the laity to recognize anew the truly radical nature of their baptism and to assume fully their mission in the church. It was a call to religious to study their sources and foundations to see how their mission must be accomplished in this new world. For it is a world on the move, evolving at tremendous speed, and in that evolution calling anew for the light and guidance, healing and inspiration of the crucified and risen Lord. (For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son. . . . Jn 3: 16)
At that time our provincial told us that we had been given the call of Abraham: "Arise and go forth from your country . . . into the land that I shall show you."(Gen 12: 1) We were called into the unknown, where we had never been before. Trusting completely in the Lord, we were called to become church in new ways. Now 46 years later, in my reflections I find myself asked how I am handling this call to be church in new ways. How have I been doing – am I still an active contributing member to a world church? Or have I grown weary and tired, become more or less passive and resigned? Do my attitudes and my actions take me forward from a church of the hierarchy to a church of the people of God? Where do I fit now in the "reform of the reform"?
Am I really open to the new? Do I really listen with an open mind – and, more important, with an open heart? Do I now enter into discussions with my mind already made up? Do I enter eager to debate and to win, to have my idea prevail? Do I want to convince people to my position rather than simply offer an idea that could be put forth with others for a common discernment? Am I really willing to change?
How really open am I to a new idea? The Gospel prods me: Do I really believe that Jesus is in me – that His Spirit is in me? Is His Holy Spirit really my spirit, prompting all that I do and am? How can I tell?
Peter Fitzpatrick, CFX, is a Xaverian Brother living at Ryken House, Louisville, across Bear Grass Creek from the Passionist Community Sacred Heart Monastery.