Our family album: the Acts of the Apostles

Tom Bartolomeo
2nd Sunday Easter C 2013
Acts 5:12-16; Palm 118;
Revelation 1:9-11a,12-13,17-1; John 20:19-31
Reproduced with Permission

I own two prized family albums, one, photographs of my extended family including a great grandfather and grandparents I had not met. I had the photographs reproduced on silver paper to better preserve them over time. I gave copies of this album to my brothers as Christmas gifts many years ago. I will leave my copy to a surviving nephew whose blood line is less connected to mine. After a few more generations the album, if it survives, will seem less relevant to whoever may possess it. The other more prized album - all of you have, a copy or, at the least, a copy you can get for yourselves, The Acts of the Apostles. This book of the New Testament has no photographs of the Apostles but 'word pictures' of their persons and their lives. I also have a photograph album of the places where the Apostles lived which I put together eleven years ago while on pilgrimage in Israel. They are as real as the photographs of my biological extended family without, of course, actual pictures of the Apostles. I do not unfortunately have any letters or recorded conversations of my great grandfather and grandparents, but I do have the journal of The Acts of the Apostles and some of their letters as you do, too.

Each day since last Easter Sunday, a week ago, and every day forward to Pentecost with two exceptions we will hear a reading of the Acts at every daily and Sunday Mass up to and including Pentecost Sunday, forty-two days from today. Just as the life and acts of Jesus Christ began with his birth in Bethlehem and ended with his death and resurrection in Jerusalem so, too, will the life and acts of the early Church born in Jerusalem on Pentecost Day continue to the end of time. The Acts of the Apostles take in more than history. They offer us examples, how to conduct our lives as true Catholics baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ waiting until the end of time for His Second Coming.

Do you want to know how we got from there to here, and how we get from here to the end of our brief lives and times? Read our Church's family album. Let me read to you what Peter said to the first group of people who were drawn into the family of Christ's Church:

On the day of Pentecost, Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and proclaimed "You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem. Let this be known to you, and listen to my words. . . . . God raised this Jesus; of this we are witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he poured forth the promise of the Holy Spirit that he received from the Father, as you both see and hear." ( Acts 2:14 ff).

That day three thousand people in Jerusalem, ten percent of the city's population, became members of the Church. On that day the Church was born, increased and multiplied from a few disciples to thousands and to the millions of people today! The story of the Church's growth and vitality began with Jesus' final instruction before his Ascension when he commanded:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and I will be with you always to the end of the world." (Matthew 28, 19-20).

Ironically enough, near the beginning of The Acts of the Apostles, Saul, the great enemy of the Church, was later converted and became the Apostle Paul and who described himself as "the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God" and who became the Apostle to the Gentiles and the world. (1 Corinthians 15,9). The term 'Christian' had not been invented until several years after Pentecost when Saul, now Paul, sought out and arrested many Christians simply by observing their behavior, people of "the Way" he called them, much as Jesus described himself, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14,6). This journal of The Acts of the Apostles recorded by Paul's companion, Luke, complements the gospel of Jesus Christ which Luke also wrote, the birth and life of Christ transforming Himself into the life and acts of the early Church.

Do you recall the event in the Gospel of Mark of the father whose son had severe uncontrollable seizures and who pleaded with Christ, "if you are able to do anything . . . help us . . ."? And Jesus replied, "If you are able! - All things can be done for the one who believes." Immediately the father of the child then cried out,"I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9, 22-24). The Acts of the Apostles would not have happened had Jesus not risen from the dead, the proof of his disciples' faith. For each of us who may at times feel his faith weak, his resolve to live a good Christian life too difficult - I urge you to read The Acts of the Apostles and rediscover the vitality of your faith in the actions of Christ's disciples who spread the faith throughout the world and renew your own faith in the Church Christ established against all the difficulties and doubts the Apostles faced and we face today knowing that Jesus was with them as he is with us in the Church "to the end of time."

The Apostles found both support and suffered opposition from their own and from strangers, the help and the persecutions they endured, the hatred and the love they received from friends and enemies, the imprisonment and exoneration they received from various courts of law, the plots they avoided, the amazing interventions of the Holy Spirit in their conversions. Their Acts could be described as the 'Gospel of the Holy Spirit'. Add to these the serious issues of faith and morals they resolved at the Council of Jerusalem, the riots they endured, the touching farewells Paul experienced when he acknowledged that his end was near and that he and his converts would not meet again. All this untapped energy in the Church remains with us today, altogether and individually. Read The Acts of the Apostles before Pentecost and strengthen your "unbelief" in the Church of Christ alive in the Holy Spirit. He should not be a forgotten God. "Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful" as did Peter, Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Silas, Luke, Aquila and Priscilla and so many other strong and faithful Catholics who handed down to us our most prized album of faith, hope and charity from a loving God through his Church and The Acts of the Apostles.