Friday, April 8, 2016

Harmony and Disharmony in the Church

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.  (Acts 4:32-37)

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’ What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.  The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.  (Acts 6: 1-4)

It is interesting how many people like to quote Acts Chapter 4 and present an idyllic image of Christian community. It is so warm and fuzzy to imagine a church where everyone is in total agreement and there are no struggles. Everyone’s needs are met, and peace and serenity reign supreme. In this context, some people find today’s passage from Acts 6 somewhat disconcerting. The community is experiencing growing pains, and the peaceable Kingdom seems to have disappeared. The disciples, who had once been recognized by the way they lived in fraternal accord with one another, have begun to turn in on themselves. They had lost sight of the need to proclaim the gospel message by caring for one another.

Personal needs and wants sometimes make it hard to hear the message of mercy and salvation. When an individual is hungry or is feeling alienated from the community, it is hard for him or her to listen to words of peace and reconciliation. This sense of emptiness causes them to murmur and complain against everything and everyone, even God. Murmuring places individuals outside the circle of mutual trust and weakens the bonds of communion within the community of faith. Murmuring keeps us from being able to hear and respond to God's word. This reading from Acts reminds us that we need to make use of all the means that lead to salvation. In order to do this, we must depend on God who brings about our salvation. It is the grace of God at work in us that brings about the building up of the heavenly kingdom in our time.

God's grace is at work in us, even as we experience growing pains. In times of difficulty, we should not murmur. Rather, we should turn to the Lord in prayer so that we can attend to our corner of the garden in peace and joy. This is where the children of the kingdom differ from the broader secular society. The way we deal with conflict can be an example for others. We can work through difficulties by listening to differing opinions and prayerfully discerning the truth. By acting this way, we can help others find Christ Who is the Way and the Truth and the Life. In these moments we become the lighthouse that warns mariners in the sea of life to avoid the rocks and guides them safely to the other shore. It is the will of God that we all find a place at the banquet of the Lamb. At times we need help getting there.

     We need to be content in life and have an attitude of gratitude for the blessings we have received. Because we have been graced by God we can be kind to our brothers and sisters in their time of need. In these moments of graced insight, those who are strong can come to the aid of the weak. By so doing, we can enter into the heart of the gospel and be conformed to the heart of Christ in tranquility and peace. Following in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, may we be attentive to those who are close to us and solicitous of those who have wandered from us. In the power of the Holy Spirit may we be gentle towards the weak and confused ones so as to manifest the infinite mercy of God reassuring words of hope. When the risen Lord returns in glory, may He bring us all into everlasting life.

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO