Friday, March 9, 2018

Reflection on the Acts of the Apostles Chapers 16-18

Since so much happens in these three chapters (16-18) and the assignment is to write a one page reflection, I can't possibly address every interesting point in this section of Acts. I will therefore break from my usual type of reflection and instead reflect on the effect I feel this section has on me at a more personal level.

As I have shared in an early reflection on a section of Acts, I have continually been attempting since I became Catholic to discern how God wants to use me and the experiences I had as a non-Catholic evangelical Christian in the New Evangelization. I have found myself often in dispair because I begin to allow myself to suspect God does not like me, God does not trust me, or God has disqualified me due to my weaknesses.

I am not sure the events in chapters 16 through 18 give me unshakeable confidence God has any degree of confidence in me but these chapters have shown me a few principles upon which I can rely. I have picked up on some patterns of how God got people involved in evangelization in the middle of the first century, so I should be more able to relax and not worry I have missed or may miss my queue on where God wants me to step in.

The evangelizers in Acts are either sent by a community, or, if an evangelizer sets out on his or her own, the community relatively quickly gets wind and checks him or her out. In some cases, like with Apollos, there are some minor adjustments, given assistance from a commnity, and sent back out to have effective evangelical ministry. In those other cases, like the magicians and pagan prophets, we don't know what happened to them after they got slapped down. I take from this if God doesn't use a community to send me and I go out on my own, I should not be surprised or offended if a community reigns me in for adjustment.

I picked up on another pattern, especially in chapters 16 through 18 of Acts. Both established believers (Priscilla and Aquilla) and new converts (Lydia) affirmed Paul and Silas in their evangelistic endeavors. There also was opposition but it came from jealous groups who saw their market-share being cut into by the successes of the evangelizers. In a similar way, if I'm correctly discerning God's call, I should expect both support and opposition. 

I have not found in Acts so far examples of how to deal with opposition from wihin the believing community and/or mixed messages from commmunity leadership. How would Paul, Silas, and Timothy have handled a situation where a believing community did not accept them even though they had the support of the leadership in Jerusalem, and the support of so many other believing communities? How would they have handled it if a community did not sanction their methods.

In our modern Roman Catholic Church I have witnessed examples of this lack of community and leadership support. I have also witnessed examples of communities or leaders disapproving these very methods used by the early evangelists. I have seen parish leaders de-emphasize evangelization and disciple making in order to maintain practices and programs which are not now and have never been partcularly effective. 
The early evangelists spoke on street corners and public arenas, in places of prayer and worship of other religions. Many Catholics have not been supportive, to put it mildly, of attempts to bring these methods of public evangelization back into public space.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Reflection 6 on the Acts of the Apostles

The Acts of the Apostles chapter eleven reminds me of a two part episode in a TV series. At the beginning of the second part of the episode we get a quick reminder of what happened in part one. Luke wrote again both the two parallel subplots we remember from the first part of this episode as coming from the mouth of Peter, explaining to the other Apostles and other leaders in Jerusalem. First Luke wrote of Peter relating the story of how he, Peter, was directed to proceed to lay aside his Jewish traditions of non-association with Gentiles.  Next Luke wrote about how Peter related the story he had heard from Cornelius and about the Holy Spirit had been given to Cornelius, his relatives, and close friends. I find it interesting Peter didn’t play the “I’m the first Pope” card but deferred to the Apostles. This is how the Church works. The Pope is a servant bishop among bishops and does everything in union with all the other bishops.
“God has granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.” A person could take a while to examine this statement. I find it interesting God grants repentance. I take it to imply repentance does not start with the penitent sinner. I also see this reference to repentance as life-giving. I would have expected this to say “God has granted life-giving grace to the Gentiles too.” I may be still exposing some left-over non-Catholic thinking I have carried over from my pre-Catholic background.  
            Luke in chapter eleven verses 19 through 26 stepped back to tell of other events and circumstances that lead to another proclamation of Jesus to Gentiles. Greeks were spoken to about Jesus through a two-step process because the Jews scattered after the stoning of Stephen had proclaimed Jesus to Greek-speaking Jews from Cyprus and Cyrene. These Greek-speaking Jews in turn proclaimed Jesus to Greek-speaking Greeks who were in no way Jews.     
            Since the folks in Jerusalem wanted to send someone to Antioch to check out these new, Greek believers who were evangelized by Greek-speaking Jews from Cyprus, they thought of Barnabas, who we last met way back at the end of chapter four. He also was also a Jew from Cyprus, who, I speculate, spoke Greek. Barnabas did some great evangelizing in Antioch “And a large number of people were added to the Lord.” He went to Tarsus to fetch Paul and the two spent a year there teaching that “large number of people.” We have Antioch to thank for passing down to us the moniker of Christians, since the designation was first used there.
            I wondered about the famine Agabus, the prophet from Jerusalem, predicted when he went to Antioch with some other prophets. He said it would severe famine over all the world (happened under Claudius). If it covered the whole world, why did the brothers in Judea need relief any more than anyone else? Whatever the reason, Paul and Barnabas were sent to Judea with the “care packages”.
            Herod ordered James executed and had Peter thrown in prison. An angel got Peter out of the prison, which lead Herod to order the guards’ execution. It has been said it was easier for Peter to get out of the prison than it was for him to get into the prayer meeting.
Somewhere in Judea Barnabas and Saul picked up John, called Mark (too many Johns to keep track of?) and they all went back to Jerusalem.
We begin to get a more serious Mediterranean geography lessons in chapter thirteen. Somehow, between the end of chapter 12 and the beginning of chapter 13, Barnabas and Saul went from Jerusalem back to Antioch to be commissioned by the Holy Spirit “for the work to which I have called them.” 
I wish I could have been with Saul, whose Jewish name is soon changed to Latin Paul, especially on this trip, because I like to sail. It seems like he didn’t experience any shipwrecks on this trip so the sailing would have been enjoyable. I would gladly have filled in for John, called Mark, who didn’t last long. He bailed at Perga. Of course I know there was also quite a hike from Perga to the other Antioch and beyond, no sailing there. But there was eventually a sail boat ride back to Seleucia. Paul’s third trip involved a lot more sailing, but it also involved a shipwreck, a cold winter and a snake bite. I don’t think the third trip, even though there was more sailing, would have been an enjoyable sail. 
            I am a student of the Celts, especially the early Christian Celtic Saints (St. Patrick, St. Columba, St. Aidan, St. Hilda, etc.). I find it interesting the region called Galatia got its name because it was inhabited by emigrants from Celtic Gaul.  Paul evangelized southern Galatia, so there were Christian Celts here a while before there were Christian Celts in Spain and France (Gaul).

Reflection 5 on the Acts of the Apostles

I found two amazing things in the tenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. First is the great job of evangelizing done by Peter and Cornelius. Second, nowhere in Peter’s speech is the divinity of Christ claimed.
            First, I expected Peter to have evangelized Cornelius. Peter was the Chief of the Apostles, of course he was going to evangelize. First he had to “get” the message from God all people are declared “clean”. This was accomplished by the vision he had of all those clean and unclean animals being let down from heaven three times on something like a sheet being held by four corners. I found amazing the great job Cornelius did of evangelizing his household, his relatives, and his close friends. What a great example! First he called two of his servants and a devote soldier to go fetch Peter. But he doesn’t just say, “Go get this guy named Peter over in Joppa at Simon the Tanner’s house”. Cornelius “told them everything.” I take this to mean he told the servants and the soldier about the vision, being seized with fear, and about the angel. This has got to be a faith building testimony for the four men. He is evangelizing even before he knows what exactly this Simon called Peter character is going to be telling him.
            God could have been far less dramatic. He could have just told Cornelius right out in the vision about Jesus and skipped the whole fetching Peter part.  God could have given Peter a vision of “Hey, look here, you! I’ve started revealing the Gospel to the Gentiles. Get with the program. I declare them clean. Don’t argue.” Done.  But God doesn’t want to do it alone; He wants his people to get a piece of the action. He got Cornelius involved and Cornelius set a great example of how to evangelize. First he lead a godly life. Unfortunately many Catholics think this is as effective as they can be and they stop there. But not Cornelius! God tells Cornelius he’s got a message for him which will be delivered by this Simon called Peter character. So what does Cornelius do? He makes sure before Peter ever gets to his home he has gathered his relatives and close friends for the evangelistic, Holy Spirit revival they were about to have, which Cornelius probably didn’t even suspect. An evangelist is coming and Cornelius gathers an audience for the evangelist. This sounds like how a city gets ready for a Billy Graham Crusade.
            Peter arrives, is welcomed, and is so coy as to ask why Cornelius summoned him. Peter already knows. The Spirit had told him there were three men he should accompany. The three men explained about Cornelius and told Peter an angel had told Cornelius to invite Peter to his house “to hear what you have to say.”
            Second, I found it interesting nowhere in Peter’s speech to does Peter say point blank Jesus is God. Nowhere does Peter try to explain the Trinity. Peter said Jesus is “Lord of all” (vs. 36), God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with Power, and Jesus went about doing good and healing. Peter declares this “man” God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible to the witnesses chosen by Him. Peter then testified Jesus was appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead, and to him all the prophets bear witness in Jesus’s name the sins of believers will be forgiven. Peter, however, does not at this time claim Jesus is God, the second person of the Trinity. No help here for those times when I disagree with people who do not believe in the Trinity and/or people who do not believe Jesus was divine from eternity. Thanks Peter!
            Peter and the brothers who were with him from Joppa were all Jews and used to having set patterns from God, written by his finger in stone on Mount Sinai. Surprise! Once again God breaks the pattern. These folks all receive the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues before even being baptized in the name of anyone. They didn’t even need to recite a “sinner’s prayer” or go to confession, or anything, just instant Pentecostal worship.
            Cornelius’s crowd asked Peter and company to stay a few days. God had a hand in it. He had to allow time for the grapevine to go to work so the disciples back in Jerusalem could stew for a while about the whole new “Gentiles Thing.”  And 99.9% of the people in Joppa, Caesarea, and Jerusalem had no idea how big a revolution had started brewing in those few days starting with a Jew and a Centurion. All of history would be affected because a couple men had a couple visions.

Reflection 4 on the Acts of the Apostles

The commentary in this section starts off early on using one of my favorite words, evangelize. I came from an evangelical background. Billy Graham, the evangelist, was (and still is) a hero of mine, even though a Catholic acquaintance of mine had a conversation with him and he strongly argued Catholics are wrong. Since I became Catholic my radar has scanned continuously for any derivation of the word “evangelize” (evangelization, evangelical, evangelist). I am so excited about the New Evangelization.
            I found it interesting Peter told Simon to “pray to the Lord that, if possible, your intention may be forgiven.” Peter seems to indicate it isn’t a simple thing to gain forgiveness from God. So often we hear people claim God will forgive any sin if we repent, but this example seems to indicate maybe it’s not all that easy. This could be used as an example of the authority of the Apostles and the strength of the Saints’ intercession as Simon asks Peter to intercede for him, “Pray for me to the Lord…”
            I took a new look at all these examples where there were baptisms in the name of Jesus, and baptisms where the Holy Spirit was conferred, and other baptisms where the expected formula was not used. It seems to me this may be a lesson to help us avoid a common practice. So often someone has a spiritual experience in a certain way and this someone will make it a personal mission to share to everyone they should experience the same thing in the same way. The variety of ways the Apostles brought people into the family seems to indicate that “one size does not fit all.” We should not think our spiritual experience is the mold for everyone else’s experience.
            I thought it was rather funny the commentary should refer to the new believers as “Jews for Jesus.” For many years I was a supporter of the organization “Jews for Jesus.” I received their newsletters with statements from their leaders and founders, such as Moshe Rosen. When I was sent on business to New York City I hiked alone to visit two landmarks close to the Empire State Building, Marble Collegiate Church and the Jews for Jesus Headquarters.  Dr. Norman Vincent Peale (author of the Power of Positive Thinking)was not at the Marble Collegiate Church that day (I had the same luck at the Crystal Cathedral when I visited; Robert Schuller wasn’t there that day either.) however , there were plenty of people around at the Jews for Jesus Headquarters. How very Jewish it was to me that a nice Jewish lady insisted I try some goats milk. Many years later our older daughter’s first harp teacher was a typical Jewish mother, telling our daughter to go home and eat lots of chicken soup to cure her cold.
            The experiences of Saul going from a bounty hunter of those who are professing Jesus as risen from the dead to a courageous preacher of Jesus as the Son of God would make a great suspenseful movie. It seems this passage goes too fast, as twice Saul is smuggled away from those who are plotting to kill him. We know these must have been very suspenseful experiences but Luke marches through at a pace just clicking right through. Before you know it Saul is being shipped away home to Tarsus. 
            The church has another moment of peace, Peter heals and returns Tabitha/Dorcas to life from the dead. The most interesting think I find is the last verse, Acts 9:34 “And he (Peter) stayed a long time in Joppa with Simon, a tanner.”
            It seems to me Peter has not yet had his vision on Cornelius’s roof, and even after he does he has another episode where he gets hung up again about Jewish rules. But in verse 34 we have him staying a long time at the home of a tanner. Somewhere along the way I thought I had learned Jews are not supposed to touch dead flesh in order to remain ceremonially clean. It seems odd Peter would choose the home of a tanner.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Reflection 2 on Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii Nuntiandi)

            Evangelii Nuntiandi paragraphs 8-16 reiterate themes for which I was hoping when I first read it over 10 years ago, the themes of internal renewal, radical conversion, profound change, evangelization is the essential mission of the Church and is the work of everyone in the Church.

“For the Christian community is never closed in upon itself…only acquires its full meaning when it becomes a witness, when it evokes admiration and conversion, and when it becomes the preaching and proclamation of the Good News. Thus it is the whole Church that receives the mission to evangelize, and the work of each individual member is important for the whole.”

            I have found regeneration to be one dynamic which is almost unique to Christianity. Even some groups who consider themselves Christian may deemphasize or even ignore it. I searched through the websites of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and did not find any teachings on regeneration. The only way Christianity can work is for the Church’s members to be regenerated to become creatures who are less prone to sin and prone to turn to God rather than away from Him.

            I have lived my life banking on 2 Corinthians 5:17 Revised Standard Version Second Catholic Edition (RSVCE) 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. I need to be a new creation. The old creation I was before I started letting God transform me and started experiencing continuing conversion was not the kind of creation I wanted to end up being.

            I am reminded of the story of the father who needed to keep his son occupied for a while. He found a picture of the world in a magazine and ripped it into little pieces because he figured his son was not familiar with where in the world the various continents lie. Five minutes later the son came back with the puzzle put together. The father asked his son how he put the map together so quickly, and the son replied, “I found a picture of a man on the other side of the page the map was on. I got the man right and the world came out right.”

            I have always believed we will not be able to solve the problems of the world until we change the problem of the human heart. If we can get the man right we can get the world right. As long as the human is not together, the world will not get together. The only way to get the human right is by getting him linked up with God, and the only way to get linked up with God is to get linked up through and with Jesus Christ.

            I was taught early on I would need to link up to God through Jesus Christ as an act of my will. Paragraph 13 also teaches this. “Those who sincerely accept the Good News, through the power of this acceptance and of shared faith…make up a community which is in turn evangelizing.”

            I won’t name names but I know of a parish wherein the “Time, Talent, and Treasure” document contains no activity I would consider primarily to have a focus on evangelization. Yet Evangelii Nuntiandi teaches evangelization is the essential mission of the Church. “Those who have received the Good News and who have been gathered by it into the community of salvation can and must communicate and spread it.

            The Church “is linked to evangelization in her most intimate being.” “She begins by evangelizing herself…she has a constant need of being evangelized…to retain freshness vigor and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel…evangelized by constant conversion and renewal in order to evangelize the world with credibility.” How often have we heard people in the church have been sacramentalized without first being evangelized? We have seen the sorry results. Confirmation of young people who have no intention of ever coming to Mass is one result I’ve seen most often.

Reflection 1 on Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii Nuntiandi)

            I read Evangelii Nuntiandi for the first time back in 2002. I was working at a small parish in a small town as a religious education coordinator for grades 5 through Confirmation. At our parish in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota we hauled our 16 year old Confirmandi, their parents and sponsors to the Cathedral in a couple charter buses. Of course most of these teenagers treat Confirmation as graduation and we don’t see much of them at church after that.
            I and my wife had gone through RCIA and entered the Church in 1992 after spending 13 married years together attending non-Catholic evangelical churches. We had learned how to evangelize by attending “Share Your Faith” seminars and “Evangelism Explosion” training. When we became Catholic we knew Catholics were supposed to evangelize but we were disappointed to discover how few were interested in evangelization. I was encouraged when I read Evangelii Nuntiandi and found Pope Paul VI and all the Popes since were more eager than I was to get Catholics evangelizing.
            Way back in the 1970s Pope Paul VI, in his Address for the closing of the Third General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, used the phrase “NEW period of EVANGELIZATION.” The New Evangelization has been around for a while.
            While I find this focus on evangelization encouraging, I also am a bit frustrated. As I have written elsewhere (Eleven Reasons Catholics Do Not Evangelize) I am frustrated because there seems to be no sense of urgency among most of the laity.  In the work-a-day world during a performance appraisal we hear, "You do not exhibit a sense of urgency." This comment is usually referring to some earth shattering, life or death thing like making sure there's enough toilet paper in the restrooms. We think, "Why should I be urgent about something that isn't life or death or involving somebody's eternal destiny?" So, to please the supervisor, we race around all day acting like emptying the pencil sharpener will forestall World War III. Leading lost people to Jesus does involve somebody's eternal destiny but when it comes to evangelization the average people in the Church move at glacial speed (using Sherry Weddell’s phrase).
When I was involved with Campus Crusade for Christ in college (now called CRU) the call to action was to reach the world for Christ in our generation. There was a great sense of urgency.
            At least all the Popes since I graduated from high school back in 1975 and probably Popes prior have stressed evangelization but most average Catholics seem to be afraid of the word and even sometimes believe “We Catholics don’t do that.”
            Throughout these paragraphs I find the word “proclaim”. I’ve heard Catholics often like to repeat a quote they think came from St. Francis (he never really said it) “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.” They think this gets them off the hook and they don’t really ever need to say anything about Jesus to anyone who might need to learn about Him. These Catholics figure if they live a good life people will be drawn to Jesus, but how will those people know anything about Jesus if these Catholics don’t explain Him to them? Jesus needs to be proclaimed. There is power in the message, but the message needs to be proclaimed.
            Pope Paul VI wrote Jesus is the greatest evangelizer. We are to imitate Jesus. Jesus proclaims a Kingdom. So must we. As Evangelii Nuntiandi says we have the power of Pentecost but we still may need to answer the first of the three burning questions, “In our day, what has happened to that hidden energy of the Good News, which is able to have a powerful effect on man’s conscience?”


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Reflection 3 on the Acts of the Apostles

Acts of the Apostles

            Immediately after giving the example of Joseph Barnabas Luke gives the example of Ananias and Sapphira and things get dramatic. There were a couple run-ins with the authorities prior but in neither case was there as much drama as this, a man and wife dropping dead. 
            Solomon’s portico shows up in both chapter 4 and chapter 5 as the place where the people “hung out” with the Apostles, where their signs and wonders were discussed and probably even some signs and wonders were performed. Portico (from Italian) was popular in Greek architecture, a porch actually. This one was on the eastern side of the outer court of the temple (women’s court). As it happens, a prominent Protestant leader in the emergent church movement, Doug Pagitt, is pastor of a well-known church in Minneapolis called Solomon’s Porch.
While on the subject of names of things based on subjects showing up in the Acts of the Apostles, I find it interesting we haven’t found many healing, health or medical related things named “Peter’s Shadow.” Maybe because most people wouldn’t associate “Peter’s shadow” with St. Peter the Apostle but with Peter Pan, who couldn’t hang onto his shadow.
            Twice now so far in the Acts of the Apostles we see the various antagonists of the Apostles and the growing church (captain of the temple guards, priests) teamed up with the Sadducees.  Where were the Pharisees? It was easy to miss. I had to read through again to catch it. “Then the high priest rose up and all his companions, that is, the party of the Sadducees…” (It’s because they’re so “sad, you see?”) The Sadducees were calling the shots because the high priest had the Sadducees as his “companions”.
So the high priest and his Sadducee companions threw the Apostles in jail. Luke specified “public jail”. I thought there might be something significant, like there was a temple jail or some other kind of jail. I did some searching and discovered it’s a function of the translation. The Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition consistently uses “prison” and uses “jail” only as the root of the word “jailer”.  The New American Bible Revised Edition uses “jail” and “prison” interchangeably, so the “public jail” is probably not significant.    
The next morning, while the Apostles were already preaching in the temple the high priest and his ever loyal companions (ELC) arrived, convened the Sanhedrin and sent court officers to fetch the Apostles from jail.  I guess we are supposed to assume the high priest and the ELC arrived at the temple and didn’t notice the Apostles preaching. The court officers didn’t find anybody in the jail.  A paraphrase of part of verse 24 of chapter 5 might be “the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were clueless…”
After the clueless captain and court officers fetched the Apostles from the temple area there was finally a mention of a Pharisee, Gamaliel. So we find the Pharisees were not completely out of the picture.  
            When the neglect of the Greek widows was brought to the attention of the Apostles Stephen and six others were appointed to deal with the distribution of food.  The 12 Apostles were free to spend their time in the business of prayer and ministry of the word.  I find it interesting Luke wrote after the Apostles laid their hands on the seven chosen “even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” I cynically imagine the priests saw seven were delegated to do the “dirty work”, so they turned to one another and said “Wow, no manual labor! No serving at tables! We got to get a part of this gig!”
            Stephen demonstrated evangelization isn’t just for Apostles and it cost him his life.

            Another thing I noticed is Stephen pointed out Abraham was told by God to “Go forth from your land and from your kinsfolk to the land that I will show you.” So what didn’t Abraham do? He didn’t leave his kinsfolk. He took his father and his nephew, Lot, and went where? To Harran, not to the land God would show him. Abraham then stalled until his father died. Luke wrote into the words of Stephen that God “made him migrate.” Talk about a reluctant emigrant!