22 September, 2014

Synod on the Family in Rome 2014


New Delhi: 

At least one Indian archbishop will speak at the Synod on the Family called by Pope Francis in Rome a fortnight from now.

Having served in Delhi as the apostolic nuncio at a critical time in the country’s political history, Lorenzo Cardinal Baldisseri is an old India hand. But will that be sufficient to have post-synod documents reflect the South Asian reality as a matter of conjecture, and hope?

Families in India share with their global counterparts many issues, especially those relating to the impact of globalization, internet pornography, alcoholism, drug use among youths, and the intrusion of information technology and reproductive sciences.

There are emerging challenges of pre-marital and extramarital sex, teen pregnancies, and the prevalence of contraception. Employment worries, health issues and societal pressures have added to mental problems, stress, and tensions in marriages and the family.

Church people, including priests and women religious, are lacking in both numbers and training to be effective counselors, so pastoral care is therefore minimal in most areas.

We have a few cases of pastoral care for the LGBT community, but same sex marriage is almost entirely unknown.

Pedophilia exists, but is not at a crisis point, either in the lay faithful, or in the clergy.

Prostitution and trafficking in women is illegal, but has huge implications in India where it is widespread. Catholic women are also victims of this in several states.

Divorce rates remain low [though the Church has conducted no conclusive survey on this issue and desegregated data from government surveys is not available to be able to quantify trends], but there is an increasing demand by women for reforms in civil and Church laws on inheritance, annulment -- including civil divorce -- and custody of children.

But there are several family issues that are rooted in the peculiar situation of India, with its population of multiple ethnicities, racial groups and cultural identities -- some of which are insulated from external influences.

The prevalence of caste has deep implications. The deep-rooted cultural patriarchy has its impact on the role and status of women, including Catholic women.

From this flows the rampant -- and growing -- issue of dowry, which has to be paid by the parents of a bride to the bridegroom.

This has led to a great social and economic crisis in many areas, especially in southern India, and particularly in the state of Kerala and surrounding areas.

With both dowry and caste, the role of the Church has been controversial. Many Catholic human rights and gender activists have criticized the Church over its soft response to these disturbing facets of society.

Economic problems, especially in rural and tribal forest areas inhabited by various indigenous peoples with their own ancient cultures, has led to large scale displacement, migration to urban areas for employment, and to human trafficking.

Another growing problem is that of senior citizens who have no place to live because of poverty and displacement, or the rise of nuclear families.

This is particularly acute among former landless laborers and the urban poor, but it is also a problem among the lower middle class in cities and small towns.

The Church does not have the resources or presence in civil society to make any worthwhile impact on any of these issues.

Another issue peculiar to India stems from the fact that the Catholic community is a very small minority.

Of India’s 1.25 billion people [according to the 2011 census], Christians constitute just 2.3 percent of the total population. Of these 26 million or so, Catholics account for just 17 million.

These Catholics are divided among the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro Malankara rites.

While the Latin Rite is the dominant, the two Oriental rites now have dioceses beyond their home state of Kerala.

Catholics live in the midst of an overwhelming Hindu majority [and a majority of Muslims in some districts such as Kerala, Bengal, Assam and Kashmir].

Inevitably, there are an increasing number of cases of Christians -- especially women -- marrying outside their denomination or rite, or marrying Hindus and Muslims.

The Church response to this in Kerala is most dissatisfying, and leans heavily on a punitive strategy.

The Church in India may have sent responses to the questionnaire from Rome for the Family Synod in October, but there has been no genuine survey carried out in the vast majority of Catholic dioceses.

Among the few that have been carried out, there is no guarantee that the data has been collected using adequate, scientific methodology. So, there is no verifiable data on divorce, bigamy, desertions, domestic violence, single parenthood, teen-age pregnancies, abortions and temporary or permanent contraception.

No study has been conducted on official or unofficial government pressure on Indians to have small families, and its impact on the Catholic lay faithful.

Another critical issue having an impact on pastoral life and care of the family in India is the grossly insufficient effort at educating them in the social teachings of the Church. For all practical purposes, preparation, training and empowerment -- after early formation through catechism in Sunday schools – is perfunctory.

Lay theologians and trainers are rare. In urban areas, the laity therefore does not take teachings of the Church seriously, other than observing pious rituals, coming for Mass, Novenas and Feasts. There are exceptions in some areas on the west coast, and in some tribal areas.

The study of family life among Catholics -- and among other Christian denominations -- in India remains a very imperfect and inadequate science, and that must certainly disturb the Church leadership.

This prevents the evolution of an emphatic, even pragmatic, pastoral and social response. It also leads to inadequate training and formation of clergy and men and women religious in this important area of work in the life of the lay faithful.

The lay faithful, and their families, are largely left to their own devices in handling their crises and problems, and in relating to society at large.

I hope, and I pray, that a visible change will take place after the Synods on the Family in Rome in 2014 and 2015.

John Dayal is the general secretary of the All India Christian Council and a member of the Indian government's National Integration Council.

13 September, 2014

marrying at papal Mass

Couples with kids, cohabiting are among those marrying at papal Mass

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Among the men and women Pope Francis was set to unite in marriage were Catholics who have been living together as well as couples who already have children. The pope, who is the bishop of Rome, will preside over his first wedding ceremony as pontiff during a nuptial Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Sept. 14. The event, which will see 20 couples from the Diocese of Rome celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage, was organized by the vicariate of Rome. "Those who will get married Sunday are couples like many others," the diocese said in a press release Sept. 10. The ages of the brides and grooms range from the youngest being 25 to the oldest being 56, the vicariate said. It said the couples also come from all kinds of situations with some "who have been engaged for a long period of time or for not as long; there are those who are already cohabiting; who already have children; who got to know each other in church," it said. While cohabitation is not in itself a canonical impediment to marriage, it is contrary to the church's teaching on marriage and sexual love. The church urges that pastoral ministers help couples preparing for marriage by showing them the witness of Christian family life in such a way as they may regularize their situation before their wedding ceremony.

20 August, 2014

Rite Issue Explodes

Divisive Rite-issue explodes in Delhi 

Published: 9:22 pm, August 16, 2014 Story By: James Kottoor
Dr James Kottoor
Dr James Kottoor
Kochi: Craze for territorial expansion of the Syro Malabar Church (SMC) has always been an unpleasant topic of heated discussion, more private than public, for years.
The tug of war has always been between the laity who oppose it tooth and nail and clergy who promote it with boiling zeal saying to Latin bishops: “We produce 70 percent of clergy in the Church, but we control only about 0.04 percent of the territory. We are justified in wanting more territory,” reportedly said by one of the Syro Malabar bishops.
This territorial expansion, called “religious colonization” by critics, is seen realized to a great extend and making good progress, in the creation of Eparchies in Bombay (Kalyan), Delhi (Faridabad, recently), Syro-Malabar (SM) Dioceses in Chicago and Melbourne.
It all started in the 1960s when the SMC was confined to the boundaries of tiny Kerala state.
Its first attempt was to expand in India beyond Kerala borders, first to establish SM parishes all over India, where SM Catholics are found in great numbers, on the plea that it has to cater to their spiritual needs through their home-grown SM liturgy. As the number of SM parishes increased in a region or metropolitan city, the next logical step was to coax Rome to sanction an SM diocese.
Thus there is any number of SM parishes being created in Chennai and Bangalore and organized efforts are on, to get more SM dioceses sanctioned.
Since SM priests, Brothers and Sisters are well known for their missionary zeal to serve the poor and marginalized in harsh circumstances, they are most cordially welcomed by all Latin dioceses all over India.
But when it comes to granting autonomous SM parishes or dioceses, the vast majority both laity and clergy were found to be against. In fact an elderly missionary Kerala priest now in his 80s and still actively holding an important spiritual office in Chennai told this writer: “James, please do not punish us with a Syro Malabar diocese.”
It was due to pleas like him, also from Catholic Association leaders in Chennai and other well meaning leaders, that I started writing on this thorny unpleasant Church politics. Being a journalist, they were telling: “James, please write a few articles, highlighting many wrongs to be corrected for which we shall provide you proof.”
Faith crowds or Rite colonies?
In response, the first article I wrote was in 2011 titled: SMC in US: Faith crowds or Rite colonies? The rather long article started off nut-shelling its contents as: “Church is fellowship not groupism; to rule is to serve, not lording it over; evangelisation is not colonisation; harvesting of souls isn’t cultivating churches (Pallikrishi) for reaping dollars ($ Koithu); cross is for crucifying self not others; any Rite is all right to pray.” (To read full text visi my website: http://sites.google.com/site/jameskottoorspeaking/)
Besides when an opinion survey was taken in the l970s in the Chennai Pastoral council all were unanimous in welcoming Kerala priests to work in parishes but 9 percent opposed creating SM parishes.
Similar was the result of a 2002 survey in Delhi: while 12 percent of SMC Catholics wanted a separate diocese 75 percent opposed it, with the rest remaining neutral.
So hard facts clearly indicate that the rush to create SM dioceses, whether in India or abroad, is spearheaded and steamrolled by the Syro Malabar bishops only. They are now in the third stage of territorial expansion, namely creation of SM dioceses outside India, in Chicago and the latest in Melbourne, Australia, then in Europe and the middle east.
Unfortunately this territorial expansion is creating divisions within its own fold and among locals outside Kerala, in India or abroad.
Definitely this is in direct conflict with the views and pronouncements of Pope Francis himself: “The divisions among us Christians are a scandal. There is no other word: a scandal,” he had said recently.
He is also reported to have said: ‘A bishop who casts his eyes beyond the borders of his diocese to another is an adulterer hankering for the neighbor’s wife.’ Being airport-bishops they definitely can’t have the smell of the sheep.
And recall what he had to say lately on converting people: “Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs, was one of the “10 tips to happiness” he gave recently.
“We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyses: ‘I am talking with you in order to persuade you,’ No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The Church grows by attraction, not proselytising,” the Pope had said.
In saying so Francis Pappa literally exposed the hollowness and fears of many peddlers of “Anti-conversion Laws” in India who see daemons lurking where none exists.
After all Francis was only repeating what Apostle Paul said long ago: “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the good news” (1Cor.l, 17). It only shows how a hierarchical, pyramidal church of the day modelled on emperors like Constantine, in whose vision the highly placed lord over the lowly placed, has strayed too far away from the ideals of equality, fraternity, fellowship and brotherhood of all, taught by Jesus, more by his deeds than words.
Delhi’s Laity4unity
To come back to Explosion in Delhi, it was triggered by a recent joined pastoral (JP) dated November 1, 2013 of bishops of Delhi and Eparchy of Faridabad transferring all Catholics of Syro Malabar ancestry, without either consulting them or getting their consent, to Faridabad. The relevant part of the JP signed by the two bishops reads:
“From the day the Eparchy of Faridabad was created in 2012 all the Syro-Malabar faithful once pastorally cared for by the Archdiocese of Delhi have automatically become part of the Eparchy which has been exclusively created for them. Basically, there is no choice in this matter. Consequently the faithful of the Syro-Malabar Church cease to be members of the parishes of the Archdiocese of Delhi; they can continue their participation in parish related organizations (such as Catholic Association, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Youth Movements, Charismatic Renewal) etc.) through a corresponding group in their Syro-Malabar parish. Any exception to this norm will have to be addressed to the bishop of the Eparchy of Faridabad who in turn will apprise the Archbishop of Delhi on the appropriate course of action according to pastoral exigencies.”
Yes “Basically, there is no choice in this matter.” This forced the boiling pot of rule by Diktats, not consultation; explode with outbursts from a major section of the vocal laity.
If “Good governance is critically dependent on rule of law, participatory decision-making, transparency, responsiveness, accountability, equity and inclusiveness,” (Indian President on 68th Independence day) is what a demanded in a civil society, a religious society called Church which claims to be more civilized should exhibit these traits in greater measure.
In Delhi, those who oppose this transfer of faithful by Diktat is led by an organized lay group called Laity4unity (Contact riteissuencr@gmail.com. +9811004214, for more information) who claim to have a signed up membership of 6000 Catholics.
Catholics of SM ancestry in Delhi are estimated at about 25,000. Their relentless efforts to dialogue with bishops and Nuncios, they say, have failed miserably – most of the time their petitions have been slightingly ignored, they say.
So as a last-ditch effort they have sent to Pope Francis a well documented 155-page petition (this scribe has a copy of it for those who wish to see) by FedEx on May 24, feast of Mary Help of Christians. It was received in the Papal office on May 27.
The independent reports in the Hindu given below are the result of the explosive clergy-laity tussle in Syromalabar Church in Delhi to get the JP cancelled. It is an eloquent Sign of the Times that calls upon all to reflect and get ready for a long drawn-out war of words for a peaceful solution.
The Hindu, NEW DELHI, August 8, 2014
Syro-Malabar Catholics oppose transfer to new Eparchy
Pheroze L. Vincent
Many have lost touch with Malayalam, and unlike the Latin rite, which conducts services in several languages, the Syro-Malabar Church services are in Malayalam.
A section of Catholic Christians in the capital have opposed the church’s move to shift them to the newly created Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Faridabad. The Syro-Malabar Church (SMC), headquartered in Ernakulam, is one of the 22 Oriental Churches that maintain distinct rites of worship within the Catholic Church. A distinct eparchy — a religious administrative jurisdiction for the SMC in northern India — was created in 2012. It was officially “erected” in Faridabad so that it would not be confused with the Latin rite Archdiocese of Delhi, which caters to Catholics only in Delhi and parts of U.P. and Haryana.
Opposition to the new body came after a joint pastoral letter signed by the Archbishops of Delhi and Faridabad in November 2013 transferred the membership of the 24,000-odd SMC Catholics in Delhi to the new Faridabad eparchy from their respective parishes in the Latin rite archdiocese. Although, these families trace their roots to SMC ancestors in Kerala, several of them have settled in Delhi for decades and are more familiar with the Latin rites. Most of the children have lost touch with Malayalam and, unlike the Latin rite, which conducts services in several languages, SMC services are only in Malayalam.
An official survey among Delhi’s Catholics in 2002 recorded that only 12 per cent of SMC Catholics wanted a separate diocese and 75 per cent of them wanted freedom of choice in choosing the rite of worship. The dissenters, who have also invested in the Latin rite archdiocese by virtue of their contributions in building the community, banded together to form the “Syro-Malabar Faithful of Delhi Archdiocese” — to oppose their transfer.
“Priests are confused and SMC children, who are of age to join preparatory classes for sacraments of communion and confirmation, are being prevented. Few months ago, a man had to fly back from Kerala a night before his wedding to get a ‘status libre’ clearance from an SMC parish priest in Delhi as the letter from his regular parish priest was not valid,” said Kurien Joseph, former editor of catholic newsletter Voice of Delhi .
The dissenters approached Latin Archbishop Anil Couto, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, and the Apostolic Nuncio — the ambassador of the Vatican to India Salavatore Pennachio — to have the decision overturned but were not successful. Finally they petitioned the Pope in May this year to withdraw the edict.
Many have lost touch with Malayalam and, unlike the Latin rite, which conducts services in several languages, Syro Malabar services are only in Malayalam.”
Another report in the Hindu of August 11 titled : Caste card crops up in church tussle, by the same author reads:
The Hindu had reported on Friday that a group of Roman Catholic Christians, currently members of the Archdiocese, had petitioned the Pope to annul the Joint Pastoral Letter of 2013 that transferred them to the Oriental Eparchy, created in 2012.
The petitioners — who are early migrants from Kerala to the Capital — complained that multiple spiritual jurisdictions were creating practical problems in conducting marriages and baptisms. They also claimed that the Oriental Church promoted dowry and segregation of the sexes. In response to the report, the Eparchy’s Public Relations Officer Sajo Padayattil claimed that the opposition to the transfer was casteist.
“Apparently, this group (which wrote to the Vatican) does not want it because they want to be the “elite” in the Latin Church in Delhi and once they return to their homeland Kerala, they do not want to be seen belonging to Latin Church, which is considered there as OBC (Other Backward Community). Once in Kerala, they want to be the “aristocratic” Syro-Malabars,” he wrote.
Addressing the objection of the petitioners that services in the Eparchy’s parishes were only in Malayalam, which most of their children do not understand, Fr. Padayattil said:
“In Karol Bagh Forane Church, in Dwarka Church, in Noida Church and in Mayur Vihar, we have services in English and Hindi. For the youth, Masses and Jesus Youth Services are conducted in English or Hindi.”
Interestingly, the Eparchy has not denied the accusations of dowry and segregation, nor has it countered a church-supervised survey among Delhi’s Catholics in 2002 which recorded that only 12 per cent of SM Catholics wanted a separate diocese.
One of the petitioners to the Pope, Kurien Jospeh, who is the former editor of Catholic journal Voice of Delhi , termed the SM Church’s move as “ghetto-ization”. “
The entire history of this Church, as well as its attitude even today is to look down with contempt on what it calls “Latins” in Kerala. This latent caste system actively nurtured by the SM Church has led to deep resentment among Latins. This apartheid is solely of the SM Church’s making,” he told this paper.
“Growing up in a cosmopolitan city like Delhi, Malayalee Catholics, those who have been here for decades or who have been born here, have no concept of any distinction between “Syrian” and “Latin”, much less about superior and inferior,” he added.
The petitioners have met the Vatican’s Ambassador Salvatore Pennacchio and the Latin Archdiocese has ordered a status quo on the transfer after it became a diplomatic affair.
Members of the Archdiocese of Delhi had petitioned the Pope to annul Joint Pastoral Letter of 2013 that transferred them to the Oriental Eparchy; currently there is a status quo on the transfer.”
Vexing Inter-Rite Issues
Problems created by SMC in Kerala by its insistence for a “free status” certificate from SM parish headquarters in the region who does not know the person, and not from parish priests of his/her residence who knows them, and demanding a fee as exorbitant as 10,000 rupees for it in one instance, were the proofs, this writer was provided with by People in Chennai, for writing articles. Of course such things could have been very rare incidents, but they did happen.
“Ghetto Catholicism” – a contradiction in terms since Catholic means universal – was something plaguing the Catholic Church ever since the Constantenean era up to Pope John XXIII who opened the windows to the whole world with the Vatican II. This scribe used to write to jerk it out of its “Ghetto Catholicism” some 40 years ago as editor of New Leader in Chennai.
Finally the practice of looking down on the whole lot of laity like Sudras at the bottom of the Hierarchical ladder, good only to be ordered around by a superior class called clergy is an attitude prevalent in all sections of the Catholic Church, especially in the SMC.
Just because the word “laity” has acquired this low-caste connotation, today they call themselves “Church Citizens,” based on “You are citizen like all the saints and part of God’s household” (Eph.2.19) and the constant Papal exhortation for equality.
Example is: Almayasabdam Blog from Palai, started as the “Voice of the Laity”, now calls itself the “Voice of Church Citizens”.
Delhi developments send out the roaring message that Laity in the Church in India has come of age. It is foolish to expect them to settle for anything less than their birth right to be “Church Citizens” equal to anyone in the Church, whether Pope or pauper, as exhorted repeatedly by word and example by Pappa Francis himself.

23 June, 2014

R.I.P. SR. ERMELINDA A.C. Age: 99 ½ Xavier's parish, Navrangpura.

MOUNT CARMEL CONVENT
Navrangpura
Ahmedabad


R.I.P.
SR. ERMELINDA   A.C.
Age: 99 ½
Expired on 23rd June, 2014
Time: 5.40 a.m.
Funeral service at St. Xavier’s Church
On 24th June, 2014
At 9.30 a.m.


22 June, 2014

FATHER'S LOVE (an inspirational song by Gary Valenciano)

Thanks Fr Siddharth for being with us in Xavier's Parish

Thanks Fr Siddharth

Fr Siddharth Canisius has been transfered to St Xavier's School , Surat. He is no longer belongs to our Parish.

Fr P Siddarth Canisius SJ, joined the Society of Jesus (Gujarat Province) on 25 July 1984 and was ordained a priest on on 17 October 1998. His first appointment was to the Dang Missions. He spent about three months each in Pimpri, Shamgahan and Subir Missions. He has been both Hostel Director and Asst Parish priest in Unai Mission. After Tertionship (the final stage of formation in the SJ) in Spain was Minister of Premal Jyoti (Administratior) for three years. Simultaneously he has been the faculty of Gujarati Juniorate at Shradha. He has been serving in Our Parish for the past three years as assistant parish priest. He is known for his eloquence in Gujarati and knowledge of Indian music.


The Word Exposed - Gospel (June 22, 2014) with SL

15 June, 2014

TRINITY Sunday 2014

MOST HOLY TRINITY (A) 15 June 2014
John 3, 16-18
José Antonio  Pagola
Trust in God
The effort made by theologians through the centuries to explain in human concepts the mystery of the Trinity today hardly helps Christians to revive their trust in God the Father,  to reaffirm their adherence to Jesus, the incarnate Son of God and to welcome with  a lively faith the presence of the Spirit of God in us.
   For this it would accordingly be good to make an effort  to approach the mystery of God with simple words and a humble heart. We must do so by following closely  the message, deeds and the whole life of Jesus: mystery of the incarnate Son of God.
   The mystery of the Father is tender love and unfailing forgiveness. No one is excluded  from his love, no one denied his forgiveness. The Father loves us and seeks each one of his children through ways known only to him.  He regards every human being with infinite tenderness and deep compassion.  It’s the reason why Jesus always  calls upon him with a single word: “Father”.
   Our main attitude before this Father should be one of trust. The ultimate mystery of reality we believers call “God”, should never cause us fear or worry:  GOD CAN ONLY LOVE US. He understands our little, vacillating faith.  We should never feel sad about our lives, almost always so mediocre; nor be discouraged on discovering that we have lived for years away from this Father. We can entrust ourselves to him with simplicity of heart. Our little faith will do.
   Jesus invites us to place our trust in him. These are his words:  “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God. Believe in me too. “ Jesus is the living image of the Father.  In his words we listen to what the Father is telling us. In his actions and his behavior,  totally committed to  making life more humane,  he reveals to us how much God loves us.
   That’s why in Jesus we can find in any situation a real, friendly,  close-to-us  God. He fills our lives with peace. He has us change over from fear to trust, from suspicion to a simple faith in the ultimate mystery of life that is only Love.
   To welcome the Spirit that inspires the Father and his Son Jesus is to welcome in us the invisible, silent, but real presence of the mystery of God.  When we become conscious of this continual presence, there begins to arise in us a new trust in God.
   Our lives are fragile, full of contradictions and uncertainty:  believers or not, we live surrounded by mystery. But the mysterious presence of the Spirit is us, although weak, is sufficient to sustain our trust in the ultimate Mystery of life that is only Love.

Spread trust in God


The Word Exposed - Gospel with Sign Language (June 15, 2014)

26 April, 2014

2nd Sunday after Easter - very useful reflections

Second Sunday after Easter (A)

José Enrique Galarreta S.J.

Acts of the Apostles

The third gospel and the book of the Acts probably formed just one book, divided into two books later separated (before the year 150). There is a strong unity in them, not only thematic, but also literary, language, style etc.etc, which allows us to recognize a single author.

This author has been recognized by the tradition of the Church as Luke, and we have testimonies to the fact in documents of the second century. Internal analysis of the text shows us a Greek or very helenized Jewish Christian of the apostolic generation, who knows the Bible very well, with medical knowledge, a companion of Paul’s journeys (in the journeys he usually speaks in the first person plural).

With respect to the date and place of composition, we have no firm date from external data, and we must be careful with the dates the book itself gives us. Critics point out that it could not have been composed before the year 64 nor after the year 100. To recognize the intention and the method of working of the author let us remember the prologues of both books.

THE GOSPEL OF LUKE

 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning it seems good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.......


FROM THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

Ch 1.v1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instruction through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion while he was eating with them, he gave them this command . Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift my Father promised which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. V6 So when they met...


For this reason , this book is something like “The Gospel of the Church”. Events (Acts) are narrated of the first Christian community, because they signify the presence of God, of the Spirit of Jesus in that community.



REFLECTION

Hence, we are dealing with an account of great value. The author’s facts are well documented – we can even appreciate in his style the presence of different sources – and on occasion, he is a witness of the facts he presents, or receives first hand accounts of events. But we are not dealing merely with a book of history. What is fundamentally narrated is “History in the Spirit”, that is, the development of the Faith of the first Christian community. In this field there are some fundamental ideas:


1.     The proclamation of Jesus as Messiah.

It is the fundamental theme of the discourses of Peter and Stephen, and the meaning of the “miracles”.   Jesus is the one “we were waiting for”, he is the Messiah, who had to suffer and who is alive through the victory of the power  of God.

2.     The awareness of the Church of her missionary vocation.

In this sense the expansion of the Church in some particular missions is being narrated (Peter, Philip, Paul...)



3.     The message to the pagans

It is the first problem. The Church as a continuation of the Old Law, subject to mosaic precepts, or the Church as the New Covenant, having superseded the Old. The proclamation to the pagans poses this problem for Peter (Ch. 10) so that he will have to justify himself before the brethren (Ch.11). Paul will pose the same problem, and it will be one of the basic themes of the so called “Council of Jerusalem” (Ch.15)

There is, therefore, in the book a clear apologetic intention of the policy of Paul: the proclamation to the pagans (“they will certainly listen”) and the freeing from the ritual obligations of the old Law.


In short

In the Book of the Acts we find three components of much interest to us:

1.      A history of the first Christian community and its expansion. But “history” of the “gospel” kind, with a similar intention to that of the “historical” books of the Old Testament: history to show how the Spirit acts in that first community.

2.      A Christology the most ancient expressions of faith in Jesus, anterior to those elaborated by John and Paul. It is – almost the first stage of the answer of the Church to the great question about Jesus: “Who is this man?”

3.      An ecclesiology: there is no doctrine on the Church, but we see how the Church functioned and what she thought of herself, how she prayed, organized herself, solved problems...It is very useful for us to reflect on what is permanent and what is transitory in the institutions of the Church.


IN TODAY’S TEXT

We have a fairly idealized description of the first community. From other texts – even of this same book – we know that not everything went smoothly: there were problems, serious problems, regarding doctrine and organization. Here we are shown only “the basic spirit” of that community: common prayer, the eucharist, life and property in common, the appreciation of the people, the slow spread of the Church. Later other problems will follow and the persecutions.

THE FIRST LETTER OF PETER

We do not know when Peter left Jerusalem. We do know that he died in Rome in the year 64, in the persecution of Nero. It is not clear either whether this letter is of Peter himself. The ancient Fathers of the Church, Irenaeus, Polycarp, attribute it to Peter. But there are many other facts, the style, internal data and other factors which make it difficult to admit. The specialists are agreed – at least – that this letter reflects the preaching of Peter and  was written by someone in the circle of his closest disciples. The same letter ( 5,12) tells us who was his disciple – secretary: Silvanus. Some continue to attribute it to Peter himself. The letter hardly has any thematic unity. It skips from one theme to another.

The text has been brought in today to “accompany” the gospel, connecting it with the saying of Jesus: “Blessed are they who have not seen but believe.” And here we are dealing with the “second generation” of Christians, those who believe in Jesus through the preaching of the witnesses. We are at the beginning of “tradition”, the long chain of people and generations which hand down faith in Jesus from one to another. Although it is not that human transmission that produces the faith: that human transmission is only the vehicle  of the “power of the Spirit”. Peter seems to admire that power: You have not seen him and you believe in Him!”.

THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

We are dealing with the “conclusion” of the fourth Gospel.(Later, as we know, a second conclusion will be added.)Let us remember that after the scene with Thomas, the Gospel ends thus: Jesus did many other signs in the sight of his disciples that  are not written down in this book. These have been written down that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”



John, therefore, finishes by inviting us to faith in Jesus, the basic purpose of the four Gospels. This clearly defines the subject matter of these texts. They are a history of the faith: the author is relating how faith in the Risen One arose. There is at the end of the fourth Gospel four “times” of access to faith in Jesus:

Ø  That of John himself: he reaches the sepulcher, enters, sees the linen cloths and the burial cloth and then sees and believes.”

Ø  That of Mary Magdalene: she does not recognize Jesus until Jesus calls her by her name.

Ø  That of the disciples: Jesus shows them his hands, and his side and they “rejoice on seeing the  Lord.”

Ø  That of Thomas. The witness of the others is not enough for him, he is not satisfied with seeing, he wants to touch. Jesus invites him to do so. The Body of the Risen One is “touchable”.


The faith of John offers us, in the mouth of Thomas, the most elaborate testimony of faith in Jesus of the New Testament:”My Lord and my God”, a formula taken from the Old Testament applied here to Jesus. Hence the fourth gospel closes with the same profession of faith with which it began (The Word made flesh), continuing with the expressions which link the whole of this gospel (so that all honor the Father...”when you raise on high the Son of Man, then you will understand that I AM ...”I am in my Father and the Father is in me...”He who has seen me has seen my Father...”As the Father sent me so I send you.”).


It is a matter, then, of a double message, simple and vital: on the one hand, an advanced profession of faith in Jesus. On the other, the conclusion of the gospel looking to all those who will believe without having seen Jesus, by the witness of others.

In this way the fact that John does not “describe” the departure of Jesus is explained. For John, Jesus “does not go”. He continues present in the disciples, in the Spirit and in the Mission. The physical, touchable presence of Jesus has no importance.


REFLECTION

Using the stories of the  resurrection as a point of departure, we can ask ourselves innumerable questions: How long did the manifestations of Jesus last? One day? As it seems to be in Luke, forty, as in Acts, a week as in the first letter of John ...?

That body that could be touched, could also eat (Luke)... had therefore all the normal organic functions of a normal body? Did he pass through walls? Was he visible to anyone who happened to be by chance there where he showed himself, or was he visible only to those to whom he wished to show himself? ... And so on, dozens of questions, all of them useless. On asking ourselves these kinds of questions we suppose that the preferred value of these texts is to be accounts of happenings, but it is not so: the preferred value is to be witnesses of faith. And this is the basic theme of all of them: they believed in Jesus.

It was not easy to believe in Jesus: they had believed in him, but they had believed badly. They had accepted him as the Messiah they were hoping for, but hoped for badly. The Zebedees had even hoped for thrones on his right and on his left, all hoped that he would restore the sovereignty of Israel, and the glorious times of King David would return, and that all nations would come to Jerusalem to adore God in his (their) holy temple. They had hoped for all this, and all of it died on the cross. The terrible Sabbath of the Pasch was a day of despair, of the death of all previous faith.

Later (a day, a week, forty days ... a whole life time, who knows?)they recovered faith, their faith was reborn, better said, another faith  was born, because the previous faith was dead, thoroughly dead, buried with the body of Jesus in the sepulcher and sealed with the tombstone. This faith could be born only because the old faith had died. The old Davidic messianic faith could not change, it had to die to make way for the faith. Just as neither could the Temple of Caiphas change and adapt itself to the style of Jesus. It had to be destroyed. Even before it was physically destroyed, the followers of Jesus went on abandoning it, because the new faith did not need it; it was enough for them to gather in houses to share the bread, to celebrate the supper of the Lord.

The new faith is powerful. A faith that affects the pocket is very true. It was capable of working miracles, above all that all would feel as brothers and would live as such. And the ancient rites were powerful only because they managed money and power, but they were not able to change hearts, they could not produce conversion.

And so we have dealt with all the keys we need to reflect on the resurrection. It’s a matter of knowing whether we too have faith in Jesus, of knowing what kind of faith we have in him, of knowing if already so many strange faiths have once for all died the ones that prevent us truly believing in him, of knowing in what our paschal experience consisted and consists.

Moved by a paleolitic (old Testament) faith we suppose that the disciples believed of a sudden, struck by a spectacular grace. We believe that Paul was literally struck down ( we even paint him thrown down from a horse), we think that people followed the apostles in large groups when they saw them perform miracles...This did not happen even to Jesus; the people who followed him because of his miracles did not follow him in the conversion of their hearts. But it suits us a lot to  believe all those things because in this way we justify ourselves: they had an extraordinary experience, therefore  they believed in him and changed their lives. We have not had one, so we believe in the Jesus that suits us more and we hardly change our lives.
But we can ask ourselves: all those people who have changed their lives, who share and are compassionate, who work for peace, who do not serve money, nor status nor prestige, who are not slaves of the values of our “culture” of having a good time, who are truthful, who know how to forgive...and who live in this way because they follow Jesus, what paschal experience have they had? Has the Risen One appeared to them? And have they put their hand in his side?
The answer is NO. And it cannot be otherwise. God does not show himself from the outside, from above, with spectacular appearances, as a blinding exception. To experience God there is no need to look for spectacular events. The threatening lightening is not a good image of God. A good image of God is leaven. From within, slowly, in silence.
Something, from within, in silence, insistently, unstoppable, has led us from a mediocre knowledge to a profound intimacy, from a feeling of distant attraction to personal adhesion, from a mythical, sociological faith to an elemental and profound conviction.
Our paschal experience is a conviction that keeps becoming increasingly irrevocable, united to a feeling of attraction and adhesion ever more binding. Our paschal experience means that once we believed – in some way – in Jesus, through what had been taught us, because it was in our culture, because we thought it was a good system of thought and religious practices... for many similar reasons, all of them “from outside within”. But increasingly, we have been experiencing it internally, we have lived it in such a way that the knowledge, the persuasion, the adherence, are from within to the outside, as something felt personally, as one feels love for a beloved person, from within, without need of demonstration.
That experience is nourished, as everything that grows: it is nourished in contemplation, it is nourished in works, and it is nourished in community. The contemplation of Jesus multiplies the fascination and the adherence; deeds, as putting into practice of values and criteria, reaffirm the validity of the message; the community, the church, especially in the fraternal celebration of the Eucharist, spreads faith, makes us live in common our paschal experience.
Once more, we need to abandon our mythologies, our faith in disguised divinities, our tendency to identify the religious with the marvelous. Our paschal experience is our progressive consciousness of conversion to Jesus and to the Kingdom.
We arrive, at the end, at joining up with the beginning, with the first word of Jesus when he went to the villages and took to the roads of Galilee: Be converted! This is and will always be the key and the measure of our faith: our readiness to change, to change one’s God, our readiness to change to the God of Jesus, so that it is he who changes our lives.