As the Pandemic and quarantine closed things down around the world, we closed our churches worldwide. We learned to live-stream Masses all over the world. Church attendance and revenues plummeted. Many of our institutions may be closed permanently as we emerge from the crisis. Things will be different. We are hearing wails of woe: “This is the end of the Church!” Or, “This pandemic is God’s punishment of the world!”
However, this is not the end of the Church. The pandemic is a huge, worldwide, world-changing event, but it is not the first pandemic the Church has experienced. The Church will survive and be even stronger. God is doing something. God is doing something with BIG blessings! We just can’t see them yet. Watch carefully. God’s Grace is at work. Pray to remain part of God’s plan. Do not be afraid. Do not lose Hope.
The events of today’s first reading likely occurred within the first two years of the Church after the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus. Jesus had foretold what would happen when the disciples began to go out into the world.
“ … you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
That is what happened. The Church witnessed in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth, just as he said it would, and in that order.
However, at first the early Church stayed in Jerusalem in its first couple of years. Nobody ventured forth. Now, observe what happened next.
The Greek-speaking Jewish Christians in Jerusalem began to complain to the Apostles about being discriminated against, especially in the care of their most vulnerable, their widows and orphans. The Apostles prayed and responded by giving the Church deacons, the first ordained clergy in the Church.
Then one of those Deacons, St. Stephen, was martyred in Jerusalem for his preaching. That event marked the beginning of the first major persecution of the Church. St. Paul, a Pharisee of the Temple, was one of the authors of that persecution. Many suffered and died. Many in the early Church fled Jerusalem.
In today’s reading from Acts we hear about another of those first deacons, Deacon Philip.
Philip went down to the city of Samaria
and proclaimed the Christ to them.
With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip.
Samaria? Jews would never go to Samaria. Samaritans hated Jews and vice-versa. But Jesus foretold that the faith would be preached in Samaria … from Jerusalem.
Now when the apostles in Jerusalem
heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God,
they sent them Peter and John,
who went down and prayed for them,
that they might receive the Holy Spirit,
for it had not yet fallen upon any of them;
they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Then they laid hands on them
and they received the Holy Spirit.
God was doing something BIG! Watch carefully.
It took a persecution to get the Church out of Jerusalem. Where did the Church go? The Church followed the Holy Spirit to the one place on planet earth where Jews would never go: Samaria.
The Samaritans received the faith and were baptized by Philip. However, they had not received the Holy Spirit. Only the Apostles could do that, just like our bishops do Confirmations today. The Church was following the Holy Spirit, and the Church was learning about the difference between Baptism and Confirmation. And in the midst of a persecution and adversity the Church was growing, responding, adapting. What was done in Samaria at that time is now done to the ends of the earth. And, one of the fruits of that persecution was the conversion of Saul / St. Paul, who would personally take those sacraments to the ends of the earth.
Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church responds and adapts in the face of obstacles, opposition, adversity and persecution. The Church adapts to new realities in adversity. Do you want a safe, comfortable Church? You are in the wrong Church. That is not our Church and not our faith. Do you want a Church free of limited Mass attendance and live-streaming? Do you think the Church will be reduced by the effects of the pandemic?
No. The Church adapts and grows. God is doing something new. Don’t be afraid. Be vigilant. God is doing something new and bold.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.
But you know him, because he remains with you,
and will be in you.
We were Baptized and Confirmed to become His witnesses, to the ends of the earth.
The faithful in our community have been participating in our live-streamed Masses in huge numbers. Last weekend, we had over 7,500 views, while an estimated 800 people attended in person our seven parish Masses outside. I don’t know where the Spirit is leading us. God is doing something new.