17 April 2013

And there was great joy in the city!

3rd Week of Easter (W)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

The Church in Jerusalem is being persecuted by the Jewish religious establishment. Peter and the Apostles are arrested twice and brought before the Sanhedrin to answer charges of heresy and sedition. Both times they are sternly warned to stop preaching and teaching in the name of Christ. Both times they defy the authorities and continue doing what they were sent by Christ to do. B/c the Apostles must obey God rather than men, the persecution is turning violent, and the Church is scattered “throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. . .” Saul is dragging Christians out of their homes and putting them in prison. By the standards of the time, none of this is particularly noteworthy. What is noteworthy is the reaction of the persecuted Church. We read in Acts: “Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.” Also of note is the reaction of those who hear and benefit from the apostolic preaching: “There was great joy in that city.” How does the persecuted Church defy the threat of prison and violence? How do we answer religious rejection and secular condemnation? We go about preaching the Word. 

The Church's extraordinary answer to persecution is extraordinary only if we fail to understand her purpose. If we believe that the Church's purpose is to create and defend a particular vision of western culture, then preaching the word in defiance of violent secular repression seems extraordinary. If we believe that the Church's purpose is to support the platform of a particular political party, or promote a particular economic system, then preaching the word in defiance of persecution seems extraordinary. If we believe that the Church's purpose is to provide us with a ready-made network of like-minded friends, business contacts, or just something to do on a Sunday morning, then preaching the word in defiance of the law, in defiance of all social pressure to stop seems more than just extraordinary; it's socially suicidal, downright dumb. However, since the purpose of the Church is to preach the word, preaching the word—even in defiance of persecution, esp. in defiance of persecution—is the most natural thing for her to do. Why? B/c when the word of God is preached, there is always great joy. The Good News of God's mercy to sinners always brings with it the blessings of freedom, healing, and peace. 

 It is the Church's nature and purpose to preach the word “in season and out.” If that's not enough to explain her defiance of persecution, then let this be enough: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Where would the hungry go to eat the bread of life if not the Church? How could anyone come to believe if there were no witnesses giving testimony? The Church is in the world to be the living sacrament of Christ, to point to and make present his saving power among the nations. Jesus says, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life. . .” How does anyone in 2013 “see the Son” and come to believe in him? Through the teaching and preaching and sacraments of his Body, the Church—alive and well 2,000 yrs after his resurrection. In defiance of persecution, social ostracism, ridicule, corruption, scandal, exile, and occasional defeat, alive and well for 2,000 yrs, living in his resurrection to preach the Good News of God's mercy to sinners. Our purpose is not victory. God has already won. Our purpose is to tell the world that He has won, and that He wants us all, everyone to share in that victory through Christ, His Son. 

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