By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published May 26, 2011
Idyllic times from the past appear attractive to all of us! We all like to remember those moments when life was more harmonious and seemed more “user friendly.” No matter what our current age might be, each of us can recall a moment from the past that seems better than today.
The Book of the Acts of the Apostles is filled with the description of idyllic times for our Church. Those early moments of our history were overflowing with experiences that all of us perhaps wish we could now live and claim as our own.
Yet the ancient Church also faced incredible conflicts both from within the Church and from outside of the Church. We know that very many of those first Christians witnessed to their faith as martyrs. Still to listen to the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, as we do so frequently throughout the Easter season, those times often seem to have been ideal because the Holy Spirit was so obviously active in the lives of those early Christians.
Each era of the Church, however, has had its own conflicts and trials, and while some ages seemed to have been more graced than others, no moment in the Church’s history was ever without turmoil. Today we face the awful challenge of attempting to restore public confidence in the Church’s ministers and in her leadership because of horrible actions on the part of a few from our recent past. We must continue the ongoing struggle to defend the dignity of the human person from those first moments within the womb to those who are imprisoned and now more recently to those who may be residents in our nation without proper legal permission. We do so sometimes as voices that are few in number but strong in determination.
We are faced with the loss of great numbers of Catholics to the practice of our faith, according to many reliable statistical studies. The Church is striving to promote and to defend the unique character of marriage as a permanent union of a man and woman open to the gift of children in an environment that has placed a great tension between a false understanding of human freedom and the natural order of creation.
We face the challenge of proclaiming our Faith to a society grown cynical, more secular and even hostile to all organized religions.
There are powerful forces beyond the community of faith that would like to silence the Church’s voice in the civic arena regarding any dimension of public policy. No wonder some people would like to harken back to a day when we did not face these particular current impediments to our mission of evangelization. We Catholics cannot live in a yesterday that we imagine was perfect while forgetting the troubles that those yesterdays endured.
The Church’s calling is always to look toward tomorrow and not to seek security in an idyllic yesterday. That is why when we listen to the readings from the Acts of the Apostles, we need to hear not only the tales of great manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit, but also the willing encounter with suffering that those first believers endured. The serene days from the ancient Church included the willingness of our ancestors to confirm the Faith with the shedding of blood as a witness to the truth of the Gospel.
The constant from the ancient Church to our own days is the presence of the Holy Spirit who gave to those first Christians the courage to face all of their challenges and to triumph over them. That same Holy Spirit resides in the Church today. And in spite of our weaknesses, our sinfulness, our internal bickering, our fears and anxieties, God’s Spirit will strengthen us to face the challenges that are ours in 2011 and beyond.