Everything was held in common
The earliest Christians, says the Acts of the Apostles, were “of one heart and one mind.” They shared their possessions with each other, so that none would be in need. Some even sold their belongings and set up a fund to provide for all.
This great spirit of Easter charity did not last very long, but in later years those who founded religious orders revived common ownership as a part of their religious rules. Thus, when St. Benedict wrote a rule for his monks in the sixth century, he ordered, “Let all things be common to all.”
Human beings are naturally possessive. Not all of Abbot Benedict’s monks live up to the ideal of personal poverty. Once a monk of his monastery gave a spiritual talk at a nearby convent of nuns. To express their thanks, the nuns gave him a few handkerchiefs. Although the rule said that no monk should use anything he had not received through the Abbot, this monk decided he would keep the little gift as his own without mentioning it to his superior. He simply tucked the handkerchiefs in his habit.
He did not get away with it. When he returned to the monastery, Benedict scolded him: “How is it that evil has found its way into your heart?” The monk was puzzled, for he had already forgotten the handkerchiefs. But the misdeed had been revealed to Benedict. “Was I not present, he said, when you accepted those handkerchiefs?” The wayward monk at once knelt before the saint, begged his forgiveness, and handed over the compromising gift.
Holy Communion as practiced in the earliest church and in the religious orders was not something commanded by God; it was something embraced by loving choice. Is there indeed a better way of showing love for neighbor? Or of showing total trust that God our Father will provide?
…The community of believers were of one heart and one mind… everything was held in common. (Acts 4:32. Today’s first reading)
-Father Robert F. McNamara
B212: Thomas will be known forever as “The Doubter” because he had problems believing what Peter and the others claimed to be true (Jn 20:19-31). Isn’t it okay to seek real “proof”?
Faith itself is a pure gift from God to us, as well as our response to that offered gift. There is a great lesson in our gospel story today. It is this: Thomas was absent from the community when Jesus appeared. There is always a special Presence of Jesus when the community gathers in His name. We cannot benefit from that Presence if we are not there! God in His wisdom knows that alone we are fragmented; together we are united as a community of faith. This is part of the reason that God commanded the observance of the Sabbath Day by the community, gathered together in His name.
The Holy Spirit blesses the community with all the gifts they need. But the entire community must be gathered to exercise all of the gifts. Different gifts are given to different people, as St. Paul taught the Corinthians, but they are not given to us for our own glory. Rather, the spiritual gifts are given so that we will use them to help others, to “build up the body” (1 Cor 12:1-26). If you are not present in the community, then you are depriving the community of your spiritual gifts.
Elsewhere St. Paul teaches that faith comes from “hearing” and what is heard is the word of God. “And how can they hear without someone to preach?” (Rom 10:14b). Thomas could not believe at first, because he was not there in community when Jesus appeared. Today our faith depends upon this unity of community, which preserves the truth, that HE IS RISEN! The responsibility for protecting that Truth, and all other Truths that we receive from God’s revelation, is lodged in the Magisterium, the official teaching Office of the Roman Catholic Church.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Check your heart! If it is truly open to God’s revelation through the Church that he established, then you will seek and find that truth in and through community. “Peter” (our Holy Father, the Pope) leads this community and continues to speak this Truth through official encyclicals, and provides a catechism to guide us in our spiritual growth. Ask yourself: how often have I opened my Catechism in the last few months? Start afresh by reading CCC #26 and 31-38 about “proof.”
Q524: Why do we pray to the Holy Spirit, asking him to enkindle in us the fire of divine love (opening prayer)?
Let’s explore that question by looking at today’s readings. Our gospel story is one of the most “awesome” and hope-filled incidents in the entire gospel (John 20:19-31)! Just think about the all-important context for a moment: the disciples are scared, behind locked doors. They all remember. Jesus had been betrayed by one of the twelve apostles, Judas. He had been rejected by the religious leaders who should have been able to recognize that Jesus was the Messiah, the fulfillment of the covenant promises to Israel. His closest group of friends deserted him in his final hours. The most prominent member of that group, Peter, even denied knowing him. He had been condemned by the civil authority, even though Pontius Pilate had announced the innocence of Jesus. And then he was tortured and killed in the most painful way known to first century dictators, by crucifixion. Events like those, in the language of the Hebrew scriptures, would seem to call for the “traditional” revenge by the blood clan – or in the case of Jesus, the Son of God, through a justified rain of fire and brimstone. So perhaps those disciples were afraid of more than just persecution from the religious leaders? Did they not deserve to be “zapped” by lightning?
But instead, what do we witness (in today’s gospel story) after the glorious Resurrection of Jesus? He returns to his closest friends, itself a sign of mercy, and brings them the gift of peace. He forgives them, and empowers them to forgive others. He gives them the Holy Spirit, the very life of Christ himself – and commissions them to continue his work! He is especially patient with Thomas, who insisted on “evidence.” And he implicitly gives each one of us the gift of Faith to believe in his Resurrection and his Sonship, without seeing him at all!
That context and story speaks volumes about the mind-boggling Divine Mercy of our loving God, who is always faithful to his promises! All we can do is bow our heads in awe, beg forgiveness for our sins, and trust in his promised mercy. He is faithful to his promises!
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The gospels are written by those who were first to have faith, so that you, too, may believe that Jesus is the Christ (CCC #514). Action follows belief! Remember these commands of Jesus: be merciful, and love others as he loved us (CCC #2842). That is why we ask the Holy Spirit to kindle in us the fire of divine love!
Peace Be with You
There is much food for reflection in today’s readings. Let’s just focus on Jesus’ greeting to is disciples, “Peace be with you.” Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, was a conventional greeting in Jesus’ time. But Jesus uses it in a more profound sense; it is not just the absence of conflict. Shalom is that state of harmony and oneness with God and neighbor which Jesus came to establish. The reading from Acts gives us a vivid description of shalom/peace in action. It tells us that the “community of believers was of one heart and mind and had everything in common…there was no needy person among them.” As the first letter of St. John put it in a passage before today’s reading, “let us love not in word or speech, but in deed and truth.” While the early Christians did not always rise to these standards, they never forgot that the love of God demanded concern and commitment from every Christian for every Christian, and even for those who were not Christian.
Lord, by baptism we have become one with Christ. Help us to make visible the love that binds us together in compassion, kindness, and patience, and in the courage to forgive and be forgiven.