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The Beginnings of the Church - Acts of the Apostles - Session 3
Dawn Mayer - June 26, 2021
By Mary Mosser, FSC Associate

In June, Dawn continued her presentation on the Acts of the Apostles. In our previous session, the focus had been on Peter, but the focus shifted to Paul during this session. Before our attention turned from Peter to Paul, we heard about a conflict that started in Chapter 11 of the Acts of the Apostles and was resolved in Chapter 15. In Jesus' time, Jewish men were circumcised. However, there were new Christians who were not Jewish and therefore, not circumcised. The topic of circumcision for non-Jewish followers was being questioned and debated.

In Chapter 11, we heard about Peter being confronted by circumcised believers when he was in Jerusalem. These believers were upset that Peter entered the house of uncircumcised people and ate with them. The uncircumcised people being referred to were Cornelius and his household that we studied in session two. While Peter was there, the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentile household of Cornelius. Peter recognized that the Holy Spirit doesn’t show preference to a specific group of people. Because of this experience, Peter defended his actions concerning Gentiles.

In Chapter 15, we heard opposing views regarding circumcision. Apostles and presbyters met to discuss this issue. After much debate, Peter spoke up reminding the group that the Holy Spirit came down upon the Gentiles. A decision was rendered by James the Just, the leader of the early Christian community in Jerusalem, that the non-Jewish believers did not need to be circumcised.

My take-away point from this part of the presentation was how the conflict regarding circumcision was resolved. People discussed their views and experiences, listened to one another, and then discerned the Will of God.

After the focus shifted from Peter to Paul, we studied the spiritual journey of Paul. Chapter 8 of the Acts of the Apostles speaks of Paul’s persecution of Christians. Chapter 9 of the Acts of the Apostles tells how Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus where he was struck blind. After this encounter, Paul met with the disciples of Jesus, his sight was restored, and he was baptized. At first, the Apostles were afraid of Paul because of his prior treatment of Christians. Paul was accepted among the Apostles because Barnabas, a member of the Christian community, guided and protected him.

Paul's three major mission trips are narrated in the Acts of the Apostles. The first mission trip began in Antioch where Barnabas and Paul were sent forth by the Holy Spirit. Some of the places they visited were Seleucia, Cyprus, Salamis, Paphos and Perga in Pamphylia.

At Antioch in Pisidia, Paul addressed the people in the synagogue. Paul spoke of Jesus' life, death and resurrection. He told those who were gathered that Jesus came to save all. On the following Sabbath, Paul and Barnabas were invited to speak again. Almost the whole city gathered to hear them. Some of the Jewish people were jealous. Paul told the crowd that they communicated their message to the Jews first. When that message was rejected by the Jews, they turned to the Gentiles. Paul proclaimed that they were commanded by the Lord to be a light to the Gentiles. The Gentiles were thrilled to hear this, and many became believers. Some of the Jews caused trouble for Paul and Barnabas and had them expelled from their territory. So, Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and moved on to their next destination.

On his 2nd mission trip, Paul accompanied by Silas, visited many places, including Derbe, Lystra, the Phrygian and Galatian territory, Troas and Corinth. Silas, a man chosen by the Apostles and presbyters, had previously journeyed with Paul and Barnabas to Antioch to deliver the letter concerning the decision about circumcision for non-Jewish believers.

During his journeys, Paul was able to heal those who were ill and banish evil spirits by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Philippi, Paul encountered a slave girl with an evil spirit who made money for her owners by telling fortunes. Paul removed the evil spirit, which angered the slave girl's owners, so they had Paul and Silas put in jail. There was an earthquake and the prison doors opened, but Paul and Silas didn’t leave. The jailer was relieved that Paul and Silas didn’t escape. He took Paul and Silas to his house to bathe their wounds. After Paul spoke with them, the jailer and his household came to believe in Jesus and were baptized.

The purpose of Paul’s 3rd mission trip was to strengthen the newly established churches, so he revisited places where he had previously been. Paul traveled through the Galatian country and Phrygia. He also spent time in Ephesus, Macedonia and Greece. Many people were healed at the hands of Paul. Cloths that touched Paul's skin were applied to the sick and their diseases left them or the evil spirits came out of them. When Paul was preaching in Troas, a young man named Eutychus fell asleep. He fell from a window of a three-story building and died. Paul restored Eutychus back to life.

Going back to the beginning of Paul's story, I am reminded that he started out persecuting Christians and ended up spending many years spreading the news about Jesus to the early Christian communities. I would have considered Paul an unlikely candidate to teach about Jesus and to spread the Christian faith, but God had other plans for him.

From Paul's story, I recognize that anyone, regardless of their gifts, background or past actions can be called to serve God. Another take-away point for me was the fact that Paul's 3rd mission trip was devoted to revisiting places he had already been. This point resonated with me because I believe that ongoing education and activities are essential to nourish my faith life.

The Beginnings of the Church - Acts of the Apostles - Session 2
Dawn Mayer - May 8, 2021
By Mary Mosser, FSC Associate

At the beginning of Dawn's presentation, she gave a short review of what had been discussed in the April 10th session. That presentation ended with Pentecost and the beginning of the Christian church. Dawn reminded us that Scripture is history and theology. Scripture as history gives a factual account to the reader of specific events. Scripture as theology speaks to the reader about their faith. Within the stories of Scripture, there were clues for the people of that time-period. For example, certain numbers in Scripture had specific meaning to the people of Jesus' time.

After Jesus died and ascended to heaven, it was a time of transition for His apostles and followers. Matthias was chosen as an Apostle to replace Judas and to restore their number to twelve, which reflects the 12 tribes of Israel.

As they had done all their lives, the Jewish people continued to meet in the Temple and gathered to break bread. Stories about Jesus were written to share with the next generation. The new Christians lived a communal life. They sold their possessions and gave all their material goods and moneys to be kept in common. It was easy for the new Christians to stay faithful to this way of life because they thought it was short term and Jesus would soon return to earth.

Conflicts began to arise in the communities. One complaint was from the Hellenists because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. The Apostles didn’t have time to resolve problems and serve the people. Their main mission was to preach the Word of God. Consequently, seven deacons were commissioned to serve the needs of the communities.

As Dawn presented stories from the Acts of the Apostles, she noted parallels to the Gospel of Luke. She also pointed out words and phrases that were important to the people of Jesus’ time. Dawn explained that Scripture is a "window" in that it speaks to the people of the era in which it was written. Scripture is also a "mirror" in that there are lessons to be learned and messages for people of our time.

Our group of Associates and Sisters was given a "window" and "mirror" exercise. We were divided into 4 smaller groups. Each small group was assigned a story from the Acts of the Apostles with questions to answer about our reading. Here are three of the questions from the exercise: Are there any references to geography, numbers, the Holy Spirit or angels? What do you think those first listeners would have heard in this story? What do you think this story has to say to us today?

My group was assigned the story of Peter restoring the widow Tabitha to life (Acts 9: 36-43). Tabitha was a disciple who was occupied with good deeds and almsgiving. She fell sick and died. Peter was in a nearby town, so the disciples sent two men to bring Peter to Joppa where Tabitha lived. When he arrived, Peter knelt down, prayed and brought Tabitha back to life, restoring her to the community. Many people came to believe in the Lord because of this miracle.

People of Jesus' time believed that it was important to care for widows so that part of the story would have caught their attention. Dawn pointed out a detail from the end of the story. In Joppa, Peter was lodged with a tanner. Tanners were considered unclean by the Jewish people of that time. This is something that the people would have taken note of because it conveyed the message that times were changing. The message to us from this story is that God took care of one whose life was filled with good deeds and almsgiving. It's also a reminder for us to ask for God’s help when someone is in need of healing.

At the beginning of her presentation, Dawn read the first reading for the next day's Mass from Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48. It was the story of Cornelius who was a Roman Centurion. Peter was summoned by Cornelius to speak at his house. While Peter was speaking about Jesus, the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and all who were gathered in his house. The believers who had accompanied Peter wondered how this was possible that the Holy Spirit fell on Gentiles. Peter responded, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?" Peter recognized that the Holy Spirit doesn’t show preference to any specific group of people.

Near the end of Dawn’s presentation, we discussed the story of Cornelius in more detail. Cornelius was a Roman Centurion. Most Centurions were mean and oppressive to Jewish people, but Cornelius showed them courtesy. Cornelius was a believer and worshipper of the God of the Jewish people. Cornelius prayed always. He gave alms and did good deeds and was praised by the Jewish people. Cornelius was righteous. He did the right things, even though he was a Roman centurion who was not Jewish. He feared God with his household and was a spiritual leader in his family.

When Peter was summoned by Cornelius, he didn't realize he would be preaching to a whole crowd; he thought only Cornelius and his family would be present. Peter preached to the crowd about forgiveness and then baptized them.

At multiple times during her presentation, Dawn highlighted stories from the Acts of the Apostles showing that Jesus came for ALL. The message from the story about Cornelius for the people of Jesus’ time is the same message for us. Anyone can be righteous, do good deeds and give alms. Anyone can be saved and have the promised salvation.

The Beginnings of the Church - Acts of the Apostles
Presenter: Dawn Mayer - April 10, 2021
By Mary Mosser, FSC Associate

After not being able to gather for over a year because of COVID-19, it was wonderful to see my fellow Associates and the Sisters who joined us for the first of three presentations on the Acts of the Apostles. Dawn started her presentation with an introduction and overview.

The Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke are attributed to Luke. The Gospel of Luke ends with the journey into Jerusalem where Jesus was put to death. The Acts of the Apostles starts in Jerusalem and tells of the founding and growth of the Christian Church.

After Jesus died and ascended to Heaven, His followers thought He would be back in a short amount of time. Decades passed and Jesus’ original followers began to die off. It became clear that Jesus was not coming back right away so His stories and teachings needed to be written down.

One of the first recorded sources for early Christians was Paul’s letters that were written around 50-60 AD. Paul traveled to spread Jesus’ message and to raise money to build up the Christian church. After he left a community of believers, he wrote letters to reinforce what had been taught and to continue instructing the community members.

Next on the timeline are the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John that were written to preserve the message of Jesus and His teachings for future generations. They were written at different times beginning with Mark’s Gospel written around late 60 AD, Matthew’s Gospel around 85-90 AD and John’s Gospel written approximately 90-100 years after the death of Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke were written around 80 AD.

At the beginning of Dawn’s presentation, we reviewed a handout that listed various topics and, as a group, indicated which topics were contained in the Acts of the Apostles and which topics were not. Some items on the list obviously belonged in the Acts of the Apostles, such as the Ascension of Jesus and travels of the Apostles. To my surprise, other items from the list were also genuine topics contained in the Acts of the Apostles. For example, stories with magicians, fortune tellers and people dropping dead.

Chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles contains the story of Pentecost. Before He died, Jesus told His Apostles that the Holy Spirit would come down upon them and clothe them with power from on high. After Jesus died, the Apostles hid because they were afraid that the same people who had Jesus put to death would come after them.

During Dawn’s presentation, we envisioned what the atmosphere was like for the Apostles and other followers of Jesus after His death and resurrection. This was a worrisome time for them. Jesus was gone and the people who had Jesus put to death were still nearby. Even the descent of the Holy Spirit may have begun as a frightening experience as depicted in
Acts 2: 1-3:

"When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them."

Many of us have been through one or more events in our lives that frightened us so we can
sympathize with the Apostles. Somehow, we managed to push through our fear and keep going. Dawn brought up an example a little closer to our own time. The foundress of the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago, Mother Mary Theresa Dudzik, felt the need to serve God by taking care of the elderly and orphans. Surely, she was scared at times, but she pushed through her fears and with God’s help, was able to accomplish what she set out to do.

After the Holy Spirit came down upon the Apostles at Pentecost, they went out to preach and heal in Jesus’ name. Hearing stories of the risen presence of Jesus inspired people to become followers of this new movement. They were faithful to Jesus’ message and were eager to spread that message. The early Christians were passionate and stood firm in their beliefs. At times, following this new movement came at great cost to them, their families and even their lives.

During Dawn’s presentation, a comparison was made between current events and the early Christian believers. For more than a year, we have lived with restrictions due to COVID-19. Soon after the restrictions began, Mass was moved online at many churches. For some people, it has been over a year since they gathered with others in a church for Mass. The lockdown has changed us. We formed new habits for many parts of our lives, including Mass attendance. Some people will gladly come back to Mass in person, but others will not. Thinking about the early Christians, their faith and their passion, the following question was given for our reflection: "How would we inspire, engage and energize the people of our time to gather once again for Mass as a community?"