5th Sunday of Easter, Year A
Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19 (22)
1 Peter 2:4-9
Throughout our Easter season our first reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles. Acts tells the story of the early church. If you read the whole story, you hear how the early church faced persecution and challenges. Today’s reading starts with the good news that “the number of disciples continued to grow.”
Growth is certain very good news, something we pray we begin to see today. Yet the growth was not without its challenges. God always provides for us in our challenges if, as our psalm response says, “we place our trust in you.” Jesus himself says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me.” Jesus leads on our way through our challenges.
What is the challenge they face? Jesus chose 12 disciples to become Apostles but as the church grew, it became too much for them to do all the work. So, they call forth others to take on a portion of the ministry. This is not a new concept. It is reminiscent of when Moses appointed seventy elders to share in his work and God laid his spirit upon the seventy.
In today’s passage, seven men are appointed to the task at hand. The Apostles “laid hands on them.” This is seen as an “ordination.” Even today, our ordination rites include the bishop laying hands on those being ordained. (The bishops are the successors to the Apostles). Our church considers these seven to be the first deacons.
If you continue to read the Acts of the Apostles, you will hear of “presbyters.” These were people appointed as leaders in each local community as the “bishops” couldn’t be everywhere. (See the letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus whom Paul appointed bishops). As the church grew in the first century following Christ, the role of “presbyter” grew into what we know today as priests.
In the centuries that followed we also saw the development of monastic and religious life. Last week we celebrated the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. When we think of vocations, our thoughts might often turn to the bishops, priests, deacons, and religious. Last week’s day of prayer for vocations focused on this but we all have a vocation. A vocation is take the gifts that God has given us and to use them for the building up of his kingdom.
For instance, married life is a vocation where a man and woman come together as husband and wife in a covenant relationship based on love that serves as a witness to the love that God shows us in the covenant relationship he has with us.
Today our society in our country celebrates another vocation, motherhood. Being a mother is not simply a task or a job. It is a way of life that forever changes the way women lead their lives. When a woman becomes a mother, she is entrusted by God with the gift of her children. A mother is no longer just concerned with her own needs or her spouse. A mother helps her children to become who God calls them to be.
Of course, mothers should receive help from the fathers. To do God’s work is not for one individual or one “class” of people. It was not just for the Apostles to do the work of the church. They, and the bishops as their successors, are called to be the leaders of the church but they do not do the ministry alone. It takes many.
We see this in the way we celebrate Mass. As the priest, I could do everything myself but the priest does not do it all alone. We have altar servers, ushers, readers, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and musicians (the last of which you probably don’t want me doing alone).
This should be a sign of what should go on outside Mass. It is not for the bishops, priests, deacons, and religious to do it all. On staff we have a Pastoral Associate to help in ministries like home visits. We have a Catechetical Leader who oversees our faith formation and youth ministry programs. We have a Finance Director and a secretary to work on the administrative tasks. We have a maintenance person to work on our building and grounds. We have a music director to lead us in our music ministry.
However, these people, along with me don’t do it all either. For instance, for Pat’s ministry as Pastoral Associate, we have parishioners who take Communion to the homebound and nursing homes. June has parishioners who volunteer to teach our children. Tim has the choir members and cantors who share in our music ministry. Gary is assisted by our Finance Council. I am assisted by our Pastoral Council in planning our future. We have a Building and Grounds team. There is our Rosary and Altar Society, our rummage sale and festival volunteers. My point is we all are called to help in some way.
I want to end with a prayer I first read in our diocesan stewardship materials but you find in various church resources. I’ll put it on our Facebook page and my blog. For now, I just invite you to listen.
My church is composed of people like me.
I help make it what it is.
It will be friendly, if I am.
Its pews will be filled, if I help fill them.
It will do great work, if I work.
It will make generous gifts to many causes, if I am a generous giver.
It will bring other people into its worship and fellowship,
if I invite and bring them.
It will be a church of loyalty and love,
of fearlessness and faith, and a church with a noble spirit,
if I, who make it what it is, am filled with these same things.
Therefore, with the help of God,
I shall dedicate myself to the task of
being all the things I want my church to be.
Taken from our diocesan Joy of Stewardship Manual