We hear the very beginning and the conclusion (or resolution) to a wonderful story in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles – a (maybe the) defining moment in the early Church after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is the event of today’s first reading in which the Church doors were opened wide to all – Jews and non-Jews (or Gentiles) – in which we became truly and literally a universal or catholic church.
See, there were many Christian Jews – Jews who had converted to Christianity – who had a misplaced understanding of our relationship with God. They thought, that adherence to rules (especially God given rules) defined our relationship with God. While rules are important and even necessary, our relationship with God is defined by faith, not simply an adherence to a set of rules.
We must have faith – a confidence and trust – in God the Father (our Creator), in his son Jesus Christ (our Savior), and the Holy Spirit (the fountain of God’s grace). It is faith that allows us to know and experience the great joy, peace, and love our God desires for us and offers to us here, now and eternally.
Faith flows from the grace of God. Grace is the courage, the wisdom, the patience to seek and grow in relationship with God. Grace is a gift from God – it is the gift from God promised by Christ in today’s Gospel. Grace is also a free gift from God, not something we can earn or merit. Finally, grace is made available to all, not a select few or elite – and this is what is reported to us in today’s first reading. Through grace we grow in faith, we grow in our relationship with God.
One of the most wonderful aspects of the story from today’s first reading, is of the impact that the faith of the Gentile-converts had on those who already believed. The Gentile-converts were filled with grace from the Holy Spirit. It was the strong and enthusiastic faith of the Gentile-converts that so impressed and inspired Paul and Barnabas. And it was the personal experiences of leaders like the Apostle Peter, who also witnessed the great faith of the Gentiles, which resulted in the greater understanding: that it is by faith that we are in relationship with God and that this relationship is for all mankind.
This story has caused me to wonder, and I invite you to ask this question of yourself: does my faith inspire others?
What I am asking of myself is whether my faith offers me an inner peace and joy, grounded in a deep trust in God, that is visible to others in what I say and do. What I am asking myself is whether I possess a hope in something bigger and better than what I know now or can possibly know AND whether others can see in all that I do and say is reflected in this hope.
This is the faith that we are called to experience – this is the relationship with God that we were made to experience – this relationship of faith that defines who we are - and it is this relationship that we are called to share with others.
As we begin this new week, Let us pray for each other that when our faith grows weak or falters, that we may be strengthened by the experience of God personally in Sacred Scripture and the Sacraments.
In such encounters with God, let us pray that we receive the grace from God that we need.
Filled with grace from the Holy Spirit, let us pray that our actions and words naturally flow towards the praise and thanksgiving for God and to the service of God and others.
Let us pray that through our faith, we may inspire others to a deeper relationship with God and so together we may experience the joy, the peace, the love that God desire for everyone.
May God bless you.