Message from Father Nick 8, 10th May 2020

Distribution of Alms by Masaccio, Cappella Brancacci, Florence, Italy

Who do you think you are? is a popular television series in which celebrities are invited to trace their ancestry, discovering “secrets and surprises from their past”. At some time or other we’ve probably all wished we could do that; it might help to explain a great deal about us. But it’s true in matters of belief as well. We rarely look beyond our own experience, and yet our faith story is so much bigger than that.

Today’s first reading helps to throw a light on our story. This scene of course takes place after Pentecost, and so far Luke’s picture of the Jerusalem community has been one of ideal harmony. But now for the first time we see problems arising: accusations that in welfare administration, Greek-speaking widows are being overlooked in favour of Hebrew-speakers. All of them are Jewish, but distinctions are being made between groups of people. It’s the old question: how do we cope with difference?

Very soon the Church will move into a bigger gentile world. In fact, with Paul it will become a mainly gentile mission. As well as the Hebrew Bible, Greek culture and philosophy will have an ever greater influence on its thinking. In Antioch there will be mystical currents of thought from the East, and from Alexandria will come a breath of Hellenistic Egypt.

Most visible of all will be the influence of Rome. Before long, that greatest of cities will go into its decline and the emperors will find a new home in Constantinople (Constantinople too will have its lasting influence). Responsibility for leadership in Rome will fall increasingly upon its bishop – the pope – as he remains at his post near the tombs of Sts Peter and Paul.

And all of this will shape the Church we know today. In her book Early Church Portrait Gallery, Maisie Ward describes the way three very different elements would help to make the future: old Rome itself with its traditions of empire and organization; the so-called “barbarians“, who would immigrate in large numbers and bring it new life and vigour; and the Church, still young, which would prove to be a “creating power training the wild new life and saving what could be salvaged of the old.”

All of these elements and more have gone into our make-up. Who do we think we are? – a people blessed by the inclusion of many fascinating differences.