By the time the early Church reached the point described in this First Reading today, some of the original zeal of the Apostles had probably begun to wane.
In many of the new churches, there was already a good deal of arguing and wrangling over which of the Mosaic Laws must be obeyed and which could be discarded. Arguing over whether Christianity was a new branch of Judaism, or a completely new religion. Arguing over which of the Apostles was really the leader of the new church. Arguing because some of the communities thought they were being cheated on the common sharing of money and goods.
And as a sort of an increasingly dark shadow over the whole affair was the fact that the Romans were still very much around and were growing increasingly hostile.
So, in this reading, Luke pictures Paul as beginning to urge on the people the practice of another virtue. The virtue of perseverance. Luke writes in this First Reading, “They gave their disciples reassurances, and urged them to persevere in the faith with this instruction, ‘We must undergo many trials if we are to enter into the reign of God’.”
Perhaps that is the best that can be said about any of us. Christ tells us in the Gospel that the law for the New World is “Love one another as I have loved you”.
And certainly, Christ loved us with a great persistence. He was, after all, a human being with every human feeling, and to be surrounded
as he was by misunderstanding, hostility, lack of gratitude, and plain ordinary stupidity, the temptation to give up must have been very great.
Christ’s persistence was a lesson well learned by the early Church. That tentative beginning made by Paul and the others took root and lasted. And very often those who contributed most to the growth of the Church did so by virtue of nothing nobler than plain ordinary stubbornness – day by day perseverance, a determination not to quit, even when the reasons for continuing get cloudy, difficult to see. That, after all, is when faith becomes faith.
Well, for us, as much as for them, there certainly have been and will be again, times when understanding and charity will fail us, and we will be left with nothing on which to fall back but persistence. There will be times when the demands made by Christianity will seem senseless, times when the difficulty of loving seems almost insurmountable, times when peace, inner or outer, seems an impossibly elusive goal. But that’s alright. We will be judged, after all, not on the keenness of our insight, nor even on the nobility of our emotion. We will be judged, ultimately, on the consistency of our effort. There is really only one way in which the peace that is to mark the New Kingdom can ever be truly destroyed. That is for those who are called to be peacemakers to quit trying.