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A Beacon Of Light . . . Follow The Example Of The Early Church

April 19, 2021 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By FR. RICHARD D. BRETON JR.

(Editor’s Note: Fr. Richard D. Breton Jr. is a priest of the Diocese of Norwich, Conn. He received his BA in religious studies and his MA in dogmatic theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn.)

  • + + On April 4, 2021 we entered the joyful season of Easter which celebrates the Resurrection of Christ. This season extends seven weeks and includes the Scripture passages of Jesus revealing Himself to the disciples. Looking deeper into the Easter Season we find an important aspect of the Church. What do we find? We find the Church at the moments prior to her birth! We encounter Jesus, the Resurrected Lord, in the final moments as He gives the parting instruction to those He has chosen to lead the Church.
    Every year the Easter Season gives us the opportunity to journey with the Early Church. In the early hours of the morning of the Resurrection, the Church began to “go into labor.” She would begin to feel the pain of “childbirth” as she emerged from the tomb. Within these first moments the apostles and disciples are challenged to show their belief in the emerging Church.
    The first person chosen to trust in the Church was Mary of Magdala. Mary was the one caught in the act of adultery, whose heart had been transformed by the Lord. She was the first called upon to recognize the Lord, and in doing so, became the first to participate in the new Church. Scripture reminds us of this: “Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ She, supposing him to be the gardener, said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him, ‘Rabboni!’ (which is to say, Teacher)” (John 20:14-16).
    The second person to experience this new Church was, St. Peter. It was St. Peter who had denied the Lord three times, and it was St. Peter who became the rock or foundation for the new Church. The third encounter with the Lord happened in the Sea of Tiberias. In this revelation of the Lord to His apostles, Jesus calls the early Church to put out into deep waters and cast their nets to make a catch.
    “After these things Jesus manifested himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and he manifested himself in this way. There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples” (John 21:1, 2). Coming back from a fruitless night of fishing, they did not recognize Jesus standing on the shore. It was only when He told them to cast their nets again that recognition took place.
    Each of these moments could be considered a “final test” by the Lord before He entrusts them with the responsibility of leading the new Church. Just as a mother has to make sure her newborn feels secure in the new world just entered, so too Jesus wants to make sure the members of the early Church were secure in their new responsibility. As a mother nurtures her new child, Jesus was nurturing the new Church. Jesus expresses the character His new Church should have by using words like peaceful, simple, merciful, motherly, and trusting. Each of these words denotes the kind of Church we are all part of. Jesus erects the Church and she is perfect as He is perfect.
    But Jesus wasn’t naive about the struggles that would ensue. Aware of the difficulties that the “new church” would encounter, Jesus reminded His apostles of the strength they have to persevere in the journey they were embarking on. This is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. As Peter and the disciples were teaching in the Temple area, they were summoned by the chief priests, elders, and scribes and questioned by whose authority they were speaking.
    Peter responded by saying he was given the authority by Jesus Christ the Nazorean. In these early moments the apostles and disciples had to recognize they now were called upon to continue the works of Jesus. They had to dispel their fears and find the strength and courage needed to persevere. They had to access the inner core of the teachings Jesus had instilled in them during His public ministry. It was this “core teaching” that would lead them forward in establishing the Church we have today.

The Real Presence

Today as we deal with the struggles of life, and the struggles that lie within the Church, we need to return to the times of the Early Church and follow the example of the apostles and martyrs who persevered amidst the culture of their time. We are not that far off from the Early Church in the struggles of today.
Let’s think back for a moment to the difficulties the Early Church endured. What about the heresies? During the fourth century the Early Church had to fight the heresy of Arius. Arius denied the divinity of Christ and sought to make Jesus a sole human being. He preached that Jesus was not co-eternal with the Father, because He was created by the Father. The Early Church had to fight tirelessly against this false teaching. It was not until the Council of Nicaea in 325 that the Church affirmed the dogma regarding the hypostatic union of Christ and forbade and outlawed this heresy.
But was it really stopped? Don’t we see this heresy in another way present now in the Church? I raise this question because of the possibility that, without our realizing it, the Arian heresy may still be lingering seventeen centuries later! I’m talking about the belief in the Real Presence of Jesus. A few years ago there was a Pew Research Study that established there was a sixty-percent correlation of people who attended Mass on Sunday who did not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus. That there was a lack of believing that they were really receiving Jesus, God Himself! Isn’t this Arianism? Isn’t this a denial of the divine nature of Jesus?
Seventeen centuries later, as we profess the Nicene Creed each Sunday, the very creed that outlawed Arianism, we continue to see the ugly head of a lingering heresy.
My brothers and sisters: We need a renewal of faith! Pope St. John Paul II coined the phrase “new evangelization.”
This “new evangelization” must include a review and restoration of the basic truths of the faith. There have been generations of Catholics who received a “watered-down” understanding of Catholicism. I recently experienced this in my own family. In discussing the faith with my mother and my aunt, I was amazed that in the span of ten years, there was such a difference in how my mother and my aunt interpreted and experienced the faith.

The Faith We Have Received

Where do we go from here? I believe the tide is turning, if even slowly, and people are tired of “watered-down” Catholicism. People are tired of being placated. There is a growing desire to know the faith and appreciate it like the people of the Early Church. This country is quickly moving toward Christian persecution in an alarming way. This country has not seen the likes of the persecution the apostles and disciples felt. But, if we continue going down the path we are on, we are likely to experience it as well.
The twenty-first century has only just begun, and I believe we will see a tremendous persecution of the Catholic faith before it ends. But how will we fight the battle if the only armor we have given to the faithful is a watered-down understanding of the faith! We need to follow the example of the Early Church, whose members believed in the same faith we profess today. History often repeats itself and we need to be ready to fight the battle that lies ahead.
During this Easter Season, listen diligently to the readings at Mass. In them we will hear the journeys of people like St. Peter and St. Paul, leaders of the Early Church who fought to give us the Church we have today. Follow their example, for if we don’t, we may find ourselves standing in the streets like lost sheep, shedding our blood for the wrong reasons! As Catholics, we shed our blood for only one reason: To protect the faith we have received.

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