St. Francis challenged to “Rebuild my church”
Almost 1,000 years ago Christ told St. Francis: “Rebuild my house.” Francis initially thought God was asking him to rebuild the run-down structure of a local church.
Over time he came to realize that Jesus was asking him build up the faith of God’s people in a God who loved everyone and every part of creation.
Have you ever thought about the challenge – rebuild the church of Christ?
One thing is certain it is an on-going task right to our day!
But let’s go back more than some 1,000 years earlier. What was it like to build the church from the ground up? What were the challenges faced by those who first built the Church?
Jesus left no rule book or handbook of best practices let alone an organizational flow chart.
Building the Church from scratch
Have you ever taken on a task but didn’t know where to begin? Where would you begin?
Acts 2:42 tells us early Christians “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.
But they faced challenges they had not expected.
True, it was natural for them to look to those who had been formed in his inner circle as leaders. They knew Peter was special. But he was still trying to figure out what “feed my sheep” meant!
What did Jesus mean “Do this in memory of me”? Was it only at Passover? When, where, and how were they to wash one another’s feet?
They knew the Jewish ways of gathering in the synagogue. Should someone continue reading from Hebrew scriptures? Should they build in some time to tell the stories they remembered from Jesus? (They had no New Testament yet.)
How often should they gather? We know they met regularly but not daily. They had to figure out where and when to gather. At first, they continued to meet in synagogues until they were cast out. Then, they met in the homes of their leaders.
“They held all things in common” and yet there were clashes.
In the face of all this It took them a while to sort out what was of value in their accustomed way of life and what their new way of life called for.
They faced so many external threats.
Over and over, the Christians were misrepresented, misunderstood, and portrayed as problem causers.
- In Antioch of Pisidia, when envious Jews heard Paul’s preaching, they contradicted, blasphemed, and outright “opposed the things spoken by Paul” (13:45).
- In Philippi, Paul and Silas were accused of troubling the city and teaching unlawful customs (16:20,21).
- They were described as people “who have turned the world upside down” (17:6).
The preaching of the gospel made people uncomfortable, upset, and yes, in some cases, angry enough to kill.
But that is not all!
When the gospel was preached
- families were divided in their response to it
- persecution raged and disciples were scattered.
Rebuilding the church today
In a sense, every successor of Christ faces the same challenge the early Christians, and later, St. Francis did.
St. John XXIII, in calling the Second Vatican Council used a maritime image for rebuilding the church … “scraping the barnacles off the barque of Peter” in a changing world. We are still scraping today!
Recently Pope Francis reminded us that the teachings of the Second Vatican Council are official Church teaching guiding us in rebuilding the church of our day. His own writings build on a process begun over 50 years ago.
This challenge calls each of us to the same personal conversion it called for in the first century and again in 1204.
What is my unique contribution to rebuilding the church today?
Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk