Lesson 1 Acts of the Apostles

acts of the apostlesHi ladies,

Karen and I wanted to welcome you all once again to our study and especially to our “not so small” small group. We are both so excited that you are here with us to share our study of Acts of the Apostles and Letters of St. Paul.

As Karen and I told you on Tuesday, we both like to use this email format to keep in touch with you, to remind you of important dates and/or impart necessary information about a lesson we are studying. In addition, during our own studies of a lesson we often think of something or find some poem, quote or writing that enhances our appreciation of the lesson. We will share with you what we have found. Perhaps pondering this additional information will be useful to you. If not, it is easy to discard what we have shared.

Please remember that some of the lessons will be long. Waiting until Monday night to begin your lesson is a mistake, as it takes several hours to read the material and thoughtfully answer the questions. I have found it useful to spread the work over several days, as doing it all at one sitting tires me out, and then I don’t “do” my best work. Always read the referenced Bible chapters and verses first. Then read the commentary provided in your textbook. Only after reading both the Bible and the commentary should you proceed to answer the questions. If possible read the Bible out loud, as Holy Scripture is meant to be proclaimed.  Any time that we can involve more than one of our senses – as our eyes to read and our ears to hear – learning the material becomes easier and more meaningful for us.

We did not pass around a volunteer sign-up sheet for the Dominican Sisters’ Open House which Jane Delaney talked about in our large group meeting. If you would like to provide cookies or water for the event on the 19th of September, please bring the items with you to class next week.

During our meeting on Tuesday I passed around two greeting cards which my sister Christine had sent to me. Christine always chose her greeting cards carefully and had a habit of underlining words or phrases which she really wanted the receiver of the card to know, words which had special meaning to her. I believe that God underlines words or phrases for us as well – words or ideas that He really wants us to know. God’s “greeting card” can sometimes be the Bible. When we carefully read the Scriptures, words or phrases seem to be highlighted for us or they may be words or phrases which we keep thinking about. For example, the words in Acts 1:8 “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Samaria and to the ends of the earth” seemed to be highlighted for me. So I spent some time thinking about those words.

New beginnings have always exciting for me. I can remember looking forward to the first day of school, when I would receive new textbooks and meet new teachers. There was the promise of new things to learn, new friends to make, new adventures on the horizon. With that in mind I wondered how the Apostles felt when Jesus said “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” That was certainly a new beginning for the Apostles and a scary one at that.

For three years the Apostles had traveled with Jesus, walking from Galilee through Samaria, all the way to Jerusalem. They may have retraced their route several times over those three years, as faithful Jews were expected to celebrate major feast days in Jerusalem and worship at the Temple, if at all possible. As they traveled with Jesus, the Apostles would have shared meals with Him, listened as He taught the crowds who followed Him, witnessed the many miracles He performed. The Apostles spent nights sleeping under the stars, warming themselves around a campfire or sharing accommodations a friend or believer in Jesus had provided. But always Jesus was there, at the Apostles’ side, comforting, protecting, and encouraging them. How frightening this “new adventure” would be now that Jesus had returned to the Father. Perhaps the Apostles wondered, as I certainly would have, “how will we ever accomplish the task the Lord has left for us to do?” “To the ends of the earth” is a huge assignment.

As I continued to imagine the scene on Mt. Olivet on that Ascension Thursday, I realized that through the Holy Scripture Jesus was giving me the same mission of evangelization which He had given to the Apostles. It is unlikely that I will travel to Samaria or even Jerusalem, much less traverse the whole world. But every day God places people in my life. Some days those people are my family or friends; other days when I am out and about, there will be friends or even new people whom I have never met before at the grocery store, the library, or the bank. Every single day I have a chance, and a choice, to share Jesus’ love with those He has placed in my life.

My prayer for Karen and myself, and for you too, this year of our study, is that we take Jesus’ commission to heart, that each one of us goes out to our own “whole world” – on the paths we walk and in places where we live – and continue the Apostles’ mission. Jesus promised to be with us always, walking beside us, blessing our efforts, loving and assisting us just as He had accompanied the Apostles before us. We need only to begin the journey, then trust that Jesus will be with us on the way. This year of Scripture study promises to be a great and grand adventure for all of us. It is time to begin the journey.

May God bless each of you as you study this chapter and continue to fall in love with God’s beautiful Word.

Karen and Franciene

Lesson 2 Acts of the Apostles

acts of the apostlesWe hope that you are enjoying our study this week of chapters 3-5 in Acts. There are so many wonderful things to ponder in these chapters, and I feel like we have begun an exciting adventure together in studying and discussing this beautiful work.
And thinking about Jesus telling the disciples that they will be His witnesses, reminds us that this enterprise includes us, as well. One of the things that really inspired me in these chapters is the comment that Peter makes in chapter 3 verse 6, when he and John are approached by a lame beggar for the gift of alms. I was impressed at how Peter has taken charge of his commission by Jesus to be a witness to His love and power in the world, and how he sees this experience with this beggar through the perspective of eternity. When he is asked for alms, he responds by making sure that the man who has approached him really looks at him, and will listen to what he has to say. Then he tells him “I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise and walk.” In the commentary for this chapter in our workbook on page 21 the authors tell us that Peter is offering this man a far greater gift in the healing of his body. They go on to say that one of the signs for the Messianic age was the healing of the lame, and that Peter does not heal the beggar in his own name, but “in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth”. Peter has certainly taken his commission seriously, and trusts that God will work through him and in his cooperation.
It makes me think of times in my life when I felt like I didn’t have anything specific to offer to a loved one, or a troubled situation, or a painful surrender, that was “silver and gold”–something of tangible value that I felt would help in some practical or immediate way. And then–in the silence of our heart where we hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit–I can remember realizing that I was looking at things from such a short-term perspective, and that it is so easy to just focus on a pressing and immediate need, like the lame beggar and his need for alms for food or medicine. But I wonder how many miracles we have each participated in when we surrender that need with our prayers in Jesus’ name for God’s will to be done as He wants it to be done, with the perspective of eternity, which we know is always to heal and make whole and draw that person closer to Him. These miracles that we read about in Acts are still being performed today, and God is continuing to work through new witnesses in each generation.
There is a wonderful commentary by St. Gregory the Great on this topic, and it reminds me of this ongoing cooperation with God’s grace that Peter begins in these chapters of Acts. St. Gregory wrote:
“For the faith of believers to grow it had to be nourished with miracles…Let us take a closer look at these signs and wonders. Every day the Church works in the spirit what the Apostles once did in the flesh. When its priests lay their hands on believers through the gift of exorcism, forbidding evil spirits to dwell in their hearts, what else are they doing but casting out demons? And what else are we doing when we leave behind the language of the world for the words of the sacred mysteries, when we express as best we can the praise and power of our Creator, if not speaking in new tongues? When we remove malice from another’s heart by our good word, are we not, so to speak, picking up serpents? And when we hear the wisdom of the world, but choose not to act on it, surely we have drunk poison and survived. As often as we catch sight of our sister or brother stumbling on life’s path, and we gather round them with all our strength, and support them by our presence, what are we doing but laying our hands upon the sick to heal them? Surely these miracles are all the greater because they are spiritual; they are all the more significant since it is the heart and not the body which is being restored.”
I imagine that Peter was pretty daunted by this task he was given by Jesus, and especially to be the leader of this small band of witnesses who were sent to renew the whole world! And I think that we find Peter so believable and likeable because we can see ourselves in his earnest but sometimes misdirected efforts, his speaking before he thinks, and also his deep love for Jesus and his trust in Him. These chapters reminded me of how when we live and act and trust “in the name of Jesus of Nazareth” we can also participate in great and wonderful things that have consequences far beyond what we can imagine. May we be more aware of this as we witness to Jesus in our lives, and in our efforts to bring His love to others in our world.
As always, we can learn so much from our study and discussion together. Feel free to contact either Franciene or me if you have any questions or concerns. We hope that you all are enjoying a blessed week, and we look forward to seeing you next Tuesday.
You all are in our prayers,
Franciene and Karen

Lesson 3 Acts of the Apostles

acts of the apostlesKaren and I decided to send this out early, as there is a difficult question in our “Come and See” workbook. Question 5 asks us to explain the three degrees of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The information is in the Catechism. However, there is not enough room on that entire page in the workbook to completely answer the question. So we have a suggestion: read all of the Catechism paragraphs to which the workbook directs you. Then copy as your answer the last paragraph on page 28 which starts with “The Church recognizes three major orders…” through the end of that paragraph on page 29. Our teaching director, Jane Delaney, offered that suggestion in our facilitators meeting yesterday. Of course, you can copy all of those paragraphs from the Catechism, if you wish to do so.One of the ways in which I study Scripture is by imagining myself in the scene. This has helped me understand the motivations and actions of the characters I have read about. I was interested in the scene of Stephen’s speech to the Council in Chapter 7, verses 1 through 53. By placing myself among the crowd, listening to Stephen and then hearing the reactions of the crowd to Stephen’s words, it was easy to be “carried away” in anger at Stephen, as the crowd was.  At first Stephen gives an overview of Jewish salvation history, but as he reaches his conclusion, perhaps even pointing his finger at those who were attending (verses 51 through 53), the crowd becomes angry, for Stephen has accused them of killing God’s messenger, the Messiah. That is not something the religious authorities or the common person would have wanted to hear.

I thought, too, how easy it is to be “carried away” by the crowd at a football or soccer game, by a political speaker, by someone who uses our emotions to control us. I remember reading in a psychology textbook years ago that there is a different dimension to people’s behavior in a crowd – what a person will do as part of a large group is often very different than what someone would do by himself/herself. If only the crowd at Stephen’s trial had stepped away for a bit, thought about what he had said, perhaps they would have reached a different conclusion. The results for Stephen would have been different as well.

Lesson 4 Acts of the Apostles

acts of the apostlesFranciene and I hope that you all are enjoying this lesson on Chapter 8 in Acts, and that you are gleaning some new insights from these stories that we may have heard so many times before. I often notice that each time I read a short story from the Bible, I will see some new perspective on something that I hadn’t noticed before, and I think that’s why we can continue to hear these stories again and again, and they never seem the same to us
This was an interesting chapter to read and ponder this week. One of the things that stayed with me after reading the chapter this time was the story of Simon the magician. I guess that our human interest in things that amaze us is not new. It sounded like his audiences were very impressed with him, and verse 10 says “They all listened to him, from the least to the greatest, saying ‘This man is that power of God which is called Great.'” The text goes on to say that they all listened to him because he had amazed them with his magic, and I can only guess that he must have made some kind of predictions or pretended to have some power of their environment. How easy it is to get caught up in that kind of phenomenon! I love what our Catechism says about this in #2116:
“All forms of divination are to be rejected…conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future.” It goes on to list things like consulting horoscopes, palm reading, recourse to mediums, etc, and says that these things “all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect and loving fear that we owe to God alone.”
I think the last line of this is so important–at least it really spoke to me during this weeks’ reading. “They contradict the honor, respect and loving fear that we owe to God alone.” And of course, when the word “fear” is used here, I think it really means “awe” or a loving respect that is proper in the creature in relation to the Creator. While I certainly enjoy reading a good 19th century ghost story, and I can remember coveting a ouija board when I was a child (one of my friends had one) I think the important thing that the Catechism is reminding us is to avoid is anything that might “conceal a desire for power over time, history, and in the last analysis, other human beings…” It makes me think of how Adam and Eve chose the same sort of thing in the Garden of Eden, when they wanted to be as wise as God is, and people continue to want to be in control of things that we really have no control over.
I guess that our human nature has not changed much over time, and I have often noticed psychics and fortune tellers in small businesses along the access roads to highways in some areas. It seems that as we face problems or struggles or someone we love is in danger, many people turn to these “magicians” who they believe can jump ahead in the story and tell us how things will end. And I know that I could win a prize for worrying–if one was ever offered–and I often will “jump ahead” in my thoughts of what might happen when I am worried about something or someone.
But yesterday’s feat day of St. Therese of Lisieux reminded me of how her writings always speak of the trust and unshakable confidence we should have in God alone. I’m beginning to think that even my worrying could be a lack of complete trust in God’s mercy. When we love God and know in our bones that He created us out of nothing, sustains us each day, and loves us more than we could ever imagine, and when we feel His healing forgiveness when we are sorry for our mistakes, how can we truly doubt that we are in His hands and that He surely knows better than I do what He is doing?
One of St. Therese’s most famous statements from her autobiography reminds me that prayer is what takes us out of ourselves and our worries and unites us and all those we love and hold in prayer with the heart of God.
“For me, prayer is an upward leap of the heart, an untroubled glance toward heaven, a cry of gratitude and love which I utter from the depths of sorrow as well as from the heights of joy. It has a supernatural grandeur which expands the soul and unites it with God.”
As always, we can learn so much from our study and discussion together. Feel free to contact either Franciene or me if you have any questions or concerns. We hope that you all are enjoying a blessed week, and we look forward to seeing you next Tuesday.
You all are in our prayers,
Franciene and Karen

Lesson 5 Acts of the Apostles

acts of the apostlesKaren and I hope that you are enjoying this lesson about the conversion of St. Paul. What an amazing story it is! God took the “raw material” of Saul’s heart and life and created a person more in line with what He had originally intended when He formed Paul in his mother’s womb. God often does the same with us. If we stray from God’s intended path for our life, as I did and still do at times, corrective action is needed by God, if we are to fulfill our original promise and purpose. That corrective action is often painful, as it was with Saul.

“But Saul , still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Acts 9:1-2

Have you wondered what happened to the pregnant and nursing mothers and their children when Saul was “rounding them up”? Were they caught in Saul’s net as well? How many early Christians died at the hands of Saul and the leaders of the Sanhedrin? Those early martyrs are nameless and faceless to us, yet they stand in their white robes at the side of God, praising Him and praying for each one of us and the Church.

Our textbook tells us that the first written testimony about Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus was written by Paul himself in Galations 1:13-24. Isn’t it interesting that Paul leaves out all the extraneous details and quickly gets to the ‘heart of the matter”? Paul tells us that he had “advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors”. We can surmise that the story of Saul’s conversion must have been told and retold many times in many different places, perhaps so many times that the story often preceded Paul’s arrival. St. Paul gives us “just the facts” as he sees them – God had set Paul apart before he was born and called him through His grace, revealing His Son Jesus to him. St Luke “fleshes out” the story somewhat, giving us the time and place and manner of God’s definitive call. St. Luke’s details give us so much more to ponder.

What did Saul do during those three days when he was blind? The Scripture tells us  that he neither ate nor drank during that time of waiting. As our textbook relates, “to be struck blind himself would mean that God’s favor had been withdrawn from him as a consequence of serious sin”. Perhaps Saul spent the time praying for God’s forgiveness, asking for God’s mercy and trying to fit his knowledge and experience of life and the Law into what had been revealed to him on the Damascus road. We often do the same when confronted by a difficult experience. We try to make sense of it; we try to incorporate new ideas into the way we live and think. Sometimes that pondering changes our life’s direction, as it did mine.

I imagine Saul remembered from his studies how often the prophets spoke of what God wanted from His people, as in Hosea 6:6: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”. Where was the mercy in Saul’s actions against the early Christians?

Or did Saul think about Jeremiah’s prophecy in Chapter 31 – “See, the days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt… But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

What an adventure awaited Saul – his life turned upside down, his chosen direction in life interrupted and changed by God’s grace and call! And what about me? Have I listened to God’s voice and answered His call? I pray that it is so.

May God richly bless you as you study His Word,

Karen and Franciene

Lesson 6 Acts of the Apostles

acts of the apostlesFranciene and I hope that you are enjoying these Chapters 10-12 in Acts.They are as full of adventure as any modern movie in recording some of the early years of the Church, and record the first martyrdom among the twelve apostles, James. It was certainly a tumultuous time to be a follower of “the way” and a believer in Jesus Christ.
One of the things that stayed with me as I read through these chapters again is the behavior of the members of the early Church in Chapter 12 verse 5, when Peter is imprisoned by King Herod and is under heavy guard there. The verse reads “So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the Church.” The footnote in my Bible said “Early believers fought the battles of persecution on their knees. It is here implied that Peter’s upcoming rescue is God’s answer to the intercessory prayers of the Church.” Hasn’t this practice continued on into the present day?
In the Catechism’s section on intercessory prayer, # 2634-2636, it tells us that the first Christian communities lived this form of fellowship intensely. “The intercession of Christians recognizes no boundaries: ‘for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions,’ for persecutors, for the salvation of those who reject the Gospel.” These early friends of Peter and all those who were members of the growing Church must have prayed so earnestly for Peter’s release and for his continued ministry on behalf of the new Church. We certainly continue this tradition today.
In # 2635 in the Catechism in that section on intercessory prayer, it says “Since Abraham, intercession–asking on behalf of another–has been characteristic of a heart attuned to God’s mercy.” We may not often think of our intercessory prayer in those terms, but certainly it is in God’s mercy that we hope and trust when we pray for ourselves and in particular for others in the various necessities of life. I think that we first have to be convinced of God’s love and mercy for His creation, and to feel very grounded in it, and then we can proceed to ask Him for help for ourselves and those we love. And how God must love to be asked! One of the Doctors of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila wrote “We pay God a compliment when we ask great things of Him” and I believe that this pleases Him because it shows our confidence in His merciful love.
And since that sentence in the footnote for verse 12:5 stayed with me that said “Early believers fought the battles of persecution on their knees”, it made me think of the battles that we each have probably fought on our knees. When we pray for the life and growth of the Church, and the safety of missionaries in harm’s way, and for more vocations to the priesthood and religious life, aren’t we helping fight the current battles of persecution on our own knees? It makes me think of times when I have fought any kind of a personal struggle, from a painful betrayal or a heartbreaking loss or a setback of any kind, and I think of the times I spent enduring and grappling with those struggles while on my knees praying for light in the darkness. I can also think of times in my own life when I’ve faced a struggle and have felt like I could handle it on my own, and I have not turned over my broken heart of my sense of control to God’s hands where He will surely make something good out of it. When I look back over my own life, I can see a difference in how much good has come out of the times when I spent that time on my knees and sought God’s help in the struggle, and I suppose that the early members of the Church had the same experience from their prayers.
We can learn so much from each other in our study and discussion together, and I look forward to our Tuesdays. As always, feel free to contact either Franciene or me if you have any questions or concerns. We hope that you are enjoying a blessed week, and we look forward to seeing you next Tuesday.

Lesson 7 Acts of the Apostles

acts of the apostles

Hi Ladies,

Karen and I both hope you are enjoying lesson 7 on the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas. What an exciting and fulfilling adventure the two men had together! In St. Luke’s writings we have the sense that he is  just “hitting the high points”, omitting a lot of details which he leaves for us to imagine for ourselves. We learn in these pages of Acts of the Apostles how the early Church was formed and spread. We witness some of the problems which evolved over time, and the solutions which were discussed to solve those problems.

In each lesson we study there are always some statements, either in the Bible or in our textbook commentary, which puzzle me. The following verses created a question for me.

Acts 13:1-2 “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

According to the commentary from the Navarre Bible, “worship of the Lord includes prayer, but it refers primarily to the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the center of all Christian ritual….The Eucharist provides a Christian with the nourishment he needs, and its celebration causes the Church of God to be built up and grow in stature.”

Having spent a large part of my life in the company of men who were always trying to figure out “how things work” and “why things work as they do” (both my dad and husband were engineers), it was natural for me to question how exactly the Holy Spirit spoke to the five men in Antioch. Historically, when God wanted to communicate with an individual, He spoke through a burning bush, or His voice came “booming” out of the clouds, or He sent angels to deliver His message. St. Luke doesn’t tell us how the Holy Spirit spoke to the five men, only that He did.

St. Luke writes that the men were worshiping – celebrating the Eucharist – and fasting. Perhaps after their prayer and fasting, the five men might have shared a meal and talked with one another about the Antioch Church. They might have remarked how the Church was growing in love and faithfulness, how peaceful it had been between the Jewish people and those believers now called Christian, perhaps even congratulating themselves for the fine work the Church was doing. At some point in the conversation, someone might have asked: “but are we fulfilling the Lord’s mission which was given to us? The Antioch Church is doing just fine now. Didn’t Jesus tell us to go out to the whole world and spread His message of God’s love and forgiveness? How exactly are we doing that by sitting here in Antioch, patting each other on the back?” As the conversation continued, the idea of evangelizing in Barnabas’ home country, Cyprus, might have come up. Who better to send than Barnabas, who knew his country and its people? And who better to accompany Barnabas than Paul? After all, Paul had been “on fire” for God his whole life and seemed always eager to spread Jesus’ message. Paul was younger and perhaps more vigorous than Barnabas and was known as a good teacher.  As the conversation continued, plans were set as to the route the new missionaries would take and the cities they would visit. Funds and other supplies were gathered for the journey. Perhaps the whole Antioch Church met to pray for the mission and to “lay hands” on the two men and wish them “Godspeed”.

Is this how Paul and Barnabas’ mission came about? I don’t know, as I am only imagining a possible scenario, so don’t take my word for it. Think and pray about it yourself, if you are curious. Just because there wasn’t a “booming voice coming from the clouds” does not mean that the Holy Spirit didn’t put the idea for the missionary work in the men’s minds and hearts. As the Church has told us, God speaks to us constantly. Sometimes, we open our minds and hearts and actually hear Him.

Catechism 858 – 859 “Jesus is the Father’s Emissary. From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus “called to him those whom he desired…And he appointed twelve, whom also he names apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach (Mk 3:13-14) From then on, they would also be his “emissaries”… In them, Christ continues his own mission. Jesus unites his emissaries to the mission he received from the Father…Christ’s apostles knew that they were called by God… as “ambassadors for Christ””.

Nearly 2000 years later Christ’s message of love and forgiveness has been spread to every corner of the world. But there is still much more to do, as our recent Popes have told us. Too many people who once followed Jesus have fallen away from the faith. Still others in our own culture are either ignorant of the real message or are antagonistic to it, believing that the “rules” of the faith will take away their freedom to act as they want.

In a homily St. John Paul II gave in Limerick, Ireland in October of 1979, he said that “all Christians are incorporated into Christ and his Church by Baptism, (and) are consecrated to God. They are called to profess the faith which they have received. By the sacrament of Confirmation, they are further endowed by the Holy Spirit with special strength to be witnesses of Christ and sharers in the mission of salvation. Every lay Christian is therefore an extraordinary work of God’s grace and is called to the heights of holiness…..As God’s holy people you are called to fulfil your role in the evangelization of the world… It is the specific vocation and mission of the laity to express the Gospel in their lives and thereby to insert the Gospel as a leaven into the reality of the world in which they live and work.”

I wonder how the Holy Spirit is calling me to be a witness for Christ. Do I hear His voice in the Scriptures, in the words of our Pope, Bishops and clergy, in conversations with others who see and search for God’s will in their lives, in the day to day events of my own life? Do I respond willingly to God’s voice, or do I drag my feet and think “maybe later”?

—————————–

Karen and I are here to help you. Please contact us either by email or phone and let us know if the lesson is a problem for you. Some ladies in our group have left us or have not been able to come, often or not at all, either because of illness or other problems. Please keep these absent ladies and all of WCSS in your prayers. See you on Tuesday.

Hugs and love,

Karen and Franciene

Lesson 8 Acts of the Apostles

acts of the apostlesFranciene and I hope that you are enjoying this lesson about the struggles and questions that resulted in the first apostolic council in AD 49. It is interesting to think that these first apostles saw the need for a structured format which would debate and address these immediate needs that they were facing at the time, and how that same structure has come down through the ages to address other needs as they arose. It really shows us God’s providence in His protection over the discernment of the new leaders of His new Church, and how He continues that same solicitous care of us through our current Pope.

While there was a lot of action and discussion in the chapter, it seemed to be handled pretty smoothly by the apostles. It seems natural that one of the first orders of business would be to decide just what was required of new “converts” and how they would be grafted onto the existing Jewish observances. It probably took hours of heated discussion and lots of searching prayer to arrive at the decisions they did, and it must have initially caused a lot of friction among the new Christians.

But what seemed very interesting to me in this lesson is something in the commentary in our workbook for this lesson. On page 75, in the box at the bottom of the page is a lengthy quote by Saint Pacian of Barcelona, apparently from a sermon he wrote. The excerpt begins by quoting from this chapter in Acts saying “It seemed proper to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden upon you than this: It is necessary for you to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from fornication. You will do well to observe these things.” It goes on to say “The Holy Spirit overlooked many things, but He bound us to these things under pain of capital danger. Other sins are remedied by compensatory works of supererogation; but these crimes are to be feared, for they do not merely weaken the soul but snatch it quite away. Stinginess is redeemed by generosity; insult by apology, harshness by gentleness; amends are made by practice of the opposite…but what can he do who was contemptuous of God? What shall the murderer do? What remedy shall the fornicator find? These are capital sins, brethren, these are mortal.”

I had never really thought about our sins being “remedied by compensatory works of supererogation” and I looked up “supererogation” to get a better understanding of what it means. It seems to mean those acts that exceed the minimum required by the Commandments in the Bible. If “amends are made by practice of the opposite”, it seems that when we become aware that we have been unkind, or harsh, or unbending in some situation, then we can try to practice those very traits that we had sidestepped before. It gives us hope that as we grow in self-knowledge and can see some of our faults and habits, we can try to focus on cultivating the behavior and virtues that we would otherwise not have practiced without this awareness. According to this quote by Saint Pacian, these are the kinds of sins that “weaken the soul”, and it is encouraging to me to think that I can fight that weakness with the strength and fervor with which I can practice these opposite behaviors and attitudes. And I suppose that the practice of love overall is a good antidote to other selfish behaviors, as St. Peter himself reminds us when he wrote “love covers a multitude of sins.”

I have certainly learned a lot from each of these chapters, and I am grateful to each of you for your perseverance and study and our discussions each week. We can learn so much from each other in our study and discussion together, and I look forward to our Tuesdays. As always, feel free to contact either Franciene or me if you have any questions or concerns. We hope that you are enjoying a blessed week, and we look forward to seeing you next Tuesday.

And just a reminder about this lesson–don’t worry about the last question, # 20 where we are asked to select three Church Councils and explain why we found them interesting. There is a 2-page brief summary of the various Councils on pages 76-77 in our workbook, and that is an interesting history lesson in a very brief form. Just feel free to skip that question when you are doing your lesson this week. If time permits, we can discuss what we found interesting on those two pages.

You all are in our prayers,

Franciene and Karen

Lesson 9 Acts of the Apostles

Hi ladies,

acts of the apostlesWhat interesting lessons we have had lately! It seems as though we are back in school studying world history again. The little details about the Roman occupation of the Middle East, the intrigues between the rulers of the empire and the story from Josephus about the Roman soldier who “exposed” himself as a way of showing his contempt for the Jews, have been fascinating. I don’t remember any of this from my world history classes. These “little details” have helped me see more clearly how God is moving through human events and uses what happens in “our world” to further His will.

I was struck by some of the statements in the commentary which spoke about “freedom” this week. For example, on page 86 in the middle of the page, “Paul came to a Roman city that proudly thought itself free and, by the power of Christ, he offered liberation from sin and death to that very city”, and the very last line on page 86, “True liberation comes through the Redemption won by Jesus Christ for all humanity.” Then there was a longer paragraph from a writing of Pope Benedict. I loved the line which read, “Freedom without truth cannot be true freedom…”

Perhaps it is appropriate to share a little of my own history, as we are discussing history in our lessons – I had been away from the Church for many years; the reasons are not important. One night near the end of that self-imposed wandering, I dreamt that I had been to a party, although I didn’t see anyone else who was invited; I just knew there were other people present. The room was very bright and white, and standing near one wall was a figure I knew to be Jesus. In my mind I heard the words, “In Jesus there is freedom”. When I awoke the following morning and remembered the dream, I was puzzled by it. Since I often read the Bible before going to sleep, I thought the line which I had heard in my dream might have been something I had read previously. I spent some days searching through the Bible for that particular line, but did not find it. I decided then that it was time to return to the faith of my youth. I have since realized and been thankful that the Good Shepherd had come to me in my dream to find and save His lost lamb.

Over the years I have continued to reflect on those words from the dream – “in Jesus there is freedom”. The lesson this week has given me even more to ponder and perhaps even a fuller answer to what the words meant. I consulted the Catechism, and this is some of what I found.

There is an entire section in the Catechism on man’s freedom starting with #1730 through #1748. If you have time, you might enjoy reading these paragraphs.

1730 God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own actions.

1731 Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act…so to perform deliberate actions on one’s own responsibility. By free will one shapes one’s own life.

1739 By refusing God’s plan of love, man deceived himself and became a slave to sin…From the outset, human history attests the wretchedness and oppression born of the human heart in consequence of the abuse of freedom.

1748, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1).

By returning to the Church, by receiving the sacraments regularly, Christ has set me free – free to do what is good, what is natural, what will help me grow and thrive as a person. Being free means being connected to Jesus, because He is the Truth. As Pope Benedict taught us — without truth we cannot be free, no matter what choices we are able to make or what places we are able to go. To be truly free a person must be in relationship with God.

Karen and I hope that you enjoy this lesson and that you will return to share your studies with us next Tuesday. Remember you may call us if you have a problem with the lesson or just want to talk.

You will receive another reflection next week from Karen and then no more until after the Christmas holidays.

God bless you all,

Karen and Franciene

Lesson 10 Acts of the Apostles

Franciene and I hope that you are enjoying this lesson on the beautiful Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians. It certainly gives us a calmer, more relaxed image of Paul than we’ve seen in some of the stories we’ve read! He was still so filled with zeal and energy for the mission he had been entrusted with by God, but when he had time in solitude to gather his thoughts and arrange them on paper, he was very eloquent and lovingly encouraging to his fellow believers. It really does read like a personal letter to us, even today.
And even though he is writing this exhortation from the constraints of prison, he is amazingly at peace with his uncomfortable situation. The advice he gives in Chapter 4 in verses 6 and 7 seems to give us the backbone of this feeling of peace. “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
A footnote in my Ignatius Bible says “The ready access to Jesus through prayer should encourage believers to seek his help and consolation in times of need. This tranquility of heart and soul comes from Christ. Paul insists that if we pray about our problems rather than worry about them, God will post a guard around our minds to protect us from the doubts and disturbances that weaken our confidence in His fatherly care. Jesus gives similar instructions in Matthew 6:25-34.”
We have all heard the admonition not to worry about something, but to turn it over to God and trust that He will either resolve the issue for us, or turn it into something of benefit for us in our spiritual life. You may have had experiences in your own life of this unshakable peace in the midst of a difficult time or a personal struggle.  I know that when I have held onto some concern–not really turned it over to God–I have put myself at the center of my life and have focused on what I feel like I need in that situation. I have been so focused on what I felt was necessary in that situation, that I have shut out any other possibilities that may have borne much fruit. I wonder how that stubbornness of heart has looked to the protective “guard” that God has placed around us to protect us from doubts and disturbances” that are part of our daily lives? But I also know how different it is when I have opened my heart to God in my troubling situation or with my worries, and really felt the assurance that He would make whatever is truly the best outcome in the situation, according to His will. I imagine that Paul had lived this personal reality at least a few times in his life by the time he wrote this letter, and he could speak convincingly and encouragingly with this advice to the small flock of early Christians.
And it makes perfect sense to me that joy would be a natural consequence of this peace in mind and heart which “passes all understanding”. This peace is not shaken by undergoing current hardships–like Paul’s time of imprisonment–because it is not focused on things that do not last, which is where we can so often get mistakenly focused. We’ve probably all experienced many times the truth that our Christian joy does not come and go with our current circumstances, but it is rooted in our relationship with God, and is an abiding quality of our lives in faith. This joy is a beautiful fruit of our experience of God’s love for us and for all that He has created and continues to sustain with His love.
There is a quote I love, and I don’t know where it originated. But I think it fits so perfectly with St.Paul’s advice to us here:
“Joy is the flag that flies on the castle of the heart when the King is in residence there.”
I don’t think that our joy can be explained or analyzed by looking at our changing personal circumstances, or the challenges that each of has faced and will continue to face, but by knowing deeply in our hearts that God is always with us, and is always calling us to a closer relationship with Him. And it feels like St. Paul has just written that personal letter to us who are here today, to remind us of these eternal truths.
As always, feel free to contact either Franciene or me if you have any questions or concerns. We hope that you are enjoying a blessed week, and we look forward to seeing you next Tuesday.
You all are in our prayers,
Franciene and Karen