If you come to a Catholic Mass, the first Scripture you will hear is from the Hebrew Scriptures. However, there is an exception.
From Easter Sunday, which for this year occurred on April, through the next seven weeks, the first reading comes from the Christian Scriptures, the Acts of the Apostles. Written by Luke, this book traces the growth of the early Church from the resurrection of Christ through the middle of the First Century.
Although the Church came into being when Christ left the world, its coming out party is celebrated on Pentecost, a Jewish harvest feast, when the Holy Spirit came into the upper room where a group of fearful disciples of Jesus were gathered. They were transformed. Although they had been with Jesus for almost three years, the collective experience only came together on this day.
They looked back on those various events with Jesus and saw them in a new light. They were motivated, almost compelled, to share their story with whomever would listen. This story is sometimes called the kerygma, which became the basis for the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The apostles must have been pretty effective, because Luke tells us in chapter 2 of Acts that some 3,000 people were baptized on that day.
The rest of Acts relates how this message was spread and how people’s faith in Jesus Christ grew. Their lives were changed. Even their understanding of Church was changed.
Originally, Church was seen as a community of Jesus’ disciples who believed that Jesus was the Christ but were still committed to their Jewish religion. The movement, called the Way, was originally confined to the area of Palestine and Syria. However, the vision of Church was expanded due to the efforts of Saul of Tarsus. He originally persecuted Jesus’ followers because he saw them as unfaithful to the Law of God.
On his way to Damascus with the intent of persecuting Jesus’ followers, Saul was struck down to the ground, blinded and blown away by the words: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” This experience planted the seeds for his own conversion through the help of a man named Ananias. Ananias helped interpret for Saul what had happened and instructed him about Jesus. Saul received a new name, Paul, and ended up being the most fervent preacher of the kerygma of all. He traveled all over the known world as the first missionary and invited all people to follow Jesus, not just his fellow Jews. The Church grew exponentially.
Paul was already a religious man but had room for further growth. His own faith grew exponentially. Even though he was well schooled in his religion by the great rabbi, Gamaliel, Paul had so much more to learn. I am writing this on June 29, which in the Catholic Church is the feast of Peter and Paul. I consider Paul as a model for all of us who need to continue to study and learn. Despite Paul’s formal education under Gamaliel, he did not end there.
When I came to St. John Fisher 19 years ago, I was impressed by the various opportunities for adult formation that were available. Some of the Scripture study programs arose because our parishioners took part in the Bible offered at Loyola Marymount University.
Many of our parishioners have become certified master catechists who then offer opportunities for those seeking formation as catechists or other pastoral ministers. Others have focused on the area of liturgy in order to enhance our worship experiences.
Various prayer groups gather to develop their faith and deepen their spiritual life. Others still look at social and moral issues from the Catholic perspective and tradition. Parish missions and retreats provide us opportunities to grow in our faith.
There are so many opportunities for adults at St. John Fisher Church to learn more about religion, Scripture and moral issues.
Although I have a Ph.D. in religious education, I continually strive to know more about religion and how it interacts with issues of today. If I limited my learning to what I studied in the seminary or even in my doctoral studies, I would be stagnant. I really enjoy reading new books, whether on Scripture, dogma, or spirituality, as well as religious and theological periodicals. I have profited immensely since 2001 by taking part in the Interfaith Panels of Dawn Unity.
Whatever our religious tradition, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or others, we all can profit by study and reading. It enables us to stimulate the mind and refresh the soul.
Monsignor David Sork is Pastor of St. John Fisher Catholic Church, Rancho Palos Verdes. Masses are on Saturday evening at 5 p.m. and on Sunday at 7:30, 9, and 10:45 a.m. and 12:30 and 5 p.m. He was educated at St. John’s College, Camarillo, CA (B.A. and M.A.), and Fordham University, New York (M.A. and Ph.D.) He lives on the church grounds at Crenshaw Blvd. and Crest Rd. and can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.