So, I am in the process of writing a book about what we can learn today from the community life of the first century Church. I will be posting some excerpts from my draft here on the blog. The point of the book is, in fact, the very topic I have promised to address in this blog. Namely, to inspire readers to face the challenges of the Church today by reflecting on the earliest and most fragile period in the history of the Church. That time when the Church was a faint blaze. That time when, though it was small, the Church burned intensely with Christ’s love.
To start, for many of us, the most powerful encounters with Christ are alone in quiet contemplation (quite probably before the Blessed Sacrament) or even while hearing a powerful homily or from a talk at a conference. I have no doubt this is true. It is certainly true for me! We must remember, however, that from her outset the Church was a community. That is, the Church existed at the intersection of human relationships. These human relationships found purpose in following the actions and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. From the time of Jesus, Christianity has only existed within the network of relationships. It is not a building that makes the Church. In fact, the earliest Christians used their very own living spaces for worship gatherings. No, it is not a building; rather, it is the people who make the Church. She (Holy Mother Church/ ecclesia is feminine in Greek) consists of people who have a shared experience of God as he was revealed in Jesus Christ. Indeed, the Church is built by individual members being united into the very Body of Christ.
Interestingly, Jesus’ first task was not to proclaim that salvation was imminent. Rather his first work of salvation was to gather people who would be with him and observe his life and public ministry. Jesus’ first work of salvation was to gather a community. Jesus called his first disciples to leave their old life and follow him in a new life. Those who responded and became immersed in this new way of life were changed for the rest of lives. This is the point of the Church: to change hearts so that people are disposed to encounter Jesus Christ in their inmost being. This is our first challenge if we want to make a difference in today’s difficult climate: are we doing what is necessary to encounter Jesus in our inmost being? Secondly, are we making an attempt to be in genuine relationships with others who are seeking to do the same?