Many of the first readings at our Masses these weeks are taken from the Acts of the Apostles. They tell of the beginnings of the church, its struggles to come to terms with the demands made upon it in a world very much like our own.
Theirs, too, was a world of skepticism, the extremes of wealth and poverty, godlessness, religious indifference. But it was also a world in which people were hoping for signs of God, for meaning, for a sustained reason to live and hope.
This is the world in which the early church found itself. It is the world, in fact, from which the early church emerged. All the foibles and blind spots that we are capable of would find their way into the life and practices of the early church. But so also would the presence of Jesus, a presence which would be in the midst of all that went right and wrong in those early days, as in our own.
It is tempting to think that if we had some way to go back to the earliest forms and practices of the church, things would somehow be better. That if freed from the allegedly corrupting influences of time and forgetfulness, we would better grasp and learn from the essence of the original, the fresh beginnings of our faith.
But apparently God had other things in store for the church. It would be a church formed conditioned by history -- but it would also be a church which would bear his presence and message into the world.
It would be a church that would seek the comforts of wealth and culture but would also be a church capable of reform, renewal, repentance.
It would be a church moving forward, albeit begrudgingly, because God constantly moves it to a future of His making and not our own.
We as a church might seem to be dragging our feet -- but it is God who is lifting us and moving us forward. We are God's world in the making. We live with the worries and insecurity of an unfinished world.
Perhaps the biggest temptation of our day and age is to attempt to finish what God seems to have abandoned. Yet the church at its best leaves ample room for God by being a church of service to the poor, the weak, the hopeless.
We have been given a wondrous light not of our own making. It is a light that has burned brightly for thousands of years, handed down from one hopeful community to the other, so that God can shine through us, through our weakness.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.