Grace overcomes limitations - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

Grace overcomes limitations

The passage from the Acts of the Apostles proclaimed at today’s liturgy intrigues me deeply. It has for many years, and especially during my tenure as diocesan bishop.

The reading speaks of values, ways of being together and ideals that appeal to the very best in us. Think for a moment of how the people devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles, to the common life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.

Other notable realities speak of the quality of that community’s life. They stood in awe of God; God worked many wonders and signs through the community.

Perhaps most remarkable of all, those who believed were together and had all things in common. They would sell property and possessions and divide them among all according to the needs of each.

They prayed with fervor, shared their meals (Eucharist? family?) with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. We are told at the end of the passage that every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

The picture is one of harmony within the community and of good relationships with all of the people. And yet … and yet we read in other parts of the same book of mendacity, dispute and some rancor among this early community.

So what do we make of today’s reading? Is it a picture of what the community occasionally achieved but could not sustain? Does the passage describe a subset of the community who were especially graced? Is it the depiction of an ideal situation meant more to stir the imagination than to describe a real, existing community?

I certainly don’t know the answer to that question, but my personal opinion is that all the elements in the passage were present but in incomplete fashion in that early community. If that’s the case, there was much prayer but not to the exclusion of neglect or forgetfulness of that great nourisher of life. There was great generosity, but avarice and greed never completely disappeared.

There was proclamation and service by the apostles notable enough to inspire awe, but never was that so pervasive that people forgot that the apostles were human beings just like themselves.

In other words, we can see in the early community the remarkable signs of God’s grace and favor — sometimes in spectacular ways. But we also see signs that the community still had a way to go, that ongoing conversion was necessary.

As I consider the reading, I am mindful that our present-day community is very much like that early one. Good and generous people are marvelous stewards of their God-given resources. A growing number of people attend to prayer and the spiritual life. Others devote considerable time and energy to the service of their sisters and brothers.

And yet we know that we — all of us — can be distracted, selfish and sinful, failing to live the Gospel as fully as we know we should.

The richness of today’s reading is its Easter reminder that the power of God’s presence and grace is greater than our limitations. It helps us to keep in mind that God’s love is faithful and ever-renewing. It is a pledge of Easter life and of God’s desire to lead us more deeply into that precious gift.

Peace to all.

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