As part of the Rite of Ordination in this June, 2021 photo, then-Rev. Mr. Rjoy Ballacillo makes a Promise of Obedience to Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.  In his Gospel reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Father Koch speaks of the ministry of the Apostles and their role in the history of the Church. Jeff Bruno photo
As part of the Rite of Ordination in this June, 2021 photo, then-Rev. Mr. Rjoy Ballacillo makes a Promise of Obedience to Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M. In his Gospel reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Father Koch speaks of the ministry of the Apostles and their role in the history of the Church. Jeff Bruno photo
Gospel Reflection for May 15, 2022, Fifth Sunday of Easter

The author of The Acts of the Apostles gives us a glimpse into the development of the early Church. Unfortunately, it is only fragmented and in no way a comprehensive undertaking, so we need to piece together various sources in order to get a deeper understanding of the ways in which the Church grew.

One of the pressing realities in the earliest communities was in maintaining continuity with the developing Tradition of the Church given the challenges of communication between the various communities. Another challenge was the growing tension between those who wanted to remain faithful to the Jewish heritage and those who believed that those traditions were not relevant to the Christian.

In order to carry out their mission, the apostles needed to move from one community to another. We certainly see the extensive travels of St. Paul outlined in the Acts, and we know that many others moved about similarly throughout the world. By the end of the first century the Gospel has been proclaimed from the southern tip of England to the west coast of India and hundreds of villages and cities in between. This itself is a remarkable undertaking and further testimony of the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the apostles and those who collaborated with them.

Some form of Church organization needs to be left behind to help ensure a continuity with the Tradition that had been handed on to them. This is in evidence in the First Reading as we hear that Paul and Barnabas appointed “elders” in each of the nascent communities to safeguard the faith. It is this position of elder — the presbyteroi — that evolves into the priesthood as we know it in the Church today. Then, as they moved on, Paul and Barnabas reported to the church the many great blessings that had been worked, through them, among the Gentiles.

We can see among many of the events recorded in Acts and the New Testament letters, this needed to ensure the continuity of teaching and the unity of the Church.

We have recently completed a process called synodality. As Catholics we are not used to this process or even this word in general. Since Vatican II there is a permanent Synod of Bishops which meets periodically, at the instruction of the Pope, in order to address certain questions of faith and discipline. The early Church, as with the Church today, needed to hear the faithful, to answer questions and the challenges that came from the proclamation of the Gospel in an unbelieving world. We see the basic framework of the Church present in the New Testament, yet this is not merely a society, it is a community living a shared faith and, as Jesus instructs the Apostles, grounded in love.

It is this love — this agape — that Jesus commands of his Apostles that stands at least as the idealized hallmark of the early Church. However, though founded by Jesus that the Church was then and remains today, a human institution.

We are flawed and have a propensity to sin. Jealousy, ambition, obstinance, and bitterness emerge quickly, causing strife and division. This was true two-thousand years ago and is certainly true today.

The Church, then, works to safeguard the Tradition, not for the sake of power — though at times it might have felt that way through the course of history — but rather to remain faithful to the Apostles and, ultimately, to Jesus Christ.

The commandment to love one another tempers a tendency to seek power and to control. The evolution of the office of the elder, along with the offices of deacon and bishop which also developed quickly in the Church, are ministries of service, with the command to love.

In the Rite of Ordination for a priest, the bishop exhorts the candidate “[to] always remember that you have been taken from among the people and appointed on their behalf in those things that pertain to God. Fulfill, therefore, the ministry of Christ the Priest with abiding joy and genuine love. Seek not your own concerns but those of Jesus Christ.

This is in essence why Jesus established the priesthood through and for the Church. So that the love that God has shown for us through the Mystery of the Incarnation of the Son and in his Paschal Sacrifice, we might love one another and work in unity for the salvation of others.

When we are torn by disunity and strife, we then show the world not the love of God for us or the Passion of Jesus Christ and his victory over sin, but rather we demonstrate our own sinfulness and muddle the path to salvation for the whole world.

It must be our constant prayer that in love we work together to live lives of joyful sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel borne of the love that Christ has for us.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.