One of the laudable aspects of the American spirit is the propensity to pursue ideals with great passion, skill and tenacity. People around the world often look at us with respect and admiration in this aspect, seeing us as great builders, entrepreneurs, innovators, and a society built on the shoulders of people with big dreams, resilience, freedom and grit.
On a more personal basis, these inherited cultural traits are the way we price our individual freedoms and autonomy. We value personal responsibility, our fair share of work and self-reliance — the idea of keeping to ourselves often comes naturally. Consequently, social interactions display attitudes and actions that avoid imposing our personal views or values on others.
This penchant for personal space and respect also is visible in our faith lives. We can approach our spiritual growth from a strong individualistic perspective. We are careful with our family, friends and colleagues not to come across as judgmental or overbearing. Moreover, when someone asks about our faith or spirituality, we can be a bit sheepish about it — not always sure what to say or how much to share. I suspect that these cultural behaviors will be with us for a while as they have served us well. However, we are not completely separated, especially when we reflect on the gift of faith and community.
These past weeks, we have been journeying together as a community of faith, listening to the different stories of the post-Resurrection appearances of the Lord. Along the way, we see how each encounter with the Lord reveals something about the disciples and the followers of Christ. We see enthusiasm, doubt, inquiry and dismay. Similarly, in the story of the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles, we learn about the followers of Christ moving the faith community beyond their own geographical and cultural boundaries.
More to the point, we hear about the early community of believers going out and publicly proclaiming and sharing with great boldness what they received from their encounters with the living Lord. In some cases, we hear of the difficulties they had to face and the personal sacrifices they had to endure: “They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts 14: 21-27).
Together in faith and community, they remembered and repeated the promise of new life in Christ: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be His people and God Himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away’” (Revelation 21:1-5).
It is not difficult to imagine how important the community’s encouragement must have been for the early believers, especially as they grew in faith and matured in their understanding of the Gospel message. From generation to generation, they preserved their stories and found ways to share them with others near and far.
The same holds true for us today. We are invited to go out and publicly share our encounters with the living Lord and to offer encouraging words to one another in the process. In a world and culture that resists the good news of Christ, we can take comfort in knowing that the gift of faith we have received in Christ will endure.
F. Javier Orozco
First published May 20, 2022 in the St. Louis Review