When I get asked why I go to a Catholic church or what made me “decide to be Catholic” (which is the usual way people ask), my answer is simple—the Acts of the Apostles. Now, of course there were other things at work—the Holy Spirit, the grace of the Eucharist I’d been receiving, and so forth—but on the level of my intellect the Acts of the Apostles played a major role.
What was it that struck me, a young adult who also regularly attended Bible studies at other Christian churches, about this book of the Bible?
It wasn’t the spectacular witness of early martyrdom and persecution, or the stunning conversion of Saul/Paul.
No, it was the ordinary things, the sheer humanity present in the Acts of the Apostles. In short, the community of believers—the early Church—had no idea where the Holy Spirit was leading them, yet through dispute and discovery, the Church slowly grew into herself.
In Acts, we find the messiness of being a universal Church. There are plenty of occasions of Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) complaining about the Hebrews (Jerusalem-area Jews) and visa-versa. There is of course, the awkward situation where new followers completely miss the point, and Paul and Barnabas get mistaken for the Greek gods Hermes and Zeus. Eventually, serious debates over food laws and circumcision result in Council of Jerusalem, the forerunner of all future councils.
And even though miracles and healings abound, not even the Apostles understand at the beginning that God’s will is for a robust mission to the Gentiles. No, they have to discover all this through an Ethiopian eunuch’s surprising request for baptism and the testimony of Cornelius, a Gentile.
But, through all of this, the community of disciples—the Church—sticks together. Even though all of the apostles, missionaries, and co-workers featured in Acts often have different thoughts on how to live out the will of God, they keep coming back together to discern and decide. They do not view the mission of Christ they’ve been given as something static, but as a living call. As they come to more fully understand this, I’m reminded of our Catholic sense of development of doctrine—a maturation, or growth in depth and clarity of how we understand our faith.
For many who live outside of the visible bounds of the Catholic Church, it’s not so much our particular beliefs, but the how—the idea of councils, the papal office, and deepening of doctrines over the centuries—that seems an obstacle to our full and perfect communion as brothers and sisters in Christ.
And so at the end of every Easter season (I admit it…I don’t love going back to Ordinary Time 😉 ), I think about how much of a gift this book, the Acts of the Apostles, is to us as believers. Writings that can open our eyes to the dynamic potential of our Church, sticking together in times of trial and working out God’s call for us, in each and every age.
A version of this post originally appeared at newevangelizers.com.