“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” says Jesus. (John 14:1) The early Church is portrayed as sitting in fear, huddled behind locked doors. (John 20:19) In a sense, this is our world today: we are now afraid to gather together out of fear that we might catch something from one another, which might prove deadly either to ourselves or to one whom we love. Then, in the midst of all this, through the seemingly never ending but always unfolding George Pell saga, we are being constantly reminded of another curse that is plaguing our Church. It, too, has us afraid to gather in Jesus’ name. (Matthew 18:20) After the shameful death of Jesus, his disciples were walking away, saying, “We thought he was the One.” (Luke 24:21) We, too, were brought up in a Church we loved, that we thought had ‘the message of eternal life.’ (John 6:68) This Church that we knew and loved … is passing away, and our hearts are left more than a little troubled.

When the two disciples were walking away from Jerusalem with downcast faces after Jesus had been crucified, we are told that Jesus came and walked with them, though they did not recognise him. (Luke 24:13ff. C.f.: Matthew 28:17) We, too, need to talk prayerfully to Jesus about what is troubling our hearts. Jesus, then, took his disciples back to the Scriptures and explained it to them. Again, we, too, need to go back to the Scriptures with our doubts and difficulties and let Jesus lead us back into the light again. These Scriptures are the Word of God, which Jesus embodied and made his own. We were brought up to believe this Word. When our hearts are troubled, this is no time to walk away. Jesus puts it quite simply: “Trust in God still, and trust in me.” (John 14:1) Later he will add, “Anyone who loves me will keep my word.” (John 14:23)

Our call is to go on believing in the Word, clinging to it — to go back to it and reread it in light of what troubles us. As we do so and begin to see again, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we, too, will find our hearts ‘strangely warmed’ and recognise Jesus with us once more in the form of his Spirit come upon us. (C.f.: 2 Kings 2:9ff) As Jesus will put it later, “The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said. … He will lead you to the complete truth.” (John 14:26; 16:13) When Jesus spoke of leaving us, he said, “It is for your own good that I am going away, because unless I go, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I do go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) All these things that trouble our hearts, and they are difficult and painful times that drive away and even kill the Jesus we knew and loved, but they are necessary for they are meant to bring us to know Jesus in a better way, and bring us to a new understanding of God’s Word to us as ‘The Way, The Truth and The Life,’ as the Way we should go. (John 14:6) Then shall we be more secure in our trust in God’s Word to us in Jesus. Then shall we be more able to help others understand as they struggle with the way they should go. (C.f.: Acts 8:30)

In today’s world our second reading is timely, pointing a way to us. ‘Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.’ (Acts 6:1) ‘Widows’ were a vulnerable group in those days, and they were being neglected. Why? Perhaps a combination of scarcity (they used bring what they had to share; charity, then as now, can be somewhat lean at times Acts 2:44-45) and prejudice (Hellenists were Greek-speaking Jews, while the Hebrews were Aramaic-speaking, and there were tensions between the two). Or, as they were a rapidly growing congregation (Acts 2:41), perhaps they were just too busy just trying to cope, so that some were overlooked. (Why is it always the poor and the vulnerable who are always overlooked?)

Whatever the cause of the neglect, they held ‘a full meeting of all the disciples’ at which a solution was proposed and acted on: they elected others ‘of good repute and filled with the Spirit’ who were not of The Twelve, laid hands on them (ordained them) and delegated to them the daily distribution, to ensure the abuse did not continue. Our Church is also about to hold a Council of the whole Australian Church and at which we can only hope that wise solutions to the problems of our times will be proposed and accepted. These solutions do not just magically appear, but come only to those who have prayerfully wrestled these problems in the light of God’s Word, and who now have come to see a new way that will enable us to still walk on in the Truth in which they themselves are secure (C.f.:Exodus 18:14ff) — but it is the same Truth, recognisable in the marks it bears of the wounds inflicted on it. (John 20:20) It is in this way that the whole Church will come to recognise with great joy its Risen Lord still present with us, breaking the bread and opening the Scriptures for us. It is worth noting that at this first full meeting of the Church the Twelve reserved to themselves only prayer and preaching — all else could be delegated. (Acts 2:2, 4)

By Dom Steele Hartmann OCSO