The Church is not a scrapbook full of fading pictures remembering past glories. The church is instead-in its essence-the breathing, pulsating organism that forms when lives are intertwined by shared faith and service.
It is built of "living stones" that come together because of Christ and are bound to one another in service. Meeting the needs of all-and in particular the poor-dictates the daily "to do" list of the church.
To meet the needs of their contemporaries, the early generations of Christians had to allow what had been a Jewish Christian church to develop to include Gentiles/ Greeks. Rather than impose one way upon all, they made adaptations to accommodate the differences that made the ethnically and culturally varied church so attractive.
And so we find in the reading of the Acts of the Apostles the response of the community to one situation: making sure the needs of Greek-speaking widows were met. Widows were especially needy; even their name spoke of their plight. In Hebrew the word for widow comes from a root word which means "unable to speak." Of course, the widow didn't lose her capacity to speak. The problem was there was no one to listen to her. In a male dominated society, she didn't have rights or anyone to take care of her. And so, the first task of the earliest deacons was to be the voice that would speak out for the rights of widows and the hands that would tend to their needs and the needs of their children.
In this passage we can learn several lessons: 1) The need for leadership arises from the community's needs; 2) leadership arises from "below" rather than from "above" - that is, from a grass roots awareness and attentiveness to the needs of the community; and 3) the structure of ordained ministry in its present form is an adaptation of the church to its leadership needs in the past.
Now, another critical need is being felt in many places in the church and will be felt soon in the rest. The Catholic Church is primarily a Eucharistic community where we gather to "do this in memory of" Christ. The exclusively male, celibate priesthood is going the way of the dinosaur. I qualify for federal funds as an endangered species. Because of this we are facing the day when Eucharist will not be celebrated as frequently as we are used to and sometimes be even replaced by a communion service.
So I ask you: Can the church, its leadership, and its members be as practical, innovative, and courageous as the early church in finding new ways to meet the needs of the community? Just asking...
-Fr Sas, May 18 Homi y
Sunday of Easter, Year A