During a Lenten visit to the Blessed Sacrament at a local adoration chapel, I came across a couple of street children (maybe 7 and 10 years old) who also came in for a visit. I was taken aback by their reverence as they entered, knelt at the feet of Jesus, and bowed down, foreheads to the floor; just two pairs of blackened feet sticking up as they prayed silently for a while. They knew their faith; perhaps being on the streets was a recent thing. A few days later another street dweller came in, a man this time, and he too, whilst more vocal and with many tears, made his pleas to the Lord. I added my own prayer to theirs.
Once upon a time; in the early church, even its persecutors acknowledged something about the quality of its members as they used to say “see those Christians, how they love one another”. Nowadays it’s different. There is a rich church and a poor church, rich Christians and poor ones and an ever increasing gap between them. Years ago a pagan work colleague, after delivering a litany of examples, declared in essence “see those Christians, they live the same way as us pagans” There was more than a shred of truth in his observation.
Perhaps the early church had more cohesion as a community and a shared common purpose and belief which out-weighed worldly considerations and enticements. I can’t imagine them gathered round in prayer petitioning God for the latest model of chariot, designer toga’s, new palaces to live in or the prestigious i-trumpet and yet modern day equivalents seems to be the focus of attention of many church goers while the needs of their brethren go unmet, sometimes in an extreme way.
Its seems paradoxical when we consider that the world is really getting smaller; we know of a crisis within minutes via media and can respond with equal rapidity through a net of Catholic charities with a few button pushes on a smartphone if we like. But we often process the ocean of faces of refugees, asylum seekers, homeless, widows and orphans as a collective never ending entity rather than brothers and sisters with their individual stories of real pain and suffering, who need us as we need them.
The early church was rich in compassion and with a clear sense of identity and purpose whist the modern Christian community seems rather wrapped up in itself and in the world and by comparison, seems rather impoverished in compassion, and unsure of its allegiance.