The Heart of the Multitude
  • Sunday, April 15, 2012

Easter 2
Acts 4:32-35 • Ps. 133
1 John 1:1-2:2 • John 20:19-31

A quick conversion illustrated: the enthroned ego leading a chaotic life is replaced by an enthroned Christ who puts one’s daily agenda in manageable if not perfect order. Clear, but not true. Conversion is not merely private, nor is Christian transformation immediate. Insisting that one go from habitual sin to super sanctity in short order makes a sorry Christian: irritable, unhappy, unwise.

Christian formation occurs in a Christian community, as we see so clearly in the Acts of the Apostles. The editors of the New Vulgate have titled this pericope from Acts “Multitudinis Cor” (the heart of the multitude), a timely consideration as we observe social movements and civil unrest unleashed beyond the controlling capacity of tanks, guns, and government crackdowns. A crowd can become fearless: fearless in righteousness, fearless in folly. In short, it cannot be trusted. It mutates by the moment with a collective mind puzzling even to willing participants.

The consensus fidelium in the Church, however, goes to the heart of what is meant by the renewal of our minds: not the mere change of individuals, but a transformation of how members of Christ’s body regard each other. “The heart of the multitude of those believing was one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). For this reason, “they had all things in common.” Though a crowd, the Church willingly restrains itself “for the common good” as each member seeks the good of the other, as each has need.

The First Epistle of John also highlights the Church’s communal life and witness. St. John opens his letter by gathering up the scattered fragments of an old story extending from creatio ex nihilo to the moment of epistolary composition. He shares what “was from the beginning.” Thus the reader is alerted to the first line of Genesis and the first line of the Gospel according to John. Cumulatively, the impression is that of a long preparation to which Christian witnesses feel a deep responsibility. “We declare to you what was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have beheld, and our hands have touched, concerning the word of life” (1 John 1).

John’s testimony to “the word of life” is first person plural, not singular, because faith in Jesus Christ is the common faith of the Church, neither an individual possession nor a sectarian claim. “Is Christ divided?” St. Paul asks the Corinthians. There is One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God and Father of us all. The Church is “One” because the Spirit of the risen Lord suffuses and knits together the whole body.

The passage from John’s Gospel shows Thomas moving from doubt to faith, presented as he is by a Wounded Christ standing in the midst of his Living Church. Jesus gives his peace and so prepares the disciples for the world they fear. Will unity and witness be difficult? Yes, of course. But will it be beautiful? “It is like fine oil on the head that runs down upon the beard of Aaron, down the collar of his robe” (Ps. 133). St. Ignatius of Antioch could hear the “music” of Church unity, the priests singing to the bishop and the whole church singing with one voice through Christ to the Father. Jesus Christ is praised, Ignatius says, by consensus and concordant love. Unity is not a human accomplishment. It is a divine gift we receive from moment to moment.

Look It Up
Read 1 John 1:1. The beginning was a preparation for your adoption into Christ. Now you, with many, touch and behold him.

Think About It
Imagine a more profuse chrismation: oil running down upon the collar of your robe.

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