The Apostles were devastated at the crucifixion and death of Jesus. They had lived and traveled everywhere with him for the three years of his public ministry and had placed all their hope in him. And then, suddenly, he was gone. He had warned them, but they paid little attention. Now what? The change was beyond their comprehension. They huddled together in fear and disappointment, worried about their own future.
But as suddenly as he left them in death, he returned, alive and glorious. Notice that his first Easter words to them were repeated every time he met them after his resurrection: “Peace be with you.” No blame for their desertion or denial; no anger or acrimony; no harsh judgment. “Peace be with you.”
I believe that every word, every gesture, every action of the Lord Jesus has something to teach us as his followers, if we let it. The crucifixion introduced unexpected change and disruption into the lives of the Apostles. It wasn’t in their plans. But it was in God’s plans, in the Lord Jesus’ plans. So was his resurrection. “Peace be with you.” And the Apostles were stronger, better, more committed as a result.
That small group of disciples grew into the Catholic Church to which we belong today. It was the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit who made that growth possible. Yes, there have been many changes and disruptions confronted by faithful Catholics over the past two thousand years, even disappointments, divisions and tragedies caused by sin. But the Lord Jesus promised us at his Ascension that “I will be with you all days, even to the end of the world” (Matt 28:20). We take him at his word. And he sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in our midst as his assurance.
It is interesting to point out that when the Apostles were overcome by Jesus’ death, they didn’t lash out against one another; they didn’t fight or use harsh words. We don’t see that kind of behavior reported anywhere in the scriptures. They held together. They supported each other. And in their disappointment and discouragement, the Lord Jesus appeared and offered them “Peace.” In that Easter peace, the Catholic Church was born and grew to the ends of the earth.
The Lord Jesus is with us always in the Catholic Church. The Holy Spirit is with us always in the Catholic Church. That is our faith and that doesn’t change. But other things about the Catholic Church do change and always have. It is in the nature of a community that is both human and Divine.
We live at a time in the continuing history of the Catholic Church when change is once again all around us. Structures on the universal or world-wide level and, even more dramatically, on the local or diocesan level, are changing. The essence of the Catholic Church and the unity of its faith, however, endures and do not change. That is so very important for us, as Catholics, to believe and remember.
It is the same Lord Jesus Christ who died and rose and ascended and sent the Holy Spirit in whom we believe. It is the same Gospel that we proclaim and try to live. It is the same apostolic foundation, that same “rock” upon which Christ built his Church, that still is ours today. It is the same revelation of truth in scripture, tradition and teaching that we share and that translates our Catholic faith into action that is the heart of our faith, our hope and our love, generation after generation until this very moment.
Sometimes, we forget that. Sometimes, our emotions or our pride get in the way of that. Sometimes, “our plans” obscure the fact that the Church is not about our plans, our convenience, our preference, our opinions about the way things are or should be.
The Apostles learned that lesson at the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, a lesson that gave way to the joy of his resurrection and the Church that followed. “Peace be with you” was the greeting the Risen Lord gave to a group of confused, disappointed and frightened Apostles who heard him pray only days before at the Last Supper, “that they may all be one” (John 17:21).
It is the common good of the Catholic Church – not an “opinion poll,” not a protest or petition of a few, not harsh judgments based on personal preference about “rights” or convenience or persons or things – that the community of believers must seek in the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church. “The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say ‘this is mine...’” (Acts 4:32). It was faith in Christ’s resurrection that brought “peace” and unity to those who were troubled by his cross. It still does...if we open ourselves to it.