Msgr. Beaulieu – Acts of the Apostles

Of the twenty-seen books that comprise the New Testament, only one of them is reserved to be publicly read on Easter Day and for the following fifty days until Pentecost, whether on Sundays or during weekday liturgies. The book is the Acts of the Apostles. The four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) recount the Lord’s birth, His public life, culminating in His death and resurrection. But what happened next? How did the truth about Christ go from a small  group of Christian Jews in Jerusalem and come to include Gentiles from all over the world? The book of Acts answers some of those questions.

Tradition has identified the Luke in the Acts with the same Luke referred to three times in the Pauline letters (Philemon 24; Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11). When taken together, those references create a portrait of someone who embodied the virtues of friendship and companionship, hard work and perseverance, healing and compassion. As a younger man, Luke had been a companion of Paul in some of the missionary journeys that are described in Acts (e.g. Acts 16:10-17—this is the first of the so-called “we-sections” in Acts, where Luke writes as one of Paul’s companions).

The Book of Acts contains twenty-eight chapters. Of these, the first twelve report events between the time of Jesus’ last meeting with his disciples and the beginning of Paul’s work as a Christian missionary. The remaining sixteen chapters describe Paul’s activities, beginning with his mission to the church at Antioch and ending with an account of his being in Rome as a prisoner of the Roman authorities. In the first part of the Acts, you will find the account of the Lord’s Ascension into heaven, the choosing of Mathias as an apostle to replace Judas, the descent of the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire on the Apostles and the Virgin Mary during the Jewish Feast of Weeks.

Also known as Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks was originally a harvest festival, the second of two firstfruits occasions (Lev 23:9-11). This citation is in regard to the first firstfruits offering, the harvest of barley, which included sacrifices. Next, we read about the second firstfruits occasion of Shavuot (Lev 23:15-16). This is in regard to the wheat harvest. Since it occurs seven weeks after the first offering (50 days, the day after the completion of the seven weeks), is why it became known as the Feast of Weeks. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the various pilgrims in Jerusalem for Shavuot miraculously could understand what the Apostle Peter was saying, each in their own language.

Later, the sacred writing testifies to the arrest of Peter and John in the Temple at Jerusalem, the sin of Ananias and Sapphira, the stoning of Stephen, Philip’s meeting with the eunuch and the baptism that followed. This beginning portion of the Acts culminates in the account of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, and Peter’s visit with Cornelius, the centurion. In addition to giving us some insight concerning the early activities of the Christian community, these accounts are especially valuable in that they tell us about the beliefs that Christians held concerning Jesus prior to the writing of the Gospels. The salvation promised to Israel in the Old Testament and accomplished by Christ through His paschal mystery is perfected, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the promise was extended to the Gentiles or the whole world.

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