The Church’s custom of reading virtually all of the Acts of the Apostles at daily Mass during the Easter season struck me as particularly apt this year, and for three reasons.
First, Acts reminds us that, with the exception of several great public set-pieces (such as the first Pentecost), evangelization for the first missionary disciples was a retail affair. The deacon Philip converts the Ethiopian eunuch man-to-man in Acts 8. Peter converts the centurion Cornelius and his family and friends, and thereby begins the mission to the Gentiles, in Acts 10. Paul evangelizes Lydia on the riverside outside Philippi in Acts 16, and builds his local churches by the retail catechesis of families and small groups throughout Asia Minor and Greece.
This should strike a chord. We live at a time when the surrounding culture no longer supports the transmission of the faith. On the contrary, as the contemporary experiences of Ireland, Quebec, and Belgium graphically demonstrate, the prevailing cultural climate can asphyxiate once-robust Catholic instincts—especially when Catholic leadership is weak, defensive, unenthusiastic about the Gospel, and seemingly embarrassed by Catholicism’s countercultural claims. In these post-Christian circumstances, the New Evangelization is going to have to unfold one convert at a time.
And therein lies another parallel to Acts. When those conversions take place, they’ll likely do so in the most quotidian circumstances: in random encounters with open hearts in homes, recreational settings, and other everyday venues. U.S. Catholics older than 50 once thought of “mission territory” as places that got glossy full-color photo spreads in National Geographic. Acts alerts us to our true situation: Mission territory is all around us—at our kitchen table, in our offices, in our lives as consumers and citizens.
Read more at First Things.