The First Christian Communities – Fr. Derry Murphy SAC, Provincial

To be part of a first Christian church.arg

The members of the delegature of the Irish Province in the Argentine gathered in the retreat centre of Villa del Huerto, Cortinez, in the Province of Buenos Aires on Monday October 12th. The Sisters of the Congregation Nuestra Senora del Huerto (Sisters of Our Lady of the Garden of Gethsemani) welcome the community here most years for the annual retreat and we all feel very much at home in this house. It is a simple house, on nicely kept grounds, but now what was once a secluded spot is just next to a national motorway and the noise of the traffic provides an undernote of movement twenty-four hours a day. It is remarkable that it does not impinge on us after a while and seems to be just a noise in the background.

This year the retreat was animated by Fr. Jorge Oesterheld, of the Diocese of Moron, parish priest of a busy city parish. He focused on what is central to our lives as Christians, the presence and activity of God in our midst and through his presentations led us to reflection. He is a practical man and has ‘the gift of the gab’ but also a very sure turn of phrase and the ability to relate the theme he is speaking on to the concrete realities of life as a priest. An example of his use of the concrete: he invited us today to imagine that we are going to make a journey, to climb a mountain, and we can carry what we need for the journey in a back-pack; on the journey, in climbing the mountain, even an extra toothbrush in the back-pack will take its toll on us. Hence the need to choose carefully what to take for the journey, to focus on what is essential and what will sustain one on the journey of living as a disciple of Jesus Christ and then leave the rest aside and continue the journey.

One of the concepts that he developed struck me and has guided my thinking and praying in these days. In speaking of the early Christian churches he made the point that they were made up of persons who had known Jesus and who had been transformed by that encounter. The next generation was one of persons who encountered persons who had been transformed through their encounter with Jesus and were in turn ‘infected with’ their experience of Jesus. Throughout my life I have often wondered what it would have been like to be part of such a Christian community and have felt that what we are living now is a very watered-down version of what they were. However, Fr Jorge stressed that we, the Christians of today, are part of the first Christian Church because every community, every church is in a true sense a new church, a first Christian church. New and original in that Jesus is present, just as present as he was in the communities in the first, second and third centuries; Jesus related to Peter, to the other apostles, to Mary Magdalene, to Paul, and he continues to relate to you and to me in the same manner today. Therefore we can believe that we, you and I, are part of a first community. Each of us came to know Jesus through the lives of others who had themselves known him through encounter with him; we in turn will pass on our enthusiasm and conviction to others who will seek Jesus.

The same characteristics that identified, formed and sustained the first Christian churches are those that identify, form and sustain us today, the living presence of Jesus, the action of the Holy Spirit, the fact that we gather together with Mary to pray, the trust we have that the Holy Spirit will continue to act in our hearts. And, the means that sustained the first communities are part and parcel of our community today: the gift of faith, a living and breathing faith, the Holy Spirit, enthusiasm for the message of Jesus, being transformed by the experience of Jesus, the presence of the community, the enthusiasm generated by a common experience and conviction, and the celebration of the Eucharist. As members of a Christian community, as disciples, we bring the Gospel to the situations we encounter today in our day-to-day experience. Pope Francis is urging us by word and example to bring the Gospel of Jesus to bear on the experiences and situations of daily life and living; our community will be a ‘First Christian Community’, to the extent that Jesus’s presence and activity is acknowledged accepted and transmitted to others.

If, and it is a big IF, I can realize that I am part of a first Christian community, then I know that the future is uncertain, I cannot predict it nor imagine it, I do not know even if there will be a future or much of a future, but I can trust that the living presence of Jesus continues to give life and meaning and direction to the Community-Church that has lived and grown over two thousand years. I want to be part of that church community.

Derry Murphy, SAC, October 2015.