by Veronica Szczygiel
We give thanks for the freedoms we gained when our Founding Fathers declared independence from England, but we must also remember the perseverance it took Jefferson, Franklin and others to organize a democracy. Just like these Founding Fathers, the Founding Fathers of our Christian Church had to undergo hardships.
First, the teacher who preached with the Apostles suddenly disappeared (i.e., ascended into heaven). To make matters worse, society knew that Jesus had just been crucified as a common criminal — so who would believe them that He was actually the Messiah? And the Apostles were scared that they would be criminalized, too — which is why they hid in the upper room in Jerusalem until Pentecost.
Once charged with the gift of the Holy Spirit, however, the Apostles preached in various tongues, broke bread and worked miracles. Although Peter was the rock of the Church, Paul became an instrumental figure after God called him to the mission. Peter headed this mission among the Jews of Palestine; Paul evangelized among Gentiles. He travelled to Antioch, Corinth and as far as Rome, where he was jailed and executed for his faith. Despite the powerful alliance between Peter and Paul, the early Church still struggled to gain ground, as they faced a plethora of obstacles. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for obstacle is “satan.”
One “satan” the early Church leaders had to contend with was divisiveness. Paul and Peter often disagreed on how to define a Christian, especially in terms of Jewish rituals. Paul adamantly denied that circumcision was necessary, and he even called Peter out for treating Gentiles in a subordinate way to Jews (Galatians 2:11-14). Even with this tension, Peter and Paul were still united in their faith. A more pressing divisiveness occurred in their followers. People would identify with the Apostles more strongly than they would with Jesus. Paul recognized this when he wrote: “Christ has been divided into groups! Was it Paul who died on the cross for you? Were you baptized as Paul’s disciples?” (1 Corinthians 1:13). The early Church had to make sure people understood that they were following Jesus’ message of salvation, not the disciples’ message.
Another obstacle was false prophets. Con men would construe the word of God and trick people out of their money. Notably, Paul never took money from his followers for his own personal travels, a point he emphasized in letters to various communities.
Of course, the worst obstacle of all was persecution. The Sadducees and Pharisees were waiting anxiously for this new community to fail. Many people persecuted the early Christians; in fact, that is exactly what Saul did before his calling to become Paul, the missionary.
Without the Founding Fathers of our own country, we wouldn’t be worshipping Christ so freely. So the next time you go to Mass, take a moment to consider how blessed we are to have had such strong and patient early founders. Their suffering has not been in vain. [hr] Veronica Szczygiel is a graduate of Fordham University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences with a master’s in English and American Literature. She will be teaching religion at Marymount Middle School, Manhattan.