In 1973 representatives from 67 dioceses of Eastern Africa met to consider the way forward for the Church. Strong communities already existed. They had been set up and nurtured by great missionaries, many of them from Ireland and other European countries. These missionaries brought what they knew, a Church clothed in western culture and practice. In the 1960’s African countries had gained independence from colonial rule and there followed a great desire to regain life and values which were truly African. In this climate, the Church needed to adapt if it were to remain relevant or even survive.
The meeting concluded that survival and relevance could happen ‘in the measure to which the entire Christian community shares in the life and mission of Christ’. The Small Christian Community model was adopted and the role of the laity in this family model of Church was emphasised.
I was privileged to belong to some of these communities, 14 to 20 families who lived in an area. The community met weekly where members, led by the person in whose household the meeting took place that week, prayed together and explored the scriptures. Occasionally a priest would come for the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. Catechesis, care of the poor and sick, mourning of the dead, issues of justice and reconciliation were all cared for within the group. While life was lived in these communities people are also conscious of being members of the larger community of the Parish and the leaders were continually nurtured and mentored. The outstanding mark of these communities was solidarity. People needed each other in the often hard circumstances of their lives. No one was excluded.
Not a very different picture from the one, of an early Christian community, painted in our first reading today.
With the Corona virus and social distancing, we are finding new and creative ways of being Church. when much of what is normal has been taken from us, that same sense of solidarity comes to the fore in our common fight to survive. We also see return to a domestic Church, albeit different from the early Christian community who did not link in by live streaming but with many of its characteristics of care, concern and prayer together.
All of this is within the context of sharing in the life and mission of Christ.
The second reading assures us we are invited to share the relationship Jesus has with his Father. We are not outsiders. That of course means we also try to live family values. Today’s Gospel gives us direction here. We see how he deals with Thomas. Thomas who could not believe the Resurrection until he saw and touched the marks of crucifixion. Jesus gave him a special audience! There was no ‘why didn’t you’ or giving out, he gave him what he needed ‘see put your hand here’ such an intimate gesture ,and only then called to greater faith ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe’
We also see the Risen Jesus who empowers us to forgive. We sometimes read this to mean just the sacrament of reconciliation. He knows the need for forgiveness will be part of any community, we will fail and hurt each other but God’s Spirit in us will provide help in what is normally a very difficult thing to do.
The same Risen Jesus knows that our doubts will come, we will ask. ‘where is God in all that is happening?’. Jesus will come right into our mess, give us enough strength for the day, and also say to us ‘As the Father has sent me, so am I sending you’. Sending us to those with whom we live and to the whole world with his message ‘Peace be with you’ ‘Do not be afraid’.