While I’m a cradle Catholic, my mother didn’t have a lot of religious items or decorations around our house. There was a crucifix in Mom and Dad’s bedroom. Inside the crucifix were all of the necessary accoutrements for a priest in case there was a need for what was then called Extreme Unction (now called sacrament of the sick). As far as I can recall, that was the extent of our religious paraphernalia.
I went to Catholic school, however, and there was no shortage of statues and pictures and books and paintings of saints, sacred hearts of Mary and Jesus, the apostles, and such. From those pictures I learned that St. Peter’s beard was parted in the middle. In fact, I knew what all of the apostles looked like because I was very familiar with Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper.
But in my 60-some years on this earth, I’ve never actually thought about the apostles as anything more than plastic statues or beautiful Carvaggio paintings, like this one I was lucky enough to see in real life while visiting Rome…..
This weekend was the feast of the ascension of Jesus into heaven. After spending 40 days with his friends, Jesus bid them farewell, telling them he had taught them everything they needed to know, and he would see them again sometime in the future. Later, Gators. And up he went, into the clouds. (Being a Christian requires a great deal of faith.)
On the Sundays following Easter, Catholics listen to the Acts of the Apostles — St. Luke’s account of life in the days following the resurrection. I love the Acts, and it’s my favorite time of the year, readings-wise. As I listened to the description of the apostles watching Jesus float up into the sky, I suddenly had this realization of just how scared they must all have felt. First of all, they are watching a man — their best friend — float away. They had spent three years following him around, watching him cure lepers and raise people from the dead. He had walked on water and calmed roaring sea waters. He had gathered thousands of followers. And now he was saying, “Bye, bye. I know you’re going to do great.” They must have been terrified. They didn’t know how to cure leprosy.
The apostles were real people. They ate and slept and got crabby and laughed at a good joke, just like us. But they were being given this amazingly difficult challenge. And on top of Jesus telling them to continue to build his church, they had to hide themselves to keep from being killed by the Romans or others who were pissed that they were leaving their Jewish faith for this new religion. How are we going to build this church if we have to hide out, I’m sure they were asking each other.
“Don’t leave us,” they probably said to the quickly-disappearing Jesus, although the gospels don’t mention that possibility. But they were human and they likely felt abandoned and scared as hell. But they managed to get it together, to push their cowardice aside, and go on to build his church, just as he requested.
As more and more people are pulling away from God, what seems to be left is us. Just like the apostles, I’m afraid of being responsible for carrying on our faith. Unfortunately, I’m not a saint, nor will I ever be a saint. All I can do is believe, follow my faith, model, and pray.