Living Like the Early Christians Today

4th Week of Easter: Living Like the Early Christians Today.

By Fr. Francis Carvajal

2/70.1 The rapid spread of Christianity. The early Christians’ holiness was through finding Christ in their environment.

Our Lord founded the Church on the weakness – but also on the fidelity – of a few men, the Apostles, to whom he promised the constant assistance of the Holy Spirit ...

The preaching of the Gospel does not arise in Palestine through the personal initiative of a few fervent individuals. What could the Apostles do? They were nothing in their time. From a human point of view they were neither rich, nor learned, nor heroes. Jesus places on the shoulders of a handful of disciples an immense, divine task. [1921] An observer devoid of supernatural vision and seeing the initial apostolate of that small group would have considered it destined to failure from the start. However, that group of men of faith were faithful and began to preach that novel teaching everywhere, clashing head-on with many pagan ways; in a short time the world knew that Jesus Christ was the Redeemer of the world.

The Good News is preached to all men from the beginning without discrimination. Those exiled in the persecution arising from Stephen’s death – as we read in today’s Mass[1922] – travelled as far afield as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch. In the latter city there were so many of them that it was there that the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. A few years later we find Christ’s followers in Rome and throughout the Empire.

At the beginning the Christian faith took root mainly among simple people: ordinary soldiers, labourers in the woollen industry, slaves, and merchants too.

For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. [1923]

God is no respecter of persons, and those who were called at the beginning – being humanly speaking ignorant and weak – were to be the instruments he would use to spread the Church. Thus the effectiveness would be seen to be more clearly divine.

Among the early Christians there were also cultured and educated people who were important by human standards, like the Ethiopian minister, centurions, men like Apollo and Dionysius the Areopagite, women like Lydia; but they were a minority among the vast number of converts to the new faith. St Thomas comments that it is further to God’s glory that the leaders of society were brought to him by simple people. [1924]

The early Christians worked at all the normal occupations of their time, with the exception of any professions that might present a danger to their faith like ‘interpreters of dreams’, diviners, temple-keepers, and so on. And despite the fact that pagan religious practices were part of public life, each stayed in the place and profession where he met the faith, trying to give his tone to society, striving to be exemplary in conduct, never rejecting – quite the opposite in fact – the task of getting closer to his neighbours and fellow citizens. They were involved in the forum, the market place and the army. Tertullian would say: We Christians don’t turn our backs on the world; we are present in the forum, at the baths, in the workshops, the bazaars, the market places and public squares. We are sailors, soldiers, farm hands, businessmen. [1925]

Our Lord reminds us that today too he is calling all, without discrimination of profession, social standing or race. What compassion you feel for them! ... You would like to cry out to them that they are wasting their time ... Why are they so blind, and why can’t they perceive what you – a miserable creature – have seen? Why don’t they go for the best?

Pray and mortify yourself. Then you have the duty to wake them up, one by one, explaining to them – also one by one – that they, like you, can find a divine way, without leaving the place they occupy in society. [1926]

This was what our first brothers and sisters in the faith did.

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In Conversation With God
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[1921] St. J. Escrivá, Homily, Loyalty to the Church, 4 June 1972

[1922] cf Acts 11:19-20

[1923] 1 Cor 1:26

[1924] St Thomas, Commentary on 1 Corinthians, ad loc.

[1925] Tertullian, Apology, 42

[1926] St. J. Escrivá, Furrow, 182


Francis Fernandez-Carvajal,

Rev. Francis Fernandez-Carvajal

Rev. Francis Fernández-Carvajal is a Priest of the Opus Dei Prelature and the author of many popular spiritual works. His seven-volume series In Conversation with God provides over 500 meditations to be used throughout the liturgical year. It has sold over 2 million copies and has been translated into many languages.