Saints Nereus and Achilleus


About Our Identity and Activity:

Optional Memorial of Saints Nereus and Achilleus

(Acts 15:22-31; Ps 57; Jn 15:12-17)


Have you ever heard people say they believed in God but not in an institution? That they believed in Jesus but did not want to have anything to do with the church? That they were spiritual but not religious?

The reality coming from today’s readings is that faith in Jesus goes hand in hand with membership in the Church, his Body. One cannot separate the head from the body.

The readings today actually give us our identity and our activity: who we are in Christ, and what we must be about as followers of Jesus.

The first reading from Acts is all about our identity. It describes the life of the early Church that began with the Pentecost event when the glory of God, the shekinah of God that had left the temple before the first exile, returned not to the second temple, but onto each disciple gathered with Mary in the upper room as a strong wind and flames of fire. The meaning is clear – we, the church, are the new temples of the Holy Spirit, the new dwelling place of God, the Body of Christ. That is our identity.

Faith in Jesus as Risen Lord is expressed from the beginning within the container of the Church, the new people of God. That is why as early as Acts 15, today’s reading, we hear expressions like “the apostles and elders, with the consent of the whole church, chose men to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.”

So strong is Pope Francis on the importance of being church, he once stated it was even “dangerous to have a personal relationship with Jesus that was not connected with membership in the Church.” Unfortunately, some writers separated the statement “dangerous to have a personal relationship with Jesus” from the rest of the teaching, leaving people shocked because they did not take the time to read the whole text.

Fr. Richard Rohr, interestingly enough in one of his meditations, says essentially the same thing, only in different words: “For Paul, community is the living organism that communicates the Gospel message. Paul, like Jesus, wants to change culture here, not just send people away to a far-off heaven later! If Christ’s cosmic message doesn’t take form in a concrete group of people, then, as far as Paul is concerned, it is an unbelievable message. An autonomous Christian is as impossible as an independent arm or leg. Arms and legs exist only as parts. No single one of us is the whole Christ, and ‘the eye cannot say to the hand, I do not need you’ (I Corinthians 12:21). Believers exist as parts of the whole, the Body of Christ.”

Our non-Catholic friends insist on scripture alone (sola scriptura). Actually, as famed convert Scott Hahn discovered, that teaching is not found in the bible at all! What we do find in the bible is what is stated in the reading today, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” The apostles did not have the New Testament – they had only the Old Testament and the Holy Spirit, and together with the Holy Spirit, they made decisions that started to create the traditions of the church that exist to this day. As Catholics, we have always balanced the written word of God with the lived word of God as a dynamic, ongoing reality through the ages.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way: “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit. And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching. As a result, the Church to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, ‘does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.’” (CC 81-82)

The gospel in turn gives us the activity that we must be about as followers of Jesus, as his Body, the Church. The first is to live the commandment Jesus gave us – “love one another as he has loved us.” That means we are to love with a sacrificial love – one that is willing to accept some suffering and inconvenience for the sake of the good of others. There are some generous, good-hearted people who fall short of this high bar that Jesus has set us, with the thinking that they are willing to do good, as long as it does not inconvenience them. That is not what Jesus had in mind when he gave us that commandment. As Jesuit activist Daniel Berrigan put it, before deciding to follow Jesus, we need to first consider how good we look on wood!

Jesus adds another element to loving others – “He has made known to us everything that he learned from the Father.” There is a strong invitation here for us to do likewise – to share our lives more openly and honestly with one another – to risk letting others know who we really are – to even try to achieve intimacy with trusted others or soul-mates.

There are some who say there is more church happening in church basements during support groups meetings, than there is in the main body of the Church where formal worship is taking place. That is because of the level of trust and acceptance that is happening in genuine 12 Step fellowship from which we could all benefit.

The L’Arche movement provides us with this wisdom, “If we are open, honest and humble enough to share our weakness with our brothers and sisters, that frees them to be open, honest and humble enough to share their weakness with us, and together we grow.”

After he died, I found this saying in my father’s bible: “To be closer to God, be closer to people.” St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta put it this way: “What you would like to do for Jesus, whom you cannot see, do for the person next to you, whom you can see, and you will be doing it to Jesus.”

Today the church invites us to remember and honour Saints Nereus and Achilleus, who were soldiers in the Imperial Roman army. While they may have lived in the 1st century, what is known of them originates from a 4th century inscription by Pope Damasus, which attests to the fact these soldiers had experienced conversion and had been martyred as a consequence.

The Eucharist is both a great act of faith in Jesus, and also an invitation to deeper fellowship and sharing of life, as we break bread together.

May our celebration not only strengthen our faith in Jesus, but also ground us more deeply in both our identity as the Church, the Body of Christ, and our ability to love others as Jesus loved us, sharing our lives more deeply with one another.


Updated: May 12, 2023 — 3:41 am

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