by Father Mike Stubbs
In the ancient world, bridges were often seen as sacred places. After all, they were vital to the life of the community. They facilitated the flow of transportation. To mark their sacred quality, shrines or chapels were sometimes attached to the bridge.
In ancient Rome, the chief priest was called the “Pontifex Maximus,” which means “the chief bridge maker.”
Luke, the writer of Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, was also interested in making bridges, but of a different kind.
In his introduction to the Acts (1:1-11), Luke provides a bridge between the time of Jesus’ ministry and the time of the early church. Luke’s Gospel had dealt with Jesus’ ministry:
“In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught.” Now, the Acts of the Apostles will narrate the history of the early church.
To build this bridge, Luke directs our attention to Jesus’ ascension into heaven. That is why we read this introduction to the Acts of the Apostles as the first reading for Sunday’s Mass, when we celebrate the solemnity of the Ascension.
In his parting words to the apostles, Jesus informs them: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The remainder of the Acts of the Apostles will describe how the apostles live out those instructions. It will look at the life of the early church in Jerusalem. It will follow the travels of the apostles, while focusing upon Paul. It will reach its climax with Paul’s arrival in the city of Rome.
Rome stands out as the capital of the Roman Empire. From that point, the good news about Jesus Christ will spread throughout the known world. Symbolically and literally, Jesus’ prediction about the apostles’ witness will be fulfilled: “You will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.”
This is only able to take place through the power of the Holy Spirit, which the apostles will receive on the day of Pentecost: “In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit will play a conspicuous part in the spreading of the Gospel.
In a sense, besides the apostles Peter and Paul, the Holy Spirit is one of the main characters in that book.