Men from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. (Luke 13:29)
Hindsight is a great thing. When we read in the Gospels of people from east and west, north and south - all over the world - coming in to the kingdom, and when we hear of the apostles being sent out to the whole world, we are reading this through the eyes of hundreds of years of Christian history - a history in which our faith spread from Palestine to Asia, Asia to Europe, Europe to Africa and the New World. We know a history of martyrs who died in Japan, Uganda and Peru. We know of Churches built almost from nothing in Fiji, Scandinavia and even in Hanley. It is a remarkable story - a remarkable set of stories. Christianity is now followed by about a quarter of the world, is known in almost every country, and Catholicism is by far its largest representative.
But these words were spoken and written down long before all that. They were spoken when Jesus followers were quite a small group, popular amongst the people, but with an uneasy relationship with the authorities. And they were written down when Christians were already persecuted, considered either a novelty or even a perversion by the society of the time, living in small communities separated by long distances, held together by strong leaders and the many letters which travelled the roads of the Roman Empire.
And yet there was that extraordinary vision: the vision of Jesus, of a kingdom peopled by those from all over the world; the vision of the Apostles, sent out with few resources to call those people to join them; the vision of the Church, which has never ceased, boldly and in the face of opposition and persecution to proclaim the truth and call people to its communion.
We live in society where we are encouraged to forget that vision. We encounter not persecution, but indifference and ridicule. We are not painted as a dangerous novelty, but a spent force from past ages.
And we worry about declining numbers, a shortage of priests, the dropping off of practice of those who go by the name Catholic.
Yet they had it much more difficult. Fewer numbers. Greater hardship. Tough times.
Yet they had a hope, and a vision, in the Kingdom of God, the truth of the Gospel, the certainty of their hope, the reality of the future growth and prosperity of the Church.
And they were right!