If our contact with organized Christianity is limited to a hierarchical, structured Church, we'll find it difficult to appreciate the message the three sacred authors are trying to convey this Sunday.

They're not interested in encouraging us to look to a higher rung on the authority ladder in order to discover God's will in our lives. They're concerned with making certain each of us understands the dignity God has implanted in us, independent of any authority structure.

The author of the second reading (I Peter 2:4-9), addressing newly baptized Christians, can't be clearer: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own, so that you may announce the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light."

Catholic action

Before the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the classic definition of "Catholic Action" was "the participation of the laity in the ministry of the local bishop."

Because of the Council's scriptural orientation, that non-scriptural definition was quickly discarded. Now we're to see each of us as members of the People of God, individuals whose call to minister to others isn't mediated through a hierarchical structure. Such actions are rooted in God's spirit embedded in each of us.

Jesus, during His Last Supper discourse in the Gospel (John 14:1-12), promises His followers something we often forget: "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father."

Our life of faith isn't just a matter of remembering the terrific things Jesus accomplished during His earthly ministry. He presumed that anyone who dared imitate Him would continue His ministry after His death and resurrection.

Jesus trusts all of us not only to accomplish what He achieved, but also to go beyond what He was able to do.

The only problem is that many of us have been led, through the centuries, to believe that such accomplishments are for "others," not for us. As the old axiom stated, our role in the Church was simply to pray, pay and obey.

Solving problems

That's where Sunday's first reading (Acts 6:1-7) comes in. St. Luke describes a problem in the early Jerusalem community: Hellenist widows think they're being shortchanged "in the daily distribution" of food.

"Hellenist," in this context, refers to Jews who aren't natives of Israel. They've spent most of their lives outside the Holy Land. Some of them probably don't even speak Aramaic -- the language the "Hebrews" speak. By nature, such a situation leads to misunderstandings.

But the solution the Twelve offer isn't as natural as the problem: "Select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task." Notice the names of the seven: "Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism." There's not a "Hebrew" in the lot. Every name is Greek; they're Hellenists!

Luke is telling his community, "If there are problems among you, those who have the problems should solve the problems." Don't expect a solution to be decreed from above.

If each of us really is as important as Jesus and our early Christian authors believe we are, our problems should always be solved from below -- by those who have a Spirit that will help them in this process.

We certainly have a long way to go in the future before we get back to how it was "in the beginning."