5th. Sunday of Easter (A)
(Acts 6:1-7; 1st. Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12)
People of God, let me draw your attention to the first reading, in the course of which you heard the Apostles speaking to the early Christians in Jerusalem:
The twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.
You will, I trust, appreciate from that passage the importance the Apostles attached to their 'ministry of the word', which included what we might call today the office of preaching. In this they were being totally faithful to the Lord's command, for we are told that after His Resurrection:
Jesus appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He said to them, "Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:14-16)
With that in mind perhaps someone might think: ‘But what about the Mass?’
The Apostles regarded the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice to be of supreme importance, indeed absolutely necessary, for the Church, as St. Paul writes in his letter to his Christian community at Corinth:
I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is My body which is (broken) for you; do this in remembrance of Me." (1 Cor. 11:23-24)
For the Apostles, there could be no conflict of precedence between ministry of the Word and celebration of the Eucharist, since prayer and proclamation are two co-related aspects of one reality: as St. Peter said in our first reading:
We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.
The Eucharist is supreme prayer, the prayer of the Church -- the Body of Christ -- with that of her Head, Christ Himself. Proclamation of the Word is a commission received by the apostles from Jesus, Whose Spirit will relentlessly guide and drive them on to proclaim His Name and continue His work of redemption for men and women of all times.
Consequently, a priest’s calling -- as a sharer in the Bishops' Apostolic mission in Mother Church today -- is to follow the Apostles' example by his ministry of the Word and offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, both of which he does pre-eminently in his celebration and proclamation of Christ at Holy Mass.
Nothing is more necessary and beneficial for our world today than the offering of Jesus' Eucharistic sacrifice, as Mother Church teaches us when she says: 'As often as the sacrifice of the Cross is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out' (Lumen Gentium 3). Nor is there any other place or time better suited for the proclamation of God's Word than when the Church community is assembled together in the house of God for her memorial of the Lord’s Resurrection through her celebration of the Eucharist bequeathed to her.
Here, People of God, we should notice that the ministry of the Word is not, primarily, a matter of being able to talk well: for example, a course to develop communication skills (to use modern jargon) cannot of itself enable or qualify anyone to proclaim God’s holy Word. God's grace and the Church’s commission -- together with personal prayer and appropriate study -- are the sole and absolutely necessary prerequisites for preaching the Word. For true preaching is not done by men alone, it is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit in and through chosen instruments opening themselves up to Him in personal obedience. Moreover, the purpose of such preaching is not to make Jesus popular, but to proclaim His truth and Mother Church’s teaching, whereby He might lead us all, in the power of His Spirit, to love, worship, and glorify the Father in spirit and in truth.
Do not think therefore that those who proclaim the Gospel in the name of the Church, that is the Holy Father, the Bishops, and the priests and deacons of Mother Church, speak, to quote Jesus, 'on their own initiative'. They can only rightly proclaim the Gospel under the impulse and inspiration of the Holy Spirit; and since Mother Church alone has been given the fullness of the Spirit, all receive through her the Spirit entrusted to them for their particular purpose and function. We were shown this clearly in the first reading where Peter, speaking on behalf of all the Apostles, said:
Brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
And we were subsequently told that:
They set (the seven men) before the apostles, and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.
Why did the Apostles need to lay their hands on them since, as we heard, these seven men were chosen because they were full of the Spirit and of wisdom?
Their fullness of the Spirit and of wisdom at that time was such as to have enabled them to live as good disciples of Jesus gaining a good reputation in the Christian community:
Seek out from among you seven men of good reputation.
However, in order to fulfil in the name of the infant Church the special function of looking after those who were most needy, they had to be given the Spirit anew:
The apostles, when they had prayed, laid their hands on them.
No special work in and for the Church can be done without a special gift of the Spirit for that purpose. The Spirit guides, preserves, strengthens and inspires for the good of the Church; He will never allow the gates of Hell to prevail against the Church, and so He specially protects the whole People of God by blessing and prospering the sincere efforts of individuals called to serve in designated ministries as they seek to respond to their calling. Although He does not eliminate human sins and failings, nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of holiness freely given to all who, at whatever level and in whatever degree, humbly and sincerely work for the furtherance of Gospel truth and divine charity in the Church, the family, and society as a whole.
That is why Jesus said to His Apostles, and to His Church today (Jn. 16:13s.):
When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.
And that is why the apostle John could write in his first letter:
We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 Jn. 4:6)
Most of the present difficulties and trials of Mother Church stem from an ignorance of the working of the Holy Spirit and an overdose of human pride. The Holy Spirit is always and only given to build up Mother Church for the glory of God, never to back up human pride or human passions; and yet there are numerous Catholics who think their secular learning or intelligence enables them, while others imagine that the vehemence of their personal feelings compels them, to intervene in even the most sacred matters of Church’s teaching and practice. These wrong attitudes have bedevilled Mother Church from the beginning, as St. John shows when speaking in the book of Revelation (3:1-4) to those having a false opinion of themselves or possessing a false reputation with others:
I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.
People of God, St. Peter told us that Jesus:
The stone which the builders rejected, has become the chief cornerstone;
and that we, His disciples:
As living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
That spiritual house is Mother Church where the Holy Spirit dwells and is ever at work to form us all in the likeness of Jesus as members of His Body and sharers in His holy priesthood, called to 'offer up (in His name) spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God'. All our individual and personal spiritual sacrifices, however, are only acceptable to God because of the real sacrifice of Jesus, which alone gives worthy praise and glory to the Father; and also because some members of the Church have been chosen and ordained to be instruments of Jesus in the continued offering, even today, of His one, real, and perennial sacrifice to the Father.
As a priest, I am a sharer in the ministerial priesthood of Jesus; but I am also, as an individual -- along with you -- a sharer in that other priesthood, the priesthood of the whole Body of Christ, in which each of us is called to join, here at Mass, our individual spiritual sacrifices with the bodily sacrifice of Jesus for the supreme glory of God, the heavenly Father.
People of God, our hope and our future is bound up with Jesus and in Him we have a sublime vocation which each and every one of us should try to build up more and more through our personal relationship with Him: for we do not have an impersonal calling, we still can and still have to work at it, and we cannot fulfil it without the grace and strength of His most Holy Spirit.
God is All in all for us, and He wants us to give Him our all in return. In Mother Church we are called and enabled to do just that by the abiding presence of Jesus in the Church and the constant working of His Spirit in the Church and in our lives.
Jesus Himself required His disciples to look beyond the physicality of His own presence and Person:
Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority: believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me.
I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14:12-13)
In like manner He wants us to look beyond mere flesh and blood, beyond personalities we may like or dislike, and, as St. Paul puts it:
Through love serve one another (Galatians 5:13).
That means ‘work together as a team’ ‘ as living members of My Body’:
That the Father may be glorified in the Son.
We should all try to look beyond personalities and ignore our own pride, each trying to do our best for Jesus, present in His Church, in response to the gracious calling and power of His Holy Spirit Who works in and through all of us, each
according to the degree allotted him by God. As St Paul said, all of us must aspire to have the mind of Christ, becoming one with Him and in Him; for Jesus is indeed the truth, the life, and the only way to the Father, and only in Him and through Him can we give:
Glory to God in the highest and (bring) peace to His people on earth.