5th. Sunday of Eastertide, Year (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 called together the community of the disciples and said, "It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves 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 would call today the duty of preaching. In this they were being totally faithful to the Lord's command, for we are told (Mark 16:14-16) 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."
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 (1 Corinthians 11:23-24):
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."
For the Apostles, therefore, 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 shall devote ourselves 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. Likewise, proclamation of the Word is the commission given by Jesus to His faithful Apostles, for the fulfilment of which He endowed them with the gift of His own most Holy Spirit, that by their preaching they might proclaim His Good News far and wide and thus 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 on Sunday.
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 Sunday memorial of the Lord’s Resurrection.
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 true preaching is the result of the Holy Spirit working in and through disciples – specially adapted as His instruments by their ordination -- obediently opening themselves up to His grace and making themselves useful for His purposes; and the supreme purpose for such Spirit-guided preaching is not to try to make Jesus popular (and most certainly not the preacher himself!) but to proclaim His truth, His Gospel, and Mother Church’s presentation of it, that God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- might be worshipped, loved, and served aright.
Mother Church alone has been given the fullness of the Spirit and no individual member of the Church has such fullness: all receive the Spirit entrusted to them, through her, for a particular purpose and function. We were shown this clearly in the first reading where Peter, speaking on behalf of all the Apostles, said:
Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task.
Subsequently we were 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 of good reputation and full of the Spirit and wisdom?
Their fullness of the Spirit and of wisdom at that time was such as to have enabled them to live as disciples of Jesus meriting a good reputation in and for the Christian community:
Select from among you seven reputable men.
However, in order to fulfil in the name of the infant Church the special function of looking after those who were most needy -- the widows -- they had to be given the Spirit afresh:
They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.
No special God-willed 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 and He will never allow the gates of Hell to prevail against the Church; and so, He does most specially protect the whole People of God by blessing and prospering the sincere efforts of all individuals called to serve either in the ordained ministry, or as living members of what St. Peter recognized as:
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.
The Holy Spirit is available and freely given to all those called who, at whatever level and in whatever degree, work for the furtherance of Gospel truth and the growth of divine charity in the Church, the family, and in society as a whole.
That is why Jesus said to His Apostles (John 16:13-14) and says also to His Church today:
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 (4:6):
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.
Many of the present difficulties and trials of Mother Church stem, most certainly, from a wilful 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 indulge human passions. Unfortunately, there are still too many Catholics who think their learning or intelligence enables them, while others imagine that the vehemence of their personal feelings compels them, or even that their own social importance allows them, to push themselves into 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 (3:1-3) to those with a false opinion of themselves or a false reputation with others:
I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief. (NLT)
People of God, St. Peter tells 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, to be a holy priesthood, to offer 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 each and every one of us in the likeness of Jesus as a holy priesthood called to 'offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God'. However, our individual and personal spiritual sacrifices can only be acceptable to God first of all because of the real sacrifice of Jesus which alone gives worthy praise and glory to the God the Father; and secondly, because some members of the Church have been called and ordained to be instruments of the Spirit of Jesus in the continued offering, even today, of Jesus’ one, real, and perennial sacrifice to the Father. Because of, and along with, that ever-abiding and ever-contemporary offering of Jesus' sacrifice, all our individual spiritual sacrifices can become acceptable to the God and Father Who is All in all.
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, called to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God:
A royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, proclaim(ing) the praises of Him who called (us) out of darkness into His marvellous light.
People of God, our hope and our future is bound up with Jesus and in Him we have a sublime vocation. Each and every one of us should try to build up our relationship with Him more and more: for though we have a calling, we still have to work at it, and we cannot fulfil our calling without the grace and strength of the 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 are enabled to do just that by the abiding presence of Jesus in the Church and the constant working of His Holy 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 is in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own. 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 14:10-13)
In like manner, He wants us to look beyond mere flesh and blood, beyond personalities we may naturally like or dislike, and, as St. Paul puts it (Galatians 5:13):
Through love serve one another.
that is, through authentic love of God, work together as a team, as co-operating members of the Body of Christ, either by shared personal endeavour or by sincere personal prayer:
That the Father may be glorified in the Son.
And if we would wish to understand something of the Son’s glorification of His Father we must recall Jesus’ words of explanation to His Apostles:
Jesus said to Thomas, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.
Notice Jesus does not say, ‘No one goes to the Father except through Me’ … He doesn’t even say, ‘No one can get to the Father except through Me; no, the Father is in no way to be separated from Jesus, He is mysteriously essential to Jesus and only to be found in Jesus by a through-going which is also a coming-to:
No one comes to the FATHER except through ME!!
Dear People of God, the astounding beauty of our Faith is a wondrous configuration of earth and heaven: earthly discipline and order in the Church so beautifully pictured for us in today’s short readings, and more completely manifested in the early Church’s comprehensive embrace of life in Christ, and the transcendental mystery of heavenly charity revealed to us in our Blessed Lord’s Gospel words:
No one comes to the FATHER except through ME!!
Let us therefore go out into the world after today’s Eucharist inspired to proclaim our Blessed Lord Jesus, Whose Truth is the only Way, and by Whose Holy Spirit of Life alone we can give fitting praise and honour to the Father of sublime Mystery and Majesty, Whose eternal Presence, Glory, and Power, in Mother Church and in our individual and most personal lives, can only be understood as LOVE: heavenly, sacrificial, and eternal. Amen.