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Friday, 31 May 2019

7th Sunday of Eastertide 2019

(Acts 7:55-60; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20; John 17:20-26.)


In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we were given a picture of the fanaticism which can so easily surface in fallen humankind, for the murder of Stephen was the work of religious fanaticism of which we see so many most atrocious examples today.    There are, of course, all sorts of fanaticism: other prominent types today being football fanaticism, pop and rock fanaticism, and the animal rights brand.  I say that fanaticism is close to hand for fallen mankind, because human nature was made for God not for itself, man was made to love and serve, know and identify himself with, God, and ultimately to share in His eternal beatitude.  And so, fallen men and women are inclined to give themselves in varying degrees not only to God and the works of God, but also, and indeed, much more frequently, to someone such as a super-star, something like a football team, or to some cause chosen by  themselves, e.g. poor dumb animals etc.; and in giving themselves totally to what is not God or of God, the God-given impulse to religious devotion is thereby progressively changed, twisted, poisoned and corrupted, into various types of fanaticism each of which tries to imitate its distant origins by offering the satisfaction of pseudo-fulfilment through the excitement of belonging to a group of similarly motivated enthusiasts expressing support for their chosen team in its triumph or troubles, serving a cause that seeks to put right perceived wrongs, or simply exorcising personal frustrations, prejudices or anxieties, by public expressions of opposition or antagonism with regard to those at ease, in authority, or those who simply seem have more than others.

Fanaticism is never free nor can it express its evil mind through the true love of a Spirit-led heart: seeing nothing but an enemy it can only seek the pseudo-self- satisfaction of rejection or hatred.

Let us now look a little closer at the religious fanaticism shown in the first reading and compare it with the teaching of both the second reading and the Gospel:

All who sat in the council, cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him.

The present attention of those in the council was fixed on their enemy, Stephen, and at the back of their minds was the insistent problem of their own status with regard to the Roman overlords; they were most certainly not responding to the God they professed to represent.  The words of Stephen should have been answered, if indeed they were defenders of the Law; but, in order to answer they would have had, first of all, to listen to Stephen’s words, and that was something they were not prepared to envisage let alone do:

They cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord.

In so doing, they were in fact giving vent to, satisfying, their own feelings of anger, apprehension and even fear, not defending the Law of the Lord their God.

Human passions are no guide to God’s will: human anger does not serve divine justice nor can human sentimentality transmit God’s goodness; and yet emotions are part and parcel of our human nature, they are necessary for human actions, above all for human love and divine charity:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. (Mark 12:30)

However, such emotions need to follow the lead of, keep in tune with, a mind guided by faith in Jesus and able, by the grace of His Spirit, to look at the situation as a whole, not to indulge a mind that is exclusive in its focus because of the weakness of its grasp.  Human emotions should neither be stoked up by prejudice nor smothered by fearful self-interest.

If we now turn to the second reading we can see how the Christian is called not only to look to Christ, but also urged to long for, pray for, His coming:

I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star."  And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming quickly." Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The Christian, therefore, can only be a truly living member of the Church (the bride) under the inspiration of the Spirit and to the extent that he or she is steadfastly looking and longing for Jesus.  Sadly, many nominal Catholics today are prepared to take scandal at supposed -- or real -- human sins and failings, and I read recently of one such (self-righteous, sanctimonious) young woman refusing Communion, that is, snubbing Jesus, because she did not approve of the sermon preached by one trying to do what he saw as his Catholic duty.  People of God, ‘the Spirit and the Bride say, “Come Lord Jesus”’, which means that in all his or her activities, the heart and mind of the devout Catholic disciple of Jesus should be relatively free and mutually respectful when involved in recognizing what is true, appreciating what is beautiful, and responding to whatever guidance God gives: that young woman I just mentioned allowed her heart to totally break away from her faith-enlightened mind

I pray that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.

Earlier I said that human sentimentality/emotionalism is incapable of transmitting divine goodness, and there I was referring to the wide-spread habit of praising and promoting popular causes by involving weeping women, excited children, apparently repentant men who had been ‘forced’ into whatever they may have done wrong, as though such presentations were the full truth or truly good, serving, that is, the social and spiritual well-being of those targeted by such presentations; in fact, however, they are often more well-suited to serve the worldly/personal  interests and preferences of those using them than the social or spiritual well-being of the community as a whole.

In the quotation I have just made from the Gospel you will see that Jesus had in mind the eternal well-being of all mankind when He prayed that the Apostles might be one, for He prayed with the express intention:

            That the world may believe that You sent Me.

His prayer that:

They may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one;

was not for His Apostles alone, but primarily for all of us, because the way the world would come to accept and believe in Jesus was not to be one sign-posted with extravagant gestures or emotional declarations by the Apostles, but by those same Apostles becoming ever more personally one-with-Jesus, and ever more collegially one-in-Jesus, by their every word and deed for Jesus:  

I in them and You in Me, may they be one in Us, Father.

For the Apostles, their centre of attention, their whole-hearted desire, had to be fixed on Jesus.  Though they would give their lives for those to whom they were sent, they would not overcome any enemies nor would they convert any peoples of themselves: they had to be centred on Jesus, so that He -- through His Spirit -- would direct the catch of fish for them, as of old.  And our second reading, taken from the book of Revelation, widened this spiritual attitude to the whole of God’s people with the words:

The Spirit and the bride (which is Mother Church, inspired, guided and sustained by the Spirit) say, "Come!" And let him who hears (and reads) say, "Come!"   Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.

Those whose minds are ablaze and charred by the fire of religious fanaticism, those whose eyes are blinded by the smoke of suspicion and hatred which such excitement begets, seek to assure themselves of a place in a ‘heaven’ of their imagining or in the hearts of men, by claiming to protect and promote what is right and good by indulging themselves in the worldly pseudo-satisfaction of rejection and hatred.

We, on the other hand, as faithful Christians, can have only one aim: by the Spirit, to live and die with and in Jesus for love of the Father from Whom we aspire to accept both life and death as His most gracious gift.  We cannot, must not, allow ourselves to be guided by human ideas of goodness; for the human heart can be a veritable cesspit of intentions and aspirations, while human goodness at its best is not good enough, it is too open to the corruptions of self-seeking pride or pusillanimity, political correctness and popularity.  We Catholics should seek to be guided and determined in all things by the teaching of Jesus as proclaimed by Mother Church (not by the personal outpourings of individuals however highly regarded) and as inspired into our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit of Jesus working in us through her Sacraments and with us in our best endeavours to follow His light and our conscience.  And the ultimate satisfaction we seek should be that for which Jesus prayed on our behalf:

Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.