5th Sunday of Easter
Acts 6.1-7; 1Peter 2.4-9; Jn 14.1-12
Today’s Gospel presents Jesus as the guide in life, as the ‘way, truth and life’. The Christian centre is the person of Christ. Our work for Jesus and our love for people, no matter what our calling in life, flow from this. Mother Teresa was once asked why she did what she did, and she simply said ‘for Jesus’. This centre always holds, it cannot be unhinged. It is a deeply personal relationship. we are led by Jesus ‘one by one’, known by name, not as just one of a group. We follow him as one we know, not a stranger. Studying his life and times, getting to know the places and events of his life, becoming familiar with the gospels and getting to know him in the heart in prayer is the way of keeping our centre of conviction and motivation strong. As this happens freedom grows and we begin to find him everywhere.
To the extent that the Acts of the Apostles relates an idealized memory of how the earliest Church was established and grew, it provides interesting milestones of ecclesiastical evolution. Only slightly less important to Church evolution than the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles and disciples at Pentecost was the fairly quick evolution from a Jewish Church to a Gentile (i.e., Non-Jewish) Church over only a few decades. But the catalyst of that shift from Jewish to Gentile was the remarkable effectiveness with which the Gospel spread and the consequent Church membership increased. The small number of original disciples who knew Jesus well at his death, burial, and resurrection increased exponentially beginning with the Church’s public launch at Pentecost. In last Sunday’s text from Acts, the summary note was made that “about three thousand” were baptized on that Pentecost Day. Indeed, that number was merely an indicator of the Church’s growth rate not only then but consistently over the years, decades and centuries to come. Today’s text recalls the evolution of specialized ministries which the Gospel community found necessary because of great growth. The intimate fellowship which Jesus’ original disciples enjoyed would be challenged by sheer numbers. New needs arose in that expanding Church to what 20th Century Christians call “social ministries” which are indicated in Acts by the care for widows and “the daily distribution.” Remember that those most idealistic earliest Christians were said to have “held all property in common” (see Acts 2.44) in a very simple sort of communal socialism. Thus, each individual and household would have received daily rations of food and supplies. But, the primary task of the apostles since Pentecost had become the practical and urgent preaching of God’s Word. It fell to the Twelve to reorganize the community and to divide up ministries and tasks. The Church’s first major change was from being a very small community to becoming an ever-enlarging community, sort of like moving from a domestic family to a regional society. True then and true still today. “To live is to change; to live well is to change greatly!” (Attributed to John Henry Cardinal Newman, 19th Century British Churchman). The Church is at her wisest when she learns how to change graciously, compassionately and intelligently. Many who embrace their religious faith actually forget how to change, and demonstrate that forgetfulness when they resist any and all good and healthy – and necessary! – change. The institution of the ministry of deacons was an example of effective and reasonable change. Note, too, that the setting of this change was in the Jerusalem Church, and that “even a large group of priests” had come to be involved in the Gospel community. These “priests” would have been Temple priests in Jerusalem for the Christian “presbyterate” would not be so visible until the apostles likewise needed assistance in presiding over the liturgical assembly.
Our weekly lesson from 1st Peter is a section which precedes last week’s lesson. It harkens back to the Old Testament rationale by which God’s Chosen People, the Israelites recently freed from Egyptian slavery, were instructed by God to be holy just as God was holy. Hence, their relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had become a very, very different relationship from what all other Old Testament era ethnic groups and religions typically had with their divinities. (Note. the Hebrew word kadosh translates as “holy” which literally means “different from.”) Peter reminded the Gentile Christians of Asia Minor that just as the ancient Israelites had been called to be holy, so too they as new Christians were likewise and just as much expected by God to live a vocation to holiness. Peter cited the text from Exodus 19.6 which was a practical, constitutional statement by God about God’s People. ‘You are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own ...” These words are even used in the sacred eucharistic liturgy to remind our assembly in our own day of the dignity of the Christian Vocation. Thus, for the audience of 1st Peter, in an era when persecution was not unusual but was often dangerous, the Gospel community was a veritable home for the homeless, i.e., a safe community of Gospel fellowship in a society which was very often and very easily intimidated by and hostile to the Gospel’s genuine and profound goodness and love, justice and peace.
The Gospel narrative today is again not a Resurrection appearance of Jesus, but rather part of John’s Gospel memory of the short hours just at the end of the Last Supper. John seems to presume that we know the supper details (bread, wine, blessing) and supplies to us instead a memory of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. After the example of foot-washing was explained as a metaphor for mutual service, he proceeded to teach and explain. These dozen verses show Jesus trying to encourage and support the Eleven and whoever is with them by first assuring them of “a place for you” in the kingdom. Thomas, famous a few days later for his skepticism about Jesus’ Resurrection, admited the fearful but private worry in each of them with “We do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Philip too was a disciple willing to risk embarrassment by suggesting that they have not really “seen” the Father but that they are willing to be shown. Jesus made significant use of metaphor as he provided them a glimpse of the profound mystery of the Divine Presence, of his Christological importance, and of the hope he had tried to instil in them. Jesus’ “I am the way, the truth, and the life...” was a huge summary of the reality of God’s Presence and of his essential oneness with God. “... no one comes to the Father except through me” seems addressed somewhat narrowly to those in the room with him. Thus, the “no one” becomes more strictly “on one among you” because they have already been given access to God, whether or not they appreciate it. Seemingly, Philip fails to the test of appreciation, at least that night. That line “no one comes to the Father except through me” has too often been used by literalist Christians to assert exclusion of non-Christians and even other Christians from eternal salvation. Jesus was more reasonably addressing only and principally that small group of the Eleven plus a small number more of disciples. He had no real reason to be talking explicitly to us today or against non-believers though history over the centuries. After all, he had just said that in his Father’s house there are many (!) dwelling places. Why would he assert the greatest hope only moments later to restrict that to the self-righteous? Logic should always paint Jesus as Savior in the business of successfully saving every one and excluding no one! Let God be the judge! Let us be the best examples possible of the community which has experienced and embraced God’s love! Let us imitate Jesus’ generosity and love of others just as we profess and hope for his generosity and love for ourselves!
Our gospel today (Jn 14.15-21) is very clear about “who” truly loves Jesus. Jesus himself says, “He who obeys the commandments he has from me is the man who loves me.” So a pro-abortion stance, in and of itself being directly in opposition to the Lord’s commandments, nullifies any claim of true love of Jesus.
Thou Shall not Kill
Long before the officially approved “canon” of scripture was established, it was the constant teaching of the Church that abortion was a horrible violation of, and sin against, the commandments of God. For example “The Didache” – aka “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” – was written in the first century (probably between 70-80 A.D.), and says the following, in part. “Thou shalt not kill … commit adultery … commit fornication … kill a child by abortion, neither shalt thou slay it when born…” Nevertheless, many pro-choice people claim a “right” to kill, abort, fornicate, adulterate, all actions which are in direct violation of both God’s commandments and the constant teaching of the Church Magisterium (i.e., the teaching office of the true successors to the apostles). People with a “pro-abortion” stance are clearly giving more credence to man-made laws than they do to God’s directives.
What is Freedom of Choice?
Many times pro-choice people (each with their own definition of what “pro-choice” means) confuse their “rights” with their free-will “choices.” The “pro-choice, anti-abortion” reader must understand that it is the very idea that when they say it is okay for “others” to make that decision, they are directly and indirectly endorsing the evil effect on the community, their youth, and their own eternal life. The “right” to directly take an innocent human life belongs only to God. However, one can indeed make a free-will “choice” that selects an evil action instead of a loving action. If that negative choice is made and/or defended, then that person by the definition of Jesus himself in today’s gospel is without love for being a willing participant in evil. Pro-abortion people claim to “see” the truth, but are “blind” like the Pharisees in John’s gospel scenes. Jesus told them that since they claim to “see,” that their guilt remains (Jn 9.41
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! People taking a pro-abortion stance are outside the communion of love and do not have the Spirit of Truth alive in their hearts (CCC#2615). Those claiming to love Jesus, but using abortion services, have replaced His Truth with their own ideals for their personal convenience. Even the simple bystanders, who have not properly informed their conscience, have replaced Truth with a gravely misguided altruism. Evil acts can be chosen deliberately, or by erroneous judgments and invincible ignorance (CCC#1790-93); nevertheless, true love proceeds from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith (CCC#1794). Do not forget to intercede for those whose judgements appear to be faulty and lacking in love; by interceding we take our lesson from Jesus (CCC #2634).
Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD