7th Sunday of Easter
May 24, 1998
Acts 7: 55-60
Sts. John & Paul, Larchmont, N.Y.
This past Sunday (May 8) I celebrated Mass for Boy Scouts at a district event in Bronxville, N.Y., using an outline. Here's a homily given at a local parish 18 years ago.
We just celebrated our Lord’s ascension into heaven. In the old liturgy, the Easter candle would have been snuffed immediately after the gospel was read on Thursday, and then carted off to the sacristy after Mass.
|Paschal candle, St. Patrick's Cathedral, 2016|
But we’re still celebrating Easter, and our paschal candle remains with us until Pentecost, when the “Easter work” of Christ, so to speak, is completed by the sending of the Holy Spirit.
For Christ to effect our salvation, it’s not enuf that he rose from the dead. His life-giving power, his salvation, has to be conveyed to us and be at work in us. So he has remained with us thru his Spirit.
In the opening prayer, we besought God: “Father, help us keep in mind that Christ our Savior lives with you in glory and promised to remain with us until the end of time.” The resurrection and ascension of Jesus took him from our earthly life—and from the grave, thru which all of us must pass—and raised him to heavenly glory in a transformed human existence. It’s not just his divine persona that lives with the Father, nor is it only his human soul; but his human body, the one born of the Virgin Mary, the one crucified, the one wondrously relivened and transformed by divine power, has gone ahead of us, his followers, to prepare places for us to join him, as he promised the apostles at the Last Supper (John 14:2-3).
He also promised the apostles he wouldn’t leave them orphans but would come back to them (John 14:18) and remain with them (cf. Mt 28:20). He will dwell with his Father in heaven, yet he will also be with us.
Hard to grasp? Perhaps. But we see it in the story of Stephen’s martyrdom, today’s 1st reading (Acts 7:55-60). 1st, we’re told that Stephen, on trial for preaching Jesus, was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (7:55), i.e., the Spirit of Jesus sent by the Father upon the Church, as Jesus promised. Jesus is with Stephen in his trial.
|The Stoning of St. Stephen|
San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice
Stephen’s accusers became an enraged mob, dragged him “out of the city”—as Jesus was led out to be crucified—and stoned him (7:58). Stephen, finally, repeated 2 prayers of Jesus from the cross: a prayer that his murderers be forgiven by God and prayer entrusting himself to Jesus (as Jesus had entrusted himself to his Father). How can people so imitate Jesus? Jesus is with them. He’s not only in heaven, but he also remains with us thru his Spirit dwelling in us (cf. John 14:23).
Jesus “promised to remain with us until the end of time.” That promise explicitly covers the Church, the body of Christ on earth, as many scripture passages show us. But it also covers us individually, as we just saw in Stephen’s life and death.
Christ commanded his disciples to preach the Gospel “to all the nations” (Luke 24:47), even “to every creature” (Mark 16:15). The Gospel is a message of repentance—and so the Church must point out sin—and of forgiveness and healing and reconciliation with God for those who hear and accept the message. Christ’s disciples couldn’t do this—they would lack the courage, the wisdom, the holiness, the power to do so—unless he remained with them. And so on Pentecost he sent the Holy Spirit to form them, the 12 Apostles and all the other disciples, men and women, into the Church. And by the power of the Holy Spirit he gave to the Church even the divine gift of infallibility, or inerrancy, in certain matters that most intimately pertain to salvation, to what we must believe and what we must do to be saved.
Christ remains with us individually too, from the moment of our Baptism, when by God’s gift, we were washed with and filled by the Holy Spirit (CCC 1215). We have become members of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit and, like Stephen, are empowered to live and act like Jesus (CCC 1265-66). We’re not infallible in our judgments of doctrine and right living, but we do receive divine gifts: faith, hope, charity, wisdom, fortitude, knowledge, courage, piety, and so on—so that we might grow ever more into the image of Jesus. Jesus remains with us, and the more we are aware of that, the more will it be evident in our thoughts, our words, and our actions. “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).