5th Sunday of Easter
May 14, 2017
Acts 6: 1-7
John 14: 1-12
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.
“Almighty, ever-living God, constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us…” (Collect).
So we prayed in the Collect, in part, 10 or 15 minutes ago. We pleaded with God—powerful and full of life—to empower us with the divine life of his Son Jesus. This life is available to us on account of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection—the paschal mystery, the Easter mystery. We enter that mystery thru Baptism and all the other sacraments, and we grow in our grasp of the mystery whenever we encounter Jesus in his sacred Word, the holy Scriptures.
Our prayer, however, is that the paschal mystery be “accomplished” in us: that it be carried out, that it be effective, that it be fulfilled, or as the prayer itself says, that it “bear much fruit.” Being baptized or confirmed, or receiving the Eucharist, is a part of the divine process, but not the whole process of this accomplishment. More is required.
More in required even in a temporal sense. For our prayer is that God accomplish the mystery “constantly.” It’s ongoing. It’s lifelong. It’s not finished until we die, until we come to that home in heaven that Jesus is preparing for us (John 14:2-3). So be patient, folks, regarding your spiritual growth, and keep progressing with Jesus along the way that he has marked out for us thru his paschal mystery.
Note, too, that we pray for God to accomplish the mystery within us. It’s not something we can do for ourselves. The work of our salvation is done by Jesus, acting on us and in us thru his Holy Spirit. He needs our cooperation, our “yes” to his work, as he needed the Virgin Mary’s “yes” when the angel Gabriel came to her and asked her to become the mother of our Savior (Luke 1:26-38). But God does all the heavy lifting.
That it’s God’s work is indicated, too, in the next line of the prayer: “those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism.” Baptism began the work of God in us. It made us a new creation, recreated us clean and pure in divine grace. Baptism was our rebirth, which Jesus spoke of to Nicodemus: we must be reborn of water and the Holy Spirit if we are to enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:5). But God’s the one who does the work, who makes us new, who pushes us out of the dark womb of our sinfulness into the glorious new life of grace.
We prayed that, “under [God’s] protective care,” we might “bear much fruit.”
At the Last Supper Jesus told the apostles that he’s the vine and they’re the branches shooting off the vine; as long as we’re attached to him, we can bear abundant fruit (John 15:4-5). Elsewhere in the Scriptures, the people of God are called to the Lord’s vineyard, which he cultivates so that it will bear good fruit (Is 5:1-7; Matt 21:33-41; cf. Matt 20:1-16).
What is the fruit that God expects of us? To ask the question another way, in keeping with the beginning of the Collect, how do our lives show that we’re immersed in Jesus’ paschal mystery? The reading from the Acts of the Apostles informs us. The apostles note that the Church has a 2-part program: to pray and preach the Word of God is one part; to serve the needs of the poor, personified in widows in our passage, is the other part.
So our Christian lives must show the fruit of prayer: giving praise and thanks to God and interceding on behalf of the world. When St. Peter instructs us that we must “be built into … a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God thru Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5), prayer of praise and intercession is one of the things he means. You are a Christian priest; you pray.
Our Christian lives also must show the fruit of sound teaching or public witness to God’s Word.
And our Christian lives must show the fruit of practical charity, social justice—such as works for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, migrants, the sick, the elderly, children in the womb, prisoners, the environment, education, health care, rescuing the victims of trafficking, delivering people from terrorism and other forms of oppression, helping people deal with addictions, etc. Obviously, no one can do all of that. In Acts, you might say the work is divided up among various branches of the vine that is Christ. Make sure you are a fruit-giving branch. That’s our collective prayer today (“collective” and “collect” are related words!).
Finally, the Collect prays that—always with God’s help—we might “come to the joys of life eternal.” Jesus is preparing a place for us. The place is in his Father’s house, his Father’s mansion, where we’re meant to dwell with him (John 14:2-3) and see the Father’s face—see the Father in person (cf. 14:8-9).
Think how excited you’d be to meet some hero of yours in person and get to spend time with him or her. How many of you went to the Garth Brooks or Tom Petty concert? It’s different in person than on TV, right? How many parishioners got excited last Sunday because Lovie Smith came to 10 o’clock Mass (so I was told later—and I was the celebrant!)? How many of you wanted to go see the Cubs’ world championship trophy when it came to town—a thing, not a person? I’m excited because next month Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez, a Salesian who’s coordinator of the Pope’s council of 9 cardinals, is going to ordain 4 new SDB priests in N.Y., and I’ll be there either concelebrating or taking photos. (The cardinal has done ordinations for us several times and visited New Rochelle on other occasions; he’s delightfully friendly and approachable.)
How can we compare any of that with being with God—the God who created us out of love, who is our Father, who so loves us that he sent Jesus to save us (cf. John 3:16), who so ardently desires to have us in his company, part of his family, forever? We pray for that joy, which the Father wants to give us even more than we want to receive it!
May the paschal mystery be accomplished in each of us! If we must part physically in a few weeks, may we—as St. Thomas More said on the scaffold—“meet merrily in heaven,” where our health, our virtue, and our joy will be perfect and unending.
|Execution of Sir Thomas More (detail), by Antoine Caron|