5th Sunday of Easter
In these Sundays following Easter we get a glimpse in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles of the very early history of the Church. Today we see that the Church was growing and that disciples were being drawn from both the Jewish and gentile populations. The Hellenists referred to were drawn from the large Greek Jewish community living in Palestine.
We also see that from the first the Apostles preached a "social gospel." We know that they shared their goods and possessions and distributed them among the needy converts. In today's reading we see that the duty of providing for the needs of the poor was growing too large for the Apostles to handle themselves. And so, they went to the Christian community and asked them to select "seven reputable men" to take on the role of caring for the poor. Initially, they were to "serve at table," to see that the food was distributed equitably. Our word deacon originally meant to serve at table.
This reading is especially important for all of us. We can broaden the expression, "serve at table," and say simply that the community was being asked to nominate from its ranks those whose role it would be "to serve." As Catholics we often fall into the "they" syndrome. How often do we say, "they ought to do something about it," or "why don't they deal with this or that problem." It's as if we're apart from the Church and always looking for someone else to do the work.
Don’t we literally expect the Pope to work miracles? Won't we expect him to wear himself out with travel and appearances all over the world just as his predecessors did? Sometimes we complain that bishops and priests have all the authority, and some of us even want a piece of that authority. Yet there is so much work to be done by all of us.
In today's gospel Jesus is also telling us that we have to assume responsibility. In less than two weeks we will celebrate the feast of the Ascension and in today's reading Jesus is preparing the disciples for the time when He will leave. Actually, today’s reading from the fourteenth chapter of the gospel of St. John takes place at the conclusion of the Last Supper. Jesus has just washed the feet of the Apostles as a sign that they must do the same for those in their care. He has celebrated the feast of Passover with them and instituted the Eucharist. Judas has left the room on his mission of betrayal and Jesus gives a kind of farewell address to the remaining eleven.
Aware of his imminent Passion, Death, and Resurrection, he tells them that he is going away. “Do not let your hearts be troubled….Where I am going you know the way.” But Thomas protests,
Master, we do not know where you are going; How can we know the way?
This is the place where Jesus utters the famous words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Throughout this discourse Jesus makes it clear that the way to our place in Heaven is himself.
Very often we will hear people today speak of a “personal” relationship with Jesus. But what is a personal relationship with Jesus or how can we achieve it? Perhaps the best method is to focus on the words and deeds of Jesus himself. His words and his deeds are our example. He never cared for himself but cared for others, and eventually gave his life for all of us. Right before the words in our gospel today, Jesus told the Apostles assembled at the Last Supper,
“A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: that as I have loved you, you also love one another.”
The way to have a personal relationship with Jesus is not to hide ourselves in our room and meditate but to serve those who have been entrusted to our care. Indeed, we cannot have a personal relationship with Jesus if we have failed to mend our own personal affairs. Our religion is not separate from the rest of our lives. I recall a young woman telling me that she spent so much time caring for her teenage daughter that she did not have that much time to devote to prayer and bible study. She did not realize that by devoting herself to the care of her daughter, she was carrying out the Lord’s commandment. She thought of herself as somehow deficient or unworthy but she truly had a personal relationship with the Lord.
In today’s second reading St. Peter talks about the stone that the builder’s rejected that would become the cornerstone of a great edifice. How many of us think of ourselves as unworthy and incapable of doing the Lord’s work, while doing it day after day in our own lives.
In the nineteenth century a humble French priest was regarded as so inept by his superiors that he was assigned one of the poorest and worst parishes in France. His subsequent career and achievements were so remarkable that the Church would later canonize him as St. John Vianney, and make him the patron saint of all priests, In Canada over a hundred years ago a humble young man was allowed to become a Holy Cross brother over the objection of some of his superiors. His learning and education was so deficient that he was assigned to be the doorman of the monastery. A few years ago he was canonized as St. Andre Besette, the only member of the Holy Cross order ever to be canonized.
We are not all meant to be mystics or canonized saints but we all have our own vocation:
what Peter calls a royal priesthood. It is the same vocation as those early deacons, a life of service to our neighbor.
Reading 1.Acts 6: 1-7
Reading II. 1 Peter 2: 4-9
Gospel. John 14: 1-12 (the way, the truth, and the life).