Fri, 31 May 2019
(In dioceses where Ascension is celebrated on Thursday, see also the reflection for the Seventh Sunday of Easter.)
In today’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke gives the surprising news that there is more of the story to be told. The story did not end with the empty tomb, or with Jesus’ appearances to the Apostles over the course of forty days. Jesus’ saving work will have a liturgical consummation. He is the great high priest, and He has still to ascend to the heavenly Jerusalem, there to celebrate the feast in the true Holy of Holies.
The truth of this feast shines forth from the Letter to the Hebrews, where we read of the great high priest’s passing through the heavens, the sinless intercessor’s sacrifice on our behalf (see Hebrews 4:14–15).
Indeed, His intercession will lead to the Holy Spirit’s descent in fire upon the Church. Luke spells out that promise in the First Reading for the feast of the Ascension: “in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). The Ascension is the preliminary feast that directs the Church’s attention forward to Pentecost. On that day, salvation will be complete; for salvation is not simply expiation for sins (that would be wonder enough), but it is something even greater than that. Expiation is itself a necessary precondition of our adoption as God’s children. To live that divine life we must receive the Holy Spirit. To receive the Holy Spirit we must be purified through Baptism.
The Responsorial Psalm presents the Ascension in terms familiar from the worship of the Jerusalem Temple in the days of King Solomon: “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy: a blare of trumpets for the Lord” (Psalm 47). The priest-king takes his place at the head of the people, ruling over the nations, establishing peace.
The Epistle strikes a distinctively Paschal note. In the early Church, as today, Easter was the normal time for the baptism of adult converts. The sacrament was often called “illumination” or “enlightenment” because of the light that came with God’s saving grace (see, for example, Hebrews 10:32). Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Ephesians, speaks in terms of glory that leads to greater glories still, as Ascension leads to Pentecost: “May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,” he writes, as he looks to the divinization of the believers. Their “hope” is “his inheritance among the holy ones,” the saints who have been adopted into God’s family and now rule with Him at the Father’s right hand.
This is the “good news” the Apostles are commissioned to spread—to the whole world, to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem—at the Ascension. It’s the good news we must spread today.
Mon, 27 May 2019
Jesus is praying for us in today’s Gospel. We are those who have come to believe in Him through the Word of the Apostles, handed on in His Church.
Jesus showed the Apostles His glory, and made known the Father’s name and the love He has had for us from “before the foundation of the world.”
He revealed that He and the Father are one (see John 14:9).
Jesus is the “first and the last” (see Isaiah 44:6), the root of David (see Isaiah 11:10; 2 Samuel 7:12), as today’s Second Reading declares.
Wrapped in clouds and darkness as God was at Sinai (see Exodus 19:16), He is “the king . . . the Most High over all the earth,” as we sing in today’s Psalm.
Exalted at God’s right hand, as Stephen sees in the First Reading, the Lord calls to us through the Church, His Bride.
He calls us to “the tree of life,” to communion with God. This is the goal of His love, His saving purpose from all eternity—that each of us enter into the life of Blessed Trinity, be “brought to perfection as one” with the Father and Son in the Spirit.
The story of Stephen, the first martyr, shows us how we are to answer His call.
Listen for the echoes of the Crucifixion: Stephen, like Jesus, sees the Son of Man in glory and dies with words of forgiveness and self-offering on his lips (compare Acts 7:56–60; Matthew 26:64–65; Luke 23:24, 46).
We, too, are to commend our spirits to the Father, to pray and offer our lives in love for our brethren, awaiting His coming in judgment. We renew our vows in every Mass, coming forward to receive the gift of His life.
We answer His call by crying out a call of our own: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”
And in our communion we answer our Lord’s prayer: “That they may all be one, as You, Father are in Me and I in You.
Mon, 20 May 2019
Some Jewish Christians had wanted Gentile converts to be circumcised and obey all the complex ritual and purity laws of the Jews.
The council called this a heresy, again showing us that the Church in the divine plan is meant to be a worldwide family of God, no longer a covenant with just one nation.
Today’s Liturgy gives us a profound meditation on the nature and meaning of the Church.
The Church is one, as we see in the First Reading: “the Apostles [bishops] and presbyters [priests], in agreement with the whole Church [laity].”
The Church is holy, taught and guided by the Spirit that Jesus promises the Apostles in the Gospel.
The Church is catholic, or universal, making known God’s ways of salvation to all peoples, ruling all in equity, as we sing in today’s Psalm.
And the Church, as John sees in the Second Reading, is apostolic—founded on the Twelve Apostles of the Lamb.
All these marks of the Church are underscored in the story of the council.
Notice that everybody, including Paul, looks to “Jerusalem [and] . . . the Apostles” to decide the Church’s true teaching. The Apostles, too, presume that Christian teachers need a “mandate from us.”
And we see the Spirit guiding the Apostles in all truth. Notice how they describe their ruling: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us.”
Knowing these truths about the Church, our hearts should never be troubled. The Liturgy’s message today is that the Church is the Lord’s, watched over and guarded by the Advocate, the Holy Spirit sent by the Father in the name of the Son.
This should fill us with confidence, free us to worship with exultation, inspire us to rededicate our lives to His Name—to love Jesus in our keeping of His Word, to rejoice that He and the Father in the Spirit have made their dwelling with us.
Mon, 13 May 2019
That’s the good news Paul and Barnabas proclaim in today’s First Reading. With the coming of the Church—the new Jerusalem John sees in today’s Second Reading—God is “making all things new.”
In His Church, the “old order” of death is passing away and God for all time is making His dwelling with the human race, so that all peoples “will be His people and God Himself will always be with them.” In this the promises made through His prophets are accomplished (see Ezekiel 37:27; Isaiah 25:8; 35:10).
The Church is “the kingdom for all ages” that we sing of in today’s Psalm. That’s why we see the Apostles, under the guidance of the Spirit, ordaining “presbyters” or priests (see 1 Timothy 4:14; Titus 1:5).
Anointed priests and bishops will be the Apostles’ successors, ensuring that the Church’s “dominion endures through all generations” (see Philippians 1:1, note that the New American Bible translates episcopois, the Greek word for bishops, as “overseers”).
Until the end of time, the Church will declare to the world God’s mighty deeds, blessing His holy name and giving Him thanks, singing of the glories of His kingdom.
In His Church, we know ourselves as His “faithful ones,” as those Jesus calls “My little children” in today’s Gospel. We live by the new law, the “new commandment” that He gave in His final hours.
The love He commands of us is no human love but a supernatural love. We love each other as Jesus loved us in suffering and dying for us. We love in imitation of His love.
This kind of love is only made possible by the Spirit poured into our hearts at Baptism (see Romans 5:5), renewed in the sacrifice His priests offer in every Mass.
By our love we glorify the Father. And by our love all peoples will know that we are His people, that He is our God.
Mon, 6 May 2019
By the “Word of God” that Paul and Barnabas preach in today’s First Reading, a new covenant people is being born, a people who glorify the God of Israel as the Father of them all.
The Church for all generations remains faithful to the grace of God given to the Apostles and continues their saving work. Through the Church the peoples of every land hear the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him (see Luke 10:16).
The Good Shepherd of today’s Gospel is the enthroned Lamb of today’s Second Reading. In laying down His life for His flock, the Lamb brought to fulfillment a new Passover (see 1 Corinthians 5:7), by His blood freeing “every nation, race, people and tongue” from bondage to sin and death.
The Church is the “great multitude” John sees in his vision today. God swore to Abraham his descendants would be too numerous to count. And in the Church, as John sees, this promise is fulfilled (compare Revelation 7:9; Genesis 15:5).
The Lamb rules from the throne of God, sheltering His flock, feeding their hunger with His own Body and Blood, leading them to “springs of life-giving waters” that well up to eternal life (see John 4:14).
The Lamb is the eternal Shepherd-King, the son of David foretold by the prophets. His Church is the kingdom of all Israel that the prophets said would be restored in an everlasting covenant (see Ezekiel 34:23–31; 37:23–28).
It is not a kingdom any tribe or nation can jealously claim as theirs alone. The Shepherd’s Word to Israel is addressed now to all lands, calling all to worship and bless His name in the heavenly temple.
This is the delight of the Gentiles—that we can sing the song that once only Israel could sing, today’s joyful Psalm: “He made us, His we are—His people, the flock He tends.”