We here in the United States have celebrated this week the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. There was much “lifting up of eyes” during that liturgy’s readings, but all feet were still on the earth. This earth or world can have various images for us. It is a temporary prison from which we long to be freed. It is a mess and God ought to do something about that! It can be seen also as a garden with flowers and weeds growing together. It has been seen as something to be escaped or a spirit to be indulged in totally.
As believers we are invited to extend our arms in embracing all creation as holy and our hands to receive God’s love for us and share it. We walk in the Garden with its weeds, the mess with its dirt and we bring it all inside us to the Eucharistic embrace which is always celebrated there.
We, as with the Apostles, turn our eyes from heaven and return to our personal Jerusalems and our private temples so to be inspired by the Holy Spirit that we might pull some weeds, clean some messes within ourselves and assist the divine clean-up begun by the loved apostles.
Now you talk about stepping on somebody’s toes. Steven, filled with the Holy Spirit, speaks boldly about the “Just One’s” coming who will rearrange the religious traditions and authorities. The leaders ask him if it is true that he has been speaking this way. Steven has much to say to them in response.
What we hear in today’s First reading are the last five verses
of a long chapter in which Steven reviews the salvation history
of Israel. What really gets him in a position to be stoned is when
he tells the religious leaders that they are exactly like the religious
leaders who have gone before them. There were prophets before whom
the people resisted and killed. Those to whom Steven is speaking
continue this pattern.
During this whole scene, mention is made of a man named Saul whose presence seems to give support to the stoning and who gets great energy from this killing to begin quite a persecution of the early church. Saul will become Paul and not a persecutor, but a proclaimer of the truth of that same church.
In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus praying to His Father. Jesus affirms several times the love shared between the Son and the Father. We also hear a petition that the same love be known and received by these close friends of Jesus with whom He is sharing His Last supper. They have some kind of growing belief that Jesus is the One “sent” into the “world”. Jesus sounds urgent in His prayer that these friends be confirmed in that love as they are “sent” out into that same “world”.
“They” meaning, the disciples gathered together, are a gift to Jesus from the Father. What a wonderful word and image. From the emphasis which Jesus places on our being “one” with Jesus as He is “one” with the Father, it is definitely not a stretch to believe that we also are made gifts to Jesus by the Father through our belief in Jesus as the “one” Who is “sent”.
In the Third Cannon of the Catholic Eucharistic liturgy, the Church prays, “May He make us an everlasting gift to You Father.” It seems somehow easier to believe in an invisible God than to believe and accept that we, who are so visible, are gifts from that God and “sent” into the “world” as gifts to Christ and His church.
Next Sunday is Pentecost Sunday wherein we celebrate the coming of the Spirit to those visible disciples who will be the “gifts” “sent” to make Jesus visible in the “world”. That same Spirit is gifting each of us to bring visibility of God’s love. The only way we can do this “visifaction” “Christification” is to drop our defenses, our self-depreciating sense of unworthiness and receive what the early apostles were offered, the love which the Father has for the Son and for us.
We tend to avoid experiences and relationships which reduce our opinion and image of ourselves, but are attracted to those who “posatate” us. At the Eucharist we are reminded each time about who we are. I knew a religious person who attended Mass daily, but could not accept the Eucharistic Food, for the last twenty-five years of life. I know a similar person now who would never think of missing Sunday’s liturgy, but refuses to receive communion. I suspect that there are many believers whose belief in their unworthiness is stronger than their belief in their being “gifts” from the Father to the Son and so to this “world”. At the Eucharist we find out who we are and what we are to do if we believe in God’s “worthifying” love. We hear and celebrate all that the First Church heard and celebrated. As with them, we are “sent” to make Jesus attractive by extending His love through our hands, hearts, faces, and His Spirit.
“My heart has prompted me to seek your face; I seek it, Lord; do not hide from me.” Ps. 27, 9
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