A Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, June 1st.
By: Larry T
What is church? Is it just a building with a steeple, a basilica, a cathedral, or simply a place of worship? Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines church as a building that is used for Christian religious services, or as a particular Christian group. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the outstanding Lutheran theologian, said, “Where a people prays, there is the church, and where the church is, there is never loneliness!”
How badly did the disciples need church in the days between the Ascension of the Lord and Pentecost? What an emotional roller coaster! Being with the Lord during his earthly ministry – joy! The abomination of His scourging, crucifixion and death – despair! His resurrection - jubilation! His ascension into heaven – bewilderment! How abandoned, depressed, lonely, even hopeless might they have been feeling? Instead of shrugging their shoulders, kicking at the dirt and dejectedly returning to their pre-Jesus lives they clung together in spiritual love and prayed to God. This Sunday’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that they became church.
12 Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.
13 When they entered the city they went to the upper room where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
14 All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. – Acts 1:12-14 N.A.B.
Jesus hand-picked and spiritually formed the apostles for a special mission. They were going to be sent into the world to make the Father known to the world just as the Father had sent Jesus into the world to make the Father known. This group had listened to Jesus pray earnestly to the Father for them during his last discourse. As they became church they might have been clinging to the intercessory words of his prayer:
6 “I revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.
7 Now they know that everything you gave me is from you,
8 because the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me.
9 I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours,
10 and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.
11 And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. - John 17:6-11a N.A.B.
Why did Jesus pray for them? Francis J. Moloney S.D.B. (The Gospel of John, Sacra Pagina) writes, “Despite Jesus’ words on the disciples in verses 6-8 they remain fragile in a hostile world and they will not survive unless the Father keeps them in his name.” They had heard Jesus’ intercessory prayer to the Father for them, and they had church (prayer, fellowship, spiritual love for each other), but was that enough? As time passed they were expelled from the synagogues, persecuted by the Jews, and suffered Roman persecution and martyrdom. Was it all worth it? Understandably they needed reassurance, and in 1 Peter they got some.
13 But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.
14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
15 But let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as an intriguer.
16 But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name. - 1 Peter 4:13-16 N.A.B.
The first Christians depended on church, clung to the memory Jesus’ prayer to the Father for them, and desperately needed assurance that their faith was not in vain. How easy is it to be a faithful Christian in our society? Does it seem as though our faith is under constant attack in our country, and even in our own cities and towns, and sometimes even in our own families. Can we sympathize with Jeremiah?
9 I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in,
I cannot endure it.
10 Yes, I hear the whisperings of many:
“Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
“Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
and take our vengeance on him.”
- Jeremiah 20:9-10 N.A.B
Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples. Did He also pray for us? Yes!
20 “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.
22 And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one,
23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.
24 Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
25 Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me.
26 I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” – John 17:20-26 N.A.B.
How fragile are we (modern Christians) in an increasing hostile society? There is wisdom in the ability to recognize when something in unchangeable even when those around us are saying that it is. Abortion is contrary to God’s law – that will never change. God’s chosen Holy Family consisted of a man, a woman, and a child – that will never change. Jesus told us that the second greatest commandment is to love one another – that will never change. If we can’t recognize the principles of our faith that are unchangeable, it won’t be long before we won’t be able to recognize our faith. To remain steadfast we need to remember that Jesus prayed for us, we need the encouragement of Scripture, guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Magisterium – and we need to be church!