In some parts of the Church this liturgy’s readings are a bridge from the
celebration of the Ascension to next-Sunday’s celebration of Pentecost. We
are praying with the sense that we are not left alone. The readings offer
us a grace of belonging to Jesus as he belongs to the Father. There is a
great encouragement that even though the spirit of the world will threaten
and even attempt to destroy the Church, the Holy Spirit is among and within
us as Church to suffer, endure and triumph.
We pray for a “large-hearted generosity” so that whatever is asked of us
as individuals or as community, our response will be more than a reaction.
We pray to respond from our hearts and souls as did Stephen and his Lord,
Jesus. It is not easy to be a Christian; it takes the flow of grace to transform
our human reluctant natures.
We have been watching and listening to the first proclaimers of the Risen
Christ in the early church. The Holy Spirit was within them and they just
had to speak their souls. Their message was so new and their actions so revolutionary
that their hearers took offense, because it was all a challenge to their
Stephen is such a person of faith. He has been relating the history of God’s
call through their religious history As Stephen relates it; the Jewish people
have always resisted God’s call by resisting their “God-called” leaders.
Immediately before the verses we hear in today’s reading, Stephen infuriates
the crowd by saying, “You stubborn people, with your pagan hearts and pagan
ears. You are always resisting the Holy Spirit just as your ancestors used
to do.” Stephen had given them their truth and they did not like it.
What we hear is their natural reaction; “kill the messenger”. Stephen is
encouraged by his prayer and the presence of Jesus to remain faithful. For
his preaching he received a stoning death. Luke, the author of the Acts of
the Apostles, relates how Stephen echoes the words of Jesus by commending
his spirit into the hands of God. Luke echoes also the words of Jesus on
the cross by having Stephen pray to God not to hold this stoning against
A witness to all this is a young man, Saul. Luke will have much more to write
about him later. All we know now is that he was a witness and this witnessing
will become the work of his life.
I know that this may sound irreverent, but today’s Gospel is similar to a
plate of spaghetti. It is beautiful as it sits there, but there are many
tangled strings which, in fact, are all the same. Jesus is praying to the
Father about us in the presence of his disciples at the Last Supper. He keeps
saying the same thing in different words. He loves us as gifts from his Father.
Jesus has made known the person and personality of God. He has been in the
process of revealing to humankind just the right amount of “divinekind” that
humankind will need to believe. Jesus is “sent” to offer the invitation to
believe, but his being “sent” means more than a physical arrival. Jesus was
“sent” as an act of everlasting love of the “unknowable” mysterious God.
The “sending” means the “loving” of God for all humankind of all ages. To
believe that Jesus was “sent” means to believe in that love revealed through
his life, death and resurrection. To believe in Jesus as the one who has
been sent means also the belief in our being so loved as to be “sent to”.
One sign of a healthy personality is the consistency of revelations of that
personality. Someone who is mentally or emotionally injured might reveal
him or herself by gentleness at one moment and violence the next. Now all
of us are not perfect in our revelations of who we are. Jesus was perfect
in his consistency of revealing the “healthy” personality of the mysterious
God. Jesus was the same yesterday, is today, and will be tomorrow.
Jesus made known the “name” of God which name is more than a name. He makes
known all that the name is. A girl may be named April, but she is more than
what the month of April is, even though she might have sunny days and raining
days. A lad might have a nickname of Slugger, but be very gentle and unathletic.
When Jesus made known God’s name, Jesus was revealing more than words; he
was revealing an infinite definition of love. A definition which does not
define or confine so that this “name” will continue its being revealed, known
for what it means and revealed to be believed.
So we digest slowly these strands of Jesus words. We taste their one meaning.
God is love, we are loved. These are the words which Jesus speaks over his
disciples. Immediately after saying these words of consecration, Jesus moves
to the act of consecration on the altar of Calvary. The tangle words will
all become clear and understandable as we experience the culmination of his
life of love; this love which never dies. This process of our coming to believe
our being loved by God through Jesus is the mission of the Holy Spirit whose
coming we will celebrate next weekend.
“Father, they are your gift to me.” John 17, 24