Thursday, June 1, 2017

Memorial of Saint Justin, martyr

(Acts 22:30.23:6-11; John 17: 20-26)

Paul’s trial before the Roman commandeer is reminiscent of a famous episode in the life of St. Justin Martyr whom the Church remembers today.  Justin was a second-century philosopher who embraced Christianity.  He was taken into custody for not worshipping the Roman gods.  At his trial before the Roman prefect, he explained why it would be absurd for a Christian to offer sacrifices to idols.  He said, “No one who is right thinking stoops from true worship to false worship.”  The refusal to comply with this Roman law won for him a martyr’s glory.

Paul, of course, fares better, at least for the time being.  When he is accused of preaching Jesus, He cleverly instigates a dispute among the two parties of Jews leveling the charge.  One party declares Paul innocent when he puts himself on its side of the dispute.  Paul, however, will not escape martyrdom.  Indeed, Jesus tells Paul in this same passage that he will have to bear witness to him in Rome.  There he will be beheaded.

We should be aware that Christians today are facing the same kind of martyrdom as befell St. Justin and St. Paul.  Ideas matter, and some people cannot tolerate the beneficent ideas of Christianity.  That should not deter us from proclaiming them.  To say that Jesus is the Son of God is to declare God’s love for the world.  Even if that idea offends some people, it is worth dying for.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Luke 1:39-56)

Some parents say that they do not wish to baptize their children because Baptism would prejudice the way their children look at the world.  Echoing the thought, young people claim to suspend their belief so that they might experience the world in new ways.  The serious believer, however, knows that these stratagems actually put one at a definite disadvantage, like not getting eyeglasses when one is noticeably near-sighted.  The gospel portrays Mary as eminently believing and therefore able to foresee the blessings that God will accomplish in Jesus.

Mary visits Elizabeth not to test what the angel told her but because she believes that it is true.  Elizabeth herself recognizes this faith when she exclaims to Mary, “Blessed are you who believed what was spoken to you by the Lord…”  Then Mary voices her famous song praising God for what will be accomplished in Jesus – remembering His promise of mercy and filling the hungry with good things.

Dazzled by the products of science and technology, some see faith as increasingly heavier baggage.  They want it all – the surety of faith and the autonomy of not committing themselves to any worldview.  Some even try to rationalize the question positing that they do not have the gift of faith.  But they likely do have faith.  God has offered it to most of us if not through our parents then through blessed companions all the way.  Rather than putting it on hold, we should allow it, as Mary does in the gospel, to bring us unmerited rewards.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 20:17-27; John 17:1-11a)

Few scenes give more glory to a country than a cemetery of its dead warriors.  The multiple rows of graves testify to the greatness of the land for which the men and women shed their blood.  It is a picture that transcends sadness and fills observers with awe.  In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of giving such glory to his Father.

Jesus has labored to bring his Father’s love to the people.  He has been like a good shepherd and a vinedresser caring for God’s people.  Now is the moment for him to give God the ultimate glory.  He will die so that the people know the extent of God’s love for them.

We need to ask ourselves to whom or what we want to give glory.  By all means, let it not be something frivolous – a rock group or a baseball team.  No, let us say that we live for the sake of our families, our communities, or perhaps for the pursuit of knowledge.  These beneficiaries can be readily aligned with the greatest good.  In the end we should want to say with Jesus that it is God to whom we give glory.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 19:1-8; John 16:29-33)

Memorial Day is sometimes called Decoration Day.  This is so because on this day Americans have traditionally put flowers on the graves of their deceased loved ones.  The custom started after the Civil War which claimed the lives of more Americans than any other.  In time people decorated the graves of all loved ones, not just fallen soldiers.

Flowers symbolize new life.  They are fitting for Christian graves because Christians believe that the dead will live again.  The Holy Spirit will reintegrate their bodies and unite them with their souls.  Then they will praise God in joy for eternity.  We have a foreshadowing of this day in today’s first reading.

Paul meets twelve Ephesians who identify with the Jesus.  Perhaps because they do not exhibit much joy, Paul asks the twelve if they have received the Holy Spirit.  When they admit ignorance of the Spirit, Paul baptizes them in Jesus’ name.  The effect is wonderful.  The Spirit moves the Ephesians to pray in tongues and to tell the wonders of God.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, priest

(Acts 18:9-18; John 16:20-23)

Today’s first reading tells of Jesus encountering Paul.  The Lord tells him not to be afraid of Jewish persecution in Corinth because he has “many people” in the city.  Then the reading gives an example.  Gallio, the Roman leader, refuses to hear the accusation made by the Jews against Paul.  St. Philip Neri had a similar mystical experience that moved him to become one of the most celebrated Catholics of his time.

In the middle of the sixteenth century Philip was pursuing a career in business.  A mystical experience, however, set him on a different course.  He went to Rome where there was a malaise after the scandals of the Renaissance popes and the initial jolts of the Reformation.  Philip began to preach openly on the streets where the people responded in droves to his wisdom, devotion, and cheerfulness.  He became venerated as a saint in his last years and was canonized one just twenty-seven years later.

Some people claim to have visions of the Lord.  They speak of Jesus telling them to do something or not to do another.  It may seem weird, but why deny it?  Rather let us pray that the Lord may at least consider us one of his “many people.”  And let us also respond to such a positive designation by being cheerful, wise and devoted like Philip Neri. 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 18:1-18; John 16:16-20)

Jesus’ disciples seem confused.  He has told them that they will not see him for a little while and then they will see him.  They may be wondering if he is not going on a vacation.  But if he would tell them that he is going to his mission of self-sacrifice, they would hardly be able to understand that either.  His saving death and resurrection are so entirely unique that one has to experience them before believing.

It may be compared to the cars that are supposed to drive themselves.  Can one believe that they really can maneuver the traffic of a big city for years on end without a mishap?  It seems impossible that they will not regularly have problems.  Yet these cars are evidently on the road in Pittsburgh.  With Jesus the even more improbable resurrection from the dead has taken place.  He appeared to his disciples just as he says in today’s passage.

We can believe not only in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead but also in his sending of the Holy Spirit.  With his ascension he gives us the help to maneuver through the temptations and trials of life.   the Spirit will see us through to our destination alongside of Jesus.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 7:15.22-18.1; John 16:12-15)

No doctrine of the Church is harder to explain than the Holy Trinity.  How the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are both three and one almost defies explanation.  It is not that they are three entities that make up a collective like the Three Musketeers, but each one makes of the fullness of the divine nature.  How do they differ then?  They differ only by their relationships – one is Father; one is Son; and one is the life or Spirit among them.  In today’s gospel Jesus reassures his disciples with reference to the unique triad and unity of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus underscores the unity of the Trinity when he says that the Spirit will teach only what it receives from him.  In turn he passes on only what he has received from the Father.  One might ask whether only the Spirit would be present to Jesus’ disciples or to Christians today.  No, Jesus has said in this same discourse (last Sunday’s gospel reading) that all three are present to his disciples.

Although we have difficulty understanding exactly the nature of the Trinity, we can see it as a model for Church life.  The Church like the Trinity is a community of love.  Like the Trinity where the Father has a certain priority so in the Church the Bishop of Rome as well as local bishops have a kind of priority. We cannot be one exactly like the Trinity is one, but we should strive for at least a unity of mind and heart.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 16:22-34; John 16:5-11)

A man worked for a long time as a product inspector in a factory.  He said that he took such pride in his work that when he put the label of the company on the product, he was sure that it would do its job.  The jailer in today’s first reading seems to have this kind of self-respect.

The jailer becomes extremely upset when he thinks that his prisoners have escaped.  In fact, he is going to kill himself until Paul intervenes.  Then, convinced that Paul and Silas are holy men, the jailer begs to receive the gospel.  The remaining part of the story gives more evidence of the jailer’s decency.  He bathes the prisoners’ wounds and gives them something to eat.

Although the Church draws a few great sinners, the majority of people who come to her already exhibit goodness.  They are looking for something more, something solid to ground their inclination to do what is right.  We can give these people what they are looking for.  Our kindness of opinion and gentleness of words in Christ’s name will do it.  At least a few of these people will join our community of faith if they see it supporting our efforts. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 16:11-15; John 15:26a-16:4)

In today’s reading from Acts, Paul, evidently accompanied by the author of Acts whom we know as St. Luke, crosses the Hellespont into Europe.  It is the beginning of a new frontier.  The gospel evidently arrived in Rome through others apostles.  But Paul, like Christopher Columbus landing in America, is the one credited for taking the gospel to Europe.

Paul does not begin preaching in the marketplace before non-believers, but goes on the Sabbath to a river where Jews habitually pray.  He obviously figures that they would most likely give him a hearing.  His hunch bears out.  We should not be surprised that a woman is the first one of his converts.  Lydia is a Greek proselyte of Judaism.  We may speculate regarding what about Jesus attracts her to him.  Perhaps it was his message of love for neighbor who included even one’s enemies.  Maybe it was his courage to face opposition even to the point of death.  Or it might have been the promise of resurrection to those who believe in him.  We will never know.

But we can examine our own motives for belief.  It would be disappointing to hear that we espouse Christianity only because our families do or because it connects us to important people or even because it gives meaning to our lives.  Hopefully we can say that Christ’s teaching draws us, his story fills us with expectation of eternal life, and his Holy Spirit has compelled our assent. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:22-31; John 15:12-17)

In his book The Four Loves C.S. Lewis writes that friendship is grossly undervalued in modern times.  He says that the ancients considered friendship as “the happiest and most fully human of all loves.”  In contrast, he continues, modern people have trouble seeing friendship as a love at all.  Friendship, according to Lewis, is sharing personally and fully over common interests.  By no means does he equate friendship with regular companionship, however.  That is the point; with very few people would a person risk relating feelings of the heart. It is remarkable then that in today’s gospel Jesus calls all his disciples’ friends.

But it is not even the case that those men who gathered around Jesus the night before he died exhaust his list of friends.  Really all serious followers of Jesus become his friends because they recognize in him one whom they can trust implicitly. They can tell him how they yearn to know God.  In reply he will urge them to keep his commandment of love.

We should see the course of our lives as grooming our friendship with Jesus.  As children we will listen with awe the gospels stories of him helping the needy.  As youth we will imitate his virtue in our quest to find a mate and launch a career.  And in old age we will confide in him as one who suffered own worries.  His friendship will not let us down.  Rather, it will bring us to eternal life.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:7-21; John 15: 9-11)

What if the Catholic Church, in order to foster unity with Protestant communities of faith, relaxed the requirement of attending Sunday Eucharist?  Surely many would oppose the change as an aberration to a Catholic custom that has been practiced almost since the beginning.  Others would say that there is no Scriptural mandate to assist in the Sunday Eucharist and therefore the Church precept is alterable. This question is similar to what the primitive Church confronts in today’s first reading from the Book of Acts.

It is hard to understate the importance of this meeting of the primitive Church.  The leaders are to decide the direction of the Church in the future.  Will it continue to be primarily a movement within Judaism, or will it allow Gentiles to be Gentiles while finding their salvation in the Lord Jesus?  The decision seems to boil down to what James will say.  Peter has already been convinced of the need to let Gentiles eat pork.  Paul and Barnabas, of course, have no objections to the idea.  Opposed to the change are the so-called “Judaizers” who see Christianity as a renewal of Israel with its necessity of keeping the Law.  James’ speaking in favor of the change with only a few restrictions clinches the argument. 

It probably is not a good idea to abandon the Sunday Eucharist obligation.  But Catholics should be open to similar non-essential changes in order to accommodate Christian unity.  We should not emphasize our differences from others.  Rather we should seek commonalities so that Christ may be one without diluting all that he is and all that he tells us. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:1-6; John 15:1-8)

In one of her novels Ann Tyler writes of a man commenting on a sign in a grocery store.  The sign reads, “Vine Grown Tomatoes,” and draws the remark: “So what that tomatoes are grown on a vine?  Where else can they grow?  What’s important is that they are vine ripened.”  Jesus says something very similar in today’s gospel.

Jesus is telling his disciples that they must stay close to him if they are to meet their objectives.  This applies to every legitimate thing that they do.  Whether they raise a family, start a business, or preach the gospel, they have to follow Jesus’ commands.  If they do not -- if they want to be served more than to serve, if they have contempt rather than love for one another – their enterprise is sure to encounter significant problems.

At times Jesus seems remote.  We do not think he cares about us or we think that we don’t really need him.  Yet he remains, as St. Augustine said, closer to us than we are to ourselves.  We stay close to Jesus by both following his ways and praying for his assistance. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 14:19-28; John 14:27-31a)

Christ and Culture was written by H. Richard Niebuhr in the early 1950s to describe different approaches theologians have taken to the world.  It says that some Christian writers have seen the world as intractably evil and opposed it.  Others, it continues, have found the world as fundamentally good and endorsed it.  It recommends more nuanced approaches.  These will recognize the world as a mixture of good to be embraced and of bad to be shunned if it cannot be transformed.  In today’s gospel Jesus is more negative.  He speaks of the world as the realm of the devil.

As the devil’s domain, the peace of the world is delusory at best.  It may seem like a good thing but can bring about great harm.  It is the absence of sensitivity that excessive alcohol induces or the exuberance of illicit sex.  Jesus’ peace is permanent serenity because it frees one from sin and bestows the Holy Spirit.

We should be at least cautious of what the world offers.  Certainly society still bears some good as it was created by God.  But it has been compromised over time by the persistent presence of evil.  In any case we will want to sow in it the seed of the gospel by doing good in the name of Jesus.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 14:5-18; John 14:21-26)

Western theology speaks a lot of grace.  It is famous for describing how grace transforms the human person to love unselfishly.  Eastern theology is more effusive about divine indwelling.  Although its effects are similar to those of grace, its implications are more suggestive.  Divine indwelling is the presence of the Holy Trinity within the person.  It fills the person like ecstatic music moving her to do beautiful things.  The Greek Fathers of the Church had no qualms in stating that this indwelling divinizes the person.  In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of coming with the Father and the Holy Spirit to dwell within those who keep his commandments.

One woman after raising her family and burying her husband dedicated herself to her church community.  Assisting in the parish office, she knew everyone within the community.  When the neighborhood began to change both economically and racially, she remained a resident for many years.  She became acquainted with her new neighbors and participated in the newly formed block club.  She kept Jesus’ commandments to believe in him and to love another.  Perceptive people could notice the indwelling of Father, Son, and Spirit in her.

All of us probably have met people like this woman in whom God dwells.  They are observant but always kind.  They pursue justice in ways we hardly imagine without making us uncomfortable.  They do not make much of themselves but bring out the best in us.  We should be imminently grateful for these vessels of God in our midst.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 13:26-33; John 14:1-6)

People’s hearts become troubled when they have a terminal disease.  They worry about a poor quality of life which includes issues of severe pain, loss of control, and becoming a burden to others.  Hand in hand with quality of life, people desire control over their death.  They also are concerned that their choices will not be honored.  Jesus offers some consolation to those whose death is imminent in today’s gospel.

He tells his followers not to let their hearts be troubled.  Of course, they are disturbed that Jesus is going to die, not they.  Yet the anguish over loss is at least similar.  Jesus assures them that he is going for their benefit and that he will return.  Further, he implies that they can follow him by living in the ways that he has instructed.

We should not expect that everyone embrace Jesus’ assurances when death comes knocking.  To those who resist wanting to take their own lives we can offer some reasons not to.  First, taking one’s life has become trendy leading to others feeling pressured into doing something they do not want to do.  Second, they do not have to use all the mechanisms available to prolong life but may take advantage of effective palliative care.  Finally and most importantly, we will be there to the end helping them as much as reasonably possible. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 13:13-25; John 13:16-20)

The man is an active Catholic working with you in his parish.  He has a small, successful business and is married with a family.  He would hardly have dreamt being so blessed fifteen years ago.  Then he was in jail reeling from a troubled childhood.  In time he met the Lord largely, as he tells the story, through the prison chaplain.  The encounter turned his life around.  His story parallels that of St. Paul preaching in a synagogue in the first reading today.

Capture the irony.  Just a few years before Paul would have been in a similar synagogue ferreting out Jews having inclinations toward Jesus whom Christians believed was the Christ or Messiah.  Now he preaches quite openly that indeed Jesus is the savior of the people.  His turnabout came through a sensed encounter with Jesus risen from the dead.

Many today have experiences such as Paul’s.  The Church sponsors activities such as “Cursillo” and “Christ Renews His Parish” so that participants may know Christ in ways beyond the intellect.  Many others have a relationship with Christ without such a felt experience.  They know him to be real and influential although they would never admit to hearing him speak to them.  In any case we should treat Jesus as he is preached by Paul – a friend who comes to save us from our folly and all its effects.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 12:24-13:5a; John 12:44-50)

In today’s gospel Jesus states once again that he is the light of the world.  He means that he enables people to distinguish good from bad.  He can do this unfailingly because he is both God and human.  As he says, “’…whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.’”   Jesus’ reference to himself as light corresponds to what scientists have learned about light many centuries later.  Both have a dual nature.

Light acts as both matter and energy.  It travels as waves of energy, but it can be broken down into tiny particles which scientists call photons.  Its dual nature allows light to increase its energy for work.  Laser technology is the harnessing of amplified light energy to perform different tasks like minimally invasive surgeries.

We should keep ourselves close to Christ.  As human he knows our needs.  As God, he can help us in any situation.  His light will keep us out of trouble.  Even more importantly, it will guide us to our eternal destiny.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 11:19-26; John 10:22-33)

In 1947 Archbishop Joseph Ritter of St. Louis ordered all Catholic schools of the city to accept African-Americans.  Many white Catholic parents opposed the order and threatened to sue the Church.  The archbishop responded by declaring that any Catholic who took part in the lawsuit would be excommunicated.  He understood better than most that the Church is an assembly for all people of faith.  The first reading today shows the Church integrating different peoples at an early stage of its development.

Although there are prior instances of gentiles accepting Christ in the Book of Acts, the passage read today presents a new picture.  It indicates that many non-Jewish Greeks participate in the Christian community in Antioch.  As the members of the community were known as “Christians,” its mixed nature tells what Christianity is about.  The new religious movement intends to unite all people in mutual love.

We can be grateful to be part of a Church that resists the tendency to tolerate racism.  Unfortunately, the Church’s record is not perfect in this regard.  But still we can be certain that Christ died for all people and calls all kinds of people together in his Church.  The more we promote racial integration, the truer we are to Christ.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 11:1-18; John 10:11-18)

When Fr. Stanley Rother received a message threatening his life, he refused to leave his mission.  “The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger,” he said.  Fr. Rother was a priest from Oklahoma working among indigenous people in Guatemala.  Eventually he did leave, but he could not stay away long.  Urged by the words of today’s gospel, he returned to the people he had come to love.  Not long afterwards, he was assassinated.  As Pope Francis has declared him a legitimate martyr, Rother will be beatified this September.

Jesus, the Son of God, will lay down his life for all humans.  His death will be neither suicidal nor resisted.  Rather it will manifest sacrificial love for the good of sinners.  Jesus makes them holy – the first meaning of sacrifice – by acting as their representative.  On their behalf he perfectly obeys the Father’s will that he immerse himself in the world.  It is the world under the spell of the evil one who has him crucified.  God in the end will raise him and those who join themselves to him from the dead.

We join ourselves to Jesus in Baptism and live this union in our relationships with others.  Mothers exhibit Jesus’ sacrificial love when they care for a sick child through the night.  Children reflect his love when they take their feeble parents to see the doctor.  All of us show Jesus’ love when we care about and support one another.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Friday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 9:1-20; John 6:52-59)

Many people today are concerned about quality of life.  The elderly worry about having good health in retirement.  For them quality of life is not to have to live with chronic pain and, even more critical, not to lose their minds.  Meanwhile, young people consider quality of life in economic terms.  For them to have a high quality of life means to have the money to buy season tickets to their favorite sports team’s home games and to take a cruise every other year.  In today’s gospel Jesus has an alternative conception of quality of life to consider.

Of course, Jesus does not use the term quality of life at all.  Rather he speaks of as having his life within.  His life is much more than biological life, which bread and wine by themselves can sustain.  No, he means eternal life or life in abundance which comes from participating in God’s love.  It is a life of gratitude because one is assured of God loves for her or him.  The Eucharist, Jesus’ gift of his body and blood, depicts this perfectly.  Derived from the Greek language, the word means to be thankful

We are a Eucharistic people -- a people who continually give thanks to God.  Yet we strive to become ever more so.  We see the efforts people make for us and thank them.  We recognize how we have benefitted from the work of people in times past and feel a sense of gratitude for them as well.  Even if our quality of life is not that great in the eyes of others, we know differently.  Sick or well, poor or rich, we enjoy a high quality of life because we know of God’s love for us and are thankful for it. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 8:26-40; John 6:44-51)

It is said that bread is the staff of life.  Supplying most of the calories in a western person’s diet, bread was once the staple of half the world.  Today a range of foods provides the calories for subsistence.  More peculiar is the fact that many people have recently been diagnosed with an intolerance of gluten, a composite of wheat proteins.  They cannot digest most bread well and should not eat any product containing more than a trace of gluten.  How does this development affect today’s gospel claim that Jesus is “the bread of life”?

Just as the life that Jesus offers is greater than physical life, the bread he gives is more than regular bread.  It is his “Eucharistic” bread which provides the superior life.  Eucharistic bread enables a life of gratitude.  It recognizes God as its source, its sustenance, and its end.  Assured of such a benefactor, the person who consumes Eucharistic bread should give thanks always.

We have daily access to Eucharistic bread at mass.  It transforms us inwardly to become more grateful for everything.  Consuming Eucharistic bread, we lovingly recognize those who help us.  We can even accept the difficulties that burden our lives with a sense of appreciation.  Shouldered without rancor, they make us stronger and wiser.  Becoming more Eucharistic, which means becoming more like Jesus himself, should bring us to mass more often.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Feast of Saints Philip and James, apostles

(I Corinthians 15:1-8; John 14:6-14)

St. Veronica is the legendary woman whose name is associated with a famous maneuver in bullfighting.  She is always portrayed as holding with both hands the cloth with which she wiped the face of Jesus and on which his image remains.  In bullfighting when the matador swipes the cape held with both hands before the charging bull, he has performed a veronica.   The name Veronica actually means true image, but in the gospel the true image does not refer to Veronica or her cloth, but to Jesus himself who is the perfect representation of God the Father.

The apostle Philip has trouble understanding Jesus when he says that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father.  “Show us the Father,” Philip requests, not out of defiance but from confusion. It is the same difficulty that Dan Brown and many others have in imagining that Jesus is really God.  “He was a remarkable man,” the skeptics say and then ask, “but how could he be the creator of the ever-expanding universe?”  It is this awesome wonder that makes the Incarnation one of the two core beliefs of Christianity.

Jesus invites us to believe in him by promising to empower us to work mighty deeds.  What does he have in mind – to turn water into wine?  No, one expert says, Jesus is not referring here to “the petty things of life.”  Rather he means to help us overcome lust, greed, and pride.  Even more, he promises to enable us to assist the poor who may repel us and love the enemy who might harm us.  In all these ways he prepares us to live with him in glory.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Memorial of Saint Athanasius, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Acts 7:51-8:1a; John 6:30-35)

When St. Francis of Assisi heard that some of his friars were enticing Muslims into killing them, he put a stop to the practice.  He insisted that the missionary norms of his order prohibit both using arms to force conversions and taunting Muslims to martyr missionaries.  One wonders if Stephen in today’s first reading should not have been prudent in this way.

Stephen is a Greek-speaking Jew.  He comes from the Diaspora with little stake in the Jerusalem temple.  His diatribe against it perhaps reflects the sentiment of his background.  More than that, Stephen is a fervent convert to Christ.  He no doubt harbors resentment for the people of Jerusalem for having executed Jesus.  His outburst deserves some response, but certainly stoning is uncalled for.

Stephen’s story presents us with a few lessons.  First, we want to imitate his zeal to tell others about Christ who is our comforter and helper.  Second, we want to avoid Stephen’s harshness.  More people will be drawn to Christ by reflecting his peace than by exhibiting Stephen’s fury.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, like Stephen imitating Jesus, we want to forgive those who have offended us.  We should begin now so that we do not forget to do so at death.