Monday Acts 16, 11-15
John 15, 26-16,4
Tuesday Acts 16,22-34
Wednesday Acts 17, 15, 22-18,1
John 18, 12-15
Ascension Thursday Acts 1, 1-11
Luke 24, 46-52
Friday Acts 18,9-18
John 16, 20-23
Saturday Acts 18, 23-28
John 16, 23-28
The Feast of the Ascension is celebrated on Thursday this week in the eastern United States and on Sunday in the western dioceses of the United States. Would be better to celebrate this feast at the same time, I think.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul takes the stage at Athens, the intellectual capitol of the Roman world, but his words chosen carefully are met only with curiosity. “We would like to hear you some other time.” (Wednesday)
Paul gets a better reception in Corinth, not far from Athens, but worlds away from the proud self sufficient city. “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.” Jesus says to Paul in a vision. (Friday)
In the reading from Acts on Saturday, Luke reminds us that Paul had great people with him like Priscilla and Aquila, the wife and husband, who instruct Apollos, a good speaker but weak in his theology. “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.”
I told a cousin of mine recently who wasn’t sure about a sermon she heard in church. “You may be right and he’s wrong.”
Our reading at Mass today from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 15, 7-21) brings us to a critical moment in the life of the early church– the Council of Jerusalem, which decided whether and on what terms gentiles would be accepted into the new Christian movement. Its decision to admit the gentiles led to a rapid expansion of the church as non-Jews from all parts of the Roman world became Christians.
Luke Timothy Johnson has a fine commentary on this crucial event. (Acts of the Apostles: Sacra Pagina, Liturgical Press 1992)
Did a meeting really take place? Johnson writes “we can state with considerable confidence that in the first decades of the Christian movement an important meeting was held concerning the legitimacy and basis of the Gentile mission; that participants included Paul and Peter and James and Barnabas; that certain agreements were reached which, in one way or another, secured the basic freedom of the Gentile initiative. The most striking agreement between the sources comes, in fact, at the religious level. With only very slight variation, both Luke and Paul agree that the basis of the mission to the Gentiles was a matter of God’s gift, (Acts15,11. Gal 2,9) and that God was equally at work in the Apostle Paul as he was in the Apostle Peter. (Acts 15,7-8.12; Gal 2,8)
Notice the hesitancy of the original Jewish followers of Jesus to accept gentiles into their ranks. That’s evident in Peter’s strong reluctance to meet the Roman centurion Cornelius as he visits believers of his own kind around Joppa. Not only are the disciples slow to recognize their Risen Lord, they’re slow to accept his plans for expanding their ranks. Peter must see signs of God at work in Cornelius before baptizing him and his household. Paul, James and Barnabas also must see God’s gifts in the outsiders they meet before they recognize that God is calling them to believe.
God sows seeds of faith, but we’re as slow to recognize the action of God in others and other situations as the first disciples were. We have trouble seeing God’s action in the stranger and in the unexpected. We need enlightenment.
Johnson notes that the Church’s journey through time is marked by conflict and debate. We must accept those conditions today too. Those who follow Jesus will not always agree with each other; there are strong opinions and differences among believers.
One thing I would add. Besides conflict and debate, our reading today speaks of the “silence” that comes as they debate. We’re in the presence of our transcendent God, whose ways and thoughts are above ours. We need silence to discern God’s will. Debates can get in the way.
The daily Mass readings for Eastertime, from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John, are so different in tone. As its title suggests, the Acts of the Apostles is a fast-moving account of a developing church spreading rapidly through the world through people like Paul of Tarsus and his companions. Blazing new trails and visiting new places, they’d be prime targets today for frequent flyer programs and travel sites on the internet. Always on the go.
The supper-room discourse of Jesus from the Gospel of John, on the other hand, seem to move slowly, repeating, lingering over the words of Jesus to his disciples. They tell us to listen and be quiet, sit still. Don’t go anywhere at all.
St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, was inspired by St. Paul, the Apostle, to preach and to teach. Many of his letters end telling his reader that he has to go, he’s off to preach the gospel somewhere. He was a “frequent flyer.”
But the Gospel of John also inspired him; it was the basis for his teaching on prayer. Keep in God’s presence, in pure faith, he often said. Enter that inner room and remain there. Don’t go anywhere.
“It’s not important for you to feel the Divine Presence, but very important to continue in pure faith, without comfort, loving God who satisfies our longings. Remain like a child resting on the bosom of God in faithful silence and holy love. Remain there in the higher part of your soul paying no attention to the noise of the enemy outside. Stay in that room with your Divine Spouse…Be what Saint John Chrysostom says to be: silent clay offered to the potter. Give yourself to your Maker. What a beautiful saying! What the clay gives to the potter, give to your Creator. The clay is silent; the potter does with it what he wills. If he breaks it or throws away, it is silent and content, because it knows it’s in the king’s royal gallery.” (Letter 1515)
www.usccb.org (Readings for the Easter Season)
Weekday Readings for Easter Week
Monday: Acts 2:14, Octave of Easter22-23; Matthew 28,8-15
Tuesday: Acts 2, 36-41; John 20,11-18
Wednesday: Acts 3,1-19; Luke 24, 13-35
Thursday: Acts 3,11-36 Luke 24, 35-48
Friday Acts 4,1-12 John 21,1-14
Saturday Acts 4, 13-21 Mark 16,9-15
The weekday readings at Mass for the next 7 weeks of the Easter season come mainly from the Acts of the Apostles and the gospel of John. Read the introductions and commentaries to these books in the New American Bible, available at the US Bishops’ site. (www.usccb.org )
The Acts of the Apostles, which continues St. Luke’s Gospel, is an important reading in the Easter season because it describes how God’s promise of salvation to Israel was brought to the world under the guidance of the Holy Sprit. Acts describes the beginnings of our church and also offers insight into how our church develops today.
From its Jewish Christian origins in Jerusalem the church gradually incorporated the gentiles, non-Jews, and steadily spread throughout the Roman world, eventually reaching Rome itself. The church today is growing globally. Its early growth described in the Acts of the Apostles can help us understand its growth in our time.
The Easter season is over after the Feast of Pentecost and we’re into ordinary time in the church year. Unlike other feasts, Pentecost has no octave; ordinary time is its octave. Truth to be told, most of the church year, like most of life, is ordinary time, and that means it’s the time of the Holy Spirit.
The best place to look for the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives in ordinary time is probably the scriptures at Pentecost. Some of them recall the Spirit’s dramatic appearance, but others remind us that the Spirit comes quietly, when we’re hardly aware.
“Their message goes out to all the earth,” to Asia Minor, to Rome, Africa, Asia. Occasionally, the Spirit works like this in the church and in the world.
But more often the Holy Spirit comes quietly as an everyday gift. We may prefer strong winds and tongues of fire, but the Spirit mostly comes quietly, in ordinary time.
We’re tend to minimize ordinary time. So ordinary. Nothing’s happening, we say. Yet, day by day in ordinary time the Risen Lord offers his peace and shows us his wounds. Every day he breathes the Spirit on us. No day goes by without the Spirit’s quiet blessing.
Matthias, whom tradition says brought the gospel to Ethiopia, was chosen by lot to take the place of Judas. He joins the eleven apostles so that the twelve tribes of Israel will be represented when the Holy Spirit comes. The Pentecost narrative actually follows Matthias’ selection in Luke’s account.
The qualifications for a new apostle seem simple enough. Peter says it should be someone “who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us. He joins us as a witness to his resurrection.”
They propose two with those qualifications. Joseph called Barsabbas and Matthias.
Then, it seems easy. They pray:
“You, Lord, who know the hearts of all,
show which one of these two you have chosen.”
Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias,
and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles.(Acts 1,15-17, 20-25)
Yet, it wasn’t as casual a process as it sounds, for sure. For Matthias to be a witness to Jesus it wasn’t enough to get all the details right about what Jesus did or said, as a reporter or a witness at a trial might do it.
In John’s gospel read for Matthias’ feast, Jesus describes a disciple as one who abides in him, who remains in him– a friend committed to him. So, a disciple cannot be not simply an on-looker, but one who enters the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He’s one who weathers doubts and uncertainties as the disciples listening to Jesus’ Farewell Discourse did. He’s like Thomas who sees the wounds in the Lord’s hands and side and learns trust and belief through them.
Rembrandt’s wonderful portrayal of Jesus showing his wounds to Thomas (above) presents Thomas, not as a lonely skeptic, but representing all the disciples. All the disciples join him before Jesus’ wounds.
Pope Francis, in a homily the other day, spoke of the importance of the wounds of Christ for a disciple of Jesus. We’re on an exodus beyond ourselves, he said, and there are two ways open for us. “one to the wounds of Jesus, the other to the wounds of our brothers and sisters.”
“If we are not able to move out of ourselves and toward our brothers and sisters in need, to the sick, the ignorant, the poor, the exploited – if we are not able to accomplish this exodus from ourselves, and towards those wounds, we shall never learn that freedom, which carries us through that other exodus from ourselves, and toward the wounds of Jesus.”
The wounds of Christ and the wounds of our brothers and sisters teach of our victory over death and trust in the passion of Jesus.
Like Matthias, we have been blessed with a lot.