Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): At the Last Supper, Jesus tells the Eleven: “As I have loved you, so also you should love one another. All will know that you are My disciples if you love one another.” For that kind of love would remain impossible for human beings if it were not for the love of Jesus Christ. The fact that we can and do love each other in such an incomparable way moves others to believe in Christ. This communion of love is “God’s dwelling in the human race.” This is how Paul and Barnabas “made a considerable number of disciples.”
(This weekend’s Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation at the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: Acts 14:21-27 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
When Paul and Barnabas had preached the gospel to that city (Derbe) and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch (of Pisidia), strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed. Then they passed through Pisidia, and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia; and from there they sailed to Antioch (in Syria), where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled. And when they arrived, they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: Paul’s first missionary journey was confined geographically (except for an initial stop at Cyprus, Barnabas’ home island) to central Asia Minor, now Turkey. As noted in recent weeks in these meditations, Luke preserves the typical course of Paul’s ministry in a community. This weekend’s reading traces the return course of Paul and Barnabas to their launch point, Antioch in Syria – and shows us that the Church’s threefold ordained ministry of bishops, priests and deacons already was taking shape.
As they worked their way inland – Derbe was their last destination before turning back toward the Mediterranean – Paul preached, worked among the people at his tentmaker’s trade and made disciples as the Holy Spirit worked through his words and deeds. He eventually had to move on after facing varying degrees of persecution, capped on this journey in Lystra when he was stoned nearly to death. Now, the “apostle to the Gentiles” – call him an itinerant bishop – was concerned with ensuring that his new flocks would continue to be nourished by the Word of God and the sacraments. On his return visit, then, Paul ordained (to use the original Greek word) presbuteros – “presbyters” or, as Catholics have also called them, “priests.” (Deacons, of course, already had existed in the Church since the Twelve’s initial ordination of St. Stephen and his six colleagues.)
This was the ideal pattern, of course. Paul was unable to revisit many of the local churches he founded on his second missionary journey (the one including Philippi, Thessalonica,
Berea, Athens and Corinth) until the latter part of his third journey (the one largely spent in Ephesus). But he was hardly the only apostle appointing elders/presbyters as they spread the Gospel: We see them present at the Council of Jerusalem (preserved in Acts 15) immediately after Paul’s first journey. Catholics often come under fire for allegedly imposing a church hierarchy that the apostles never intended. In truth, Acts makes abundantly clear that the apostles appointed by Christ Himself – including Paul when he was on the Damascus road – had chosen this model, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, to embody Christ’s promise to be with His followers “until the end of the age.”
Second Reading: Revelation 21:1-5a
A reading from the Book of Revelation.
Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: The Easter weekend readings from Revelation largely omit the most terrible and picturesque images of John’s Apocalypse. But by the time this reading comes up in Year C, the seasonal Office of Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours has reached the pivotal scenes of the book, including Satan’s final downfall, the Last Judgment and – as we read here – the Second Advent of God’s Kingdom and the inauguration of the New Jerusalem.
The chapters prior to this one comforted the increasingly persecuted early Christians, using the Mass (even at this early date) as the connective tissue. The early chapters of John’s vision (like Jesus’ own prophecies late in Matthew) are rich in allusions to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. That event was already a historical fact to Revelation’s first readers (though it was still to come for the first readers of the three Synoptic Gospels).
But then John sees depictions of the “woman clothed with the sun” (Mary), her male child who would “rule the nations with an iron rod” (Christ) and the discouraging but finite influence of Satan and his minions (the “dragon,” the “beast” and the “false prophet”) in a world ruled by “Babylon the great.” We know from other New Testament books that this refers to a new Babylon – pagan Rome itself. And this Babylon eventually fell before the glorious power of God, who would rule for “a thousand years” (not a finite “Millennium,” but a very long time) and would win the final triumph after permitting Satan one last brief period of dominance.
Cannot we see in all this a promise that the Roman Empire itself would be conquered after many bloody years of persecution by the Lamb who had been slain? Indeed it was conquered in the fourth century. Did not the age of the Church follow for at least a thousand years, before the Protestant Reformation ushered in 500 years of an increasingly splintered Christianity and a reassertion of secularism and even paganism?
One should not look to Revelation for precise prophecies of the future and the end of the age. One can look to Revelation, however, for assurance that the cause of Christ will win. And in the verses read this weekend, we can take comfort from its images of the new heaven and the new earth that will follow Satan’s final defeat – the one where God once more will live with His people as intimately as He first lived with Adam and Eve at the dawn of human history. Soon we will recall once more how Jesus returned to heaven after His first coming. We long for His Second Coming, for He has promised us: “Behold, I make all things new.” Come, Lord Jesus!
Gospel: John 13:31-33a, 34-35
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John. Glory to You, O Lord.
When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: Meanwhile, how are we who follow Christ to live? By the “new commandment” – the summary of all of God’s commandments – that Jesus proclaims to the Eleven in the Upper Room after Judas has left to carry out his betrayal of the Lord. And that commandment, difficult as it is for fallen humanity, could not be simpler. “Agape one another,” Christ tells His friends. Love each other, and all people, so deeply that you will sacrifice everything you have and give all you are for their well-being and their redemption, even to death.
We know from the historical record that 10 of the 11 apostles in that room – all except John, who lived to write down all these things – indeed did agape their fellow human beings even unto death. So did St. Paul and countless others in the ensuing 2,000 years. We hear the call to agape, and we recoil. What about ourselves, our own desires, our own dreams? Don’t we have rights? The world shouts these questions louder and louder – even as more and more people are unhappy and more and more people long for a world where they see and hear and experience the kind of love Jesus commands us to give.
Gandhi once proclaimed that while he admired Christ, he did not admire Christians because “they are so unlike your Christ.” If we say we follow Jesus as we do, we cannot put ourselves first. We must live the true counterculture of all-encompassing agape love, not the faux, misleading earthly “counterculture” that has morphed into the dominant culture this past half-century.
Jesus Christ is the only hope for humanity, not merely because He died and rose again to open heaven’s gates for us but also because His kind of love is the only kind that will ease suffering and pain and wickedness in the world in which we must live until He comes. This is not our home; our home is still ahead of us. But if “they’ll know we are Christians by our love,” then the Holy Spirit will persuade more people through us to join us on the journey to the new heaven, the new earth, the New Jerusalem.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be