FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Sixth Sunday of Easter (A)
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17| Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20 | 1 Peter 3:15-18 | John 14:15-21
Today’s readings pay particular attention to the effects of the resurrection on the human heart - perseverance, hope and love. Of course, I would never be forgiven if I forget to mention that today we also celebrate mothers. Let us express our love and gratitude to our dear mothers and pray for them.
Fr. Matthew Chu Li-teh, S.J. was arrested and put in prison in Shanghai, China. His crime was preaching in his church. He immediately began to share Christ while he was in prison. He had a trial. It was a mockery of justice, and he was sentenced to 27 years. He did his 27 years, got out, and wrote these words: “Both prisoners and jailers asked many questions, and we had a more fruitful ministry there than we could have expected in church. God was better served by our presence in prison than if we had been free."
The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, reflects how Christian witness might be received—persecution was a real threat for the Church in Jerusalem. Stephen was martyred. The disciples were dispersed. Despite of this, Philip uses this opportunity to preach in the pagan city to which he fled. This campaign undertaken by Philip marked a decisive stage in the expansion of the Church’s mission from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
During China’s Boxer Rebellion of 1900, insurgents captured a mission station, blocked all the gates but one, and in front of that one gate placed a cross flat on the ground. Then the word was passed to those inside that any who trampled the cross underfoot would be permitted their freedom and life, but that any refusing would be shot. Terribly frightened, the first seven students trampled the cross under their feet and were allowed to go free. But the eighth student, a young girl, refused to commit the sacrilegious act. Kneeling beside the cross in prayer for strength, she arose and moved carefully around the cross, and went out to face the firing squad. Strengthened by her example, every one of the remaining ninety-two students followed her to the firing squad.
In his first letter, Peter warns persecuted Christians to bear sufferings patiently, and, like Jesus, not return evil for evil. They are to give an account of their beliefs but to do so with courtesy. Put another way, they do make their stand known, but do not ‘fight fire with fire’. If they face persecution, their suffering should be that of innocents. Confronting harassment in such a manner they would imitate Christ himself, who suffered innocently. They cannot have recourse to methods of bullying, force, or intolerance, for that would betray the Christ in whom they seek to live.
Chao-xing, the 5-year-old daughter of Deng Danjing was seriously ill with Corona Virus. The doctors at Wuhan Wuchang Hospital told Deng Danjing not to kiss her Chao-xing and endanger her life by breathing the child’s breath. Once when Chao-xing was struggling to breathe, Deng Danjing forgetting herself entirely, took the little one into her arms to keep her from choking to death. Rasping and struggling for her life, the child said, “Mama, wĕn wŏ!" (Mama, kiss me!)” Without thinking of herself, the mother tenderly kissed her daughter. She got Corona Virus and some days thereafter she went to be forever with the Lord. Real love forgets self. Real love knows no danger. Real love doesn’t count the cost.
The opening line of today’s Gospel is, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” When we listen carefully, we hear that Jesus' focus wasn’t about obedience but about loving him. Falling in love with another person changes our perspective, we see the world differently and understand everything in relation to the beloved. Here, Jesus is not telling the disciples to simply obey the rules, he’s inviting them to share his heart and share his perspective and desire. He is not interested in “cheap love”. He leads us into the sort of love that led him to Calvary: the sort of love which allowed him to embrace the Cross willingly. A self- giving and self-sacrificing love. Only when we begin to love Jesus and and love like Jesus can we influence others.
Many years ago, I taught my students in high school "Day By Day", a song from the musical Godspell (1971). The prayer teaches that Christian living - seeing, loving and following Jesus - is a day by day commitment and exercise. I encourge you now to make this your daily mantra as you make attempts to live out the resurrection of Jesus amidst challenges and persecutions in our day:
"Day by day, Oh, dear Lord,
three things I pray:
To see you more clearly
Love you more dearly
Follow you more nearly,
day by day!"
Dear God, look with kindness on all the mothers today. Bless them with your love; fill them with your joy; and make their lives fruitful and life-giving. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the way, the truth and the life. Amen
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum