The Seventh Sunday of Easter [C]

PLEASE NOTE:  In most dioceses of the U.S., each year the Seventh Sunday of Easter is replaced by the Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension.  For the Ascension reflection, click HERE.

The Seventh Sunday of Easter [C]
Acts 7:55-60  +  Rev 22:12-14,16-17,20  +  Jn 17:20-26
June 2, 2019

In the year 398, Saint Augustine of Hippo, the greatest bishop and scholar of the first millennium of the Church, was walking one day along the shore of a sea.  He was meditating in frustration on the mystery of the God’s nature in the Holy Trinity, trying hard to get a grasp on how it could be that there is one God in three persons.  As he continued alongside the breaking waves, he came across a boy with a bucket and shovel, working away.  The bishop asked the boy what he was doing, and the boy replied that he was digging a hole in the sand into which he was going to put the sea.  Without wanting to embarrass the boy, Augustine tried simply to tell him that what he was trying was impossible.  The boy responded, “What I’m doing is no less possible than trying to fit Almighty God into your mind.”

God’s nature, which is love, can never be fully grasped by a finite mind.  And yet, as Jesus prays to the Father in today’s Gospel, we are called to be one with God:  not by thinking, but by loving.  When we are one with God, we love God, and we love others as Jesus has loved us.  This is why we need so much the Holy Spirit, whose coming we pray for as we anticipate the feast of Pentecost.

*     *     *

We should cry out for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives each day, and we should do so for two reasons.  The first is that, as finite beings, we cannot contain the fullness of God’s Spirit.  This is what the little boy on the seashore was trying to explain to Augustine, the great bishop and scholar of the Church.

The second reason has to do with our sinful human nature.  Our sins pierce our souls as they pierced the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and so our souls can become like sieves, unable to contain the grace of the Holy Spirit’s Presence and His seven gifts.  And so our Christian life poses to us the struggle of allowing our souls to be re-created over and over in our lives.  This is the grace of being reconciled with God that we receive in the Sacrament of Penance.  This is what being “born again” means for us as Catholics:  first of all, being washed clean of all our sins in Baptism, and from there on out being renewed in our relationship with God through the Sacrament of Confession.

We know that some Christians claim that believing in a Sacrament such as Reconciliation somehow cheapens the meaning of our Christian faith, that being able to go to Confession over and over again encourages people to sin.  And of course this makes about as much sense as saying that being able to take a shower every day encourages people to get dirty and stink.  God gave us the Sacrament of Confession because he knows that without Him, we can do nothing.  But with Him, we can do anything He asks us to do.  To be with Him means to have the sort of heart that cannot even beat without reminding us that it should be beating for love of Him.

It’s always confusing, then, to hear non-Catholics talk about the Sacrament of Confession as an easy way out of sinning.  After all, what are the alternatives?  If God didn’t truly establish the Sacrament of Reconciliation, there are only three basic alternatives:  first, that there’s no such thing as sin; second, that there is sin, but that as long as we have at some point accepted Christ as our personal Savior, our sins don’t matter because we are already saved; or thirdly, that there is sin, and when a Christian sins he or she needs to turn to God for forgiveness, but that nonetheless this forgiveness can be obtained simply by praying to God.  When you put these three alternatives up against the Catholic’s need to confess mortal sins through the Sacrament of Confession, it hardly seems to make sense to say that Catholic have an easy way out.  On the contrary, it would be much easier for us as Catholics to believe in one of these three alternatives.

Even if we put reason and logic aside, however, we can also look at our relationship with God from a more personal perspective, and see again the meaning and value of the Sacrament of Reconciliation with God.  If you will consider the most intimate relationships that you have in your life—whether with a spouse, parents, children, or some other friends—you can ask yourself in what manner you seek to be reconciled with those persons when you have offended them in a serious way.

We could consider several alternatives.  First, we could pretend that we had never harmed the other, that we have no need to ask forgiveness.  At times perhaps we do act this way, but we know it’s not honest.

Second, we could admit that we had harmed the other, but then claim that as long as we had professed our love for the other at some point in the past, that they will automatically forgive us without our asking.  At times perhaps we do act this way, but we know that it’s presumptuous.

Third, we could admit that we had harmed the other, and know that we need to ask for forgiveness, but then seek this forgiveness in roundabout ways:  for example, through flowers, a card, or some act of kindness for the other.  These are all good things, and can lead up to forgiveness, but until a person breaks down, gets on his knees, and opens his mouth and says out loud, “O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you,” they cannot, even from a merely human point of view, receive the full joy of being forgiven and being able to go on to have an even stronger relationship with God.

That is what this Easter season we are close to concluding is all about:  accepting the full measure of the forgiveness that Christ offers us through His death and Resurrection.  Everything we do as Christians is for others, and the manner in which we do things as Christians says something about how we will respond to others in our lives.  If we seek the Presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and accept the full measure of His gifts, Jesus’ Spirit becomes our spirit.  His breath becomes our breath.  And so, in turn, we will offer our lives as Saint Stephen did.  We will offer our own spirit to God, and in the same breath, pray for others, even those who have trespassed against us.  This emptying of ourselves for God and others is our calling as Christians.

In this daily process of crying to the Spirit and then offering all that is ours for others, Christ’s life shows us that we as human beings can only find any real sort of peace and joy in our lives in becoming like God, who is Love.  Not the love that seeks constant contentment, but the love which always seeks to serve the needs of others, and bringing them closer to Almighty God.

St. Stephen Stoning - Rembrandt