All Are Called To Bear Fruit through Living Union With Jesus
The Fifth Sunday of Easter: April 24, 2016 (Year C)
The Entrance Antiphon invites us to: “Sing to the Lord” because he has “revealed to the nations his saving power” (Psalm 97). What “marvelous deeds” of God do we celebrate together? Do we make them a communal experience?
In the (alternative) Opening Prayer we ask God to “give us voice to sing your praise.” But we cannot celebrate together what we have not experienced together. If God has “filled all ages with the words of a new song,” it is because he has “revealed to the nations” his saving power. If we are going to celebrate together as Church, we need to share with each other what God has done — and is doing still through us. This sharing was taken for granted in the early Church.
Sharing faith and works:
In the Responsorial Psalm the Church invites us to sing: “I will praise your name forever, my King and my God”(Psalm 145). What, specifically, do we recall when we sing this?
In Acts 14: 21-27 we see Paul and Barnabas putting “fresh heart into the disciples, encouraging them.” They didn’t do this by preaching alone. They “revealed God’s saving power” to each community by “calling the church together and relating all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.” This helped everyone say, “I will praise your name forever, my King and my God.’
More significantly, in every church they founded, “they appointed elders, and with prayer and fasting they commended them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.”
The word “elders” [English for “presbyters”] is not precisely defined in the Acts and letters of the apostles. But Vatican II tried:
As a general rule the conciliar texts try to follow the Scriptures and to restrict the word ‘priest’ (sacerdos) to Jesus himself and to the ‘common priesthood’ of the baptized; and when talking about the ordained they use the word ‘presbyteros.’1
It is significant that, first, the apostles left ordained priests in every town they evangelized. Second, that those they ordained had no more instruction in the faith than the apostles could give in the short time they spent with them. The apostles showed their trust, both in God and in those they ordained by simply “commending them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe.”
It must have been encouraging to the people to see that the apostles trusted so much in the power of the grace they had received. Those chosen to be made “presbyters” by the sacrament of Holy Orders were not different from the rest. They were not set apart on a pedestal as “sacred” ministers compared to the laity. The laity, who knew they were priests by Baptism, recognized the “elders” as ordained for a special function, but not as a higher class of Christian. There was no “clerical caste” in the early Church. The awesome power of the grace of Christ was recognized in everyone, and every member of the community felt called to ministry.
It was also encouraging for the Apostles’ converts to know they would never be deprived of Eucharist or the ministry of ordained priests. The Apostles made sure they ordained “presbyters” in every town. They chose people they judged apt and graced by God for the job. Their use of the power to ordain, essential to the role of bishop, was not limited by rules that allowed them to choose only from a narrow field of candidates whose eligibility depended on other factors besides grace, aptness for ministry, and God’s call. Those restrictions came later, and because of them we see some parishes today closing down and others making do without the daily (or even weekly) ministry of ordained priests. Bishops are no longer allowed to use their episcopal power as needed to fulfill the first command Jesus gave to Peter and to them: “If you love me, feed my flock.” This is discouraging to bishops, clergy and laity alike. Nevertheless, with Pope Francis, reform is in the air. And, as we see God bringing about changes in his Church, we continue to sing, “I will praise your name forever, my King and my God.”
The New Commandment
John 13: 31-35 shows us the greatest change Jesus made in the God’s law. He changed the “second greatest” commandment from “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” to his “new commandment”: “Love one another just as I have loved you.” Now we are commanded — and therefore empowered — to love on the level of God.2
Of all the “signs and wonders” that support belief in Jesus, this is the greatest: “By this love you have for one another, everyone will know you are my disciples.” Our task as prophets is to see and show how we can love as Christ in daily life.
A “new creation”
Revelation 21: 1-5 shows us the fruit of this love. “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them….” This is a vision of the perfect peace and reconciliation of the “wedding banquet of the Lamb” that we ask for when we pray, “Give us the bread [of the banquet: Jesus] and forgive us… as we forgive.” We look forward to the “end time” and sing, “I will praise your name forever, my King and my God,” because he is “making all things new.”3
1Patrick J. Dunn, Bishop of Auckland, New Zealand, Priesthood:A Re-Examination of the Roman Catholic Theology of the Presbyterate: Alba House, New York, 1990, p. 110.
2Compare Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:39 with Matthew 5: 43-48 and this Gospel.
3See Revelation 19: 7-9.
What do I see that makes me say, “I will praise your name forever, my King and my God”? How often do I share my experience of him with others?
Be a prophet. Begin talking with family and friends about what God is doing.