Jesus’ Prayer for Unity and the Spirit’s Help to Live it, 7th Thursday of Easter, June 1, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Memorial of Saint Justin Martyr
26th Anniversary of the Founding of the Sisters of Life
June 1, 2017
Acts 22:30.23:6-11, Ps 16, Jn 17:20-26

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today as we continue our preparations for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we are provoked by today’s readings to examine the Holy Spirit’s work of unity. He is the personified loving union between the Father and the Son and he has been sent by the Father and the Son so that we might enter into that communion with God and with others, so that we might become one Body, one Spirit, in Christ.
  • Jesus prays in the Gospel that we might be as united with each other as Father and Son are united, something that’s impossible for us but not impossible for God. This communion of saints among the communion who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the Spirit’s principal work. Everything else is an explicitation of that mission. Jesus prays for the success of that Mission in today’s Gospel with insistence, begging him that we might be one so that the world might know that he was sent by the Father and that the Father loves us just as he loves him. That’s an extraordinary prayer that points to the Holy Spirit’s mission. The world will be convinced of Jesus’ presence and mission by the way we’re united with each other. The world will be convinced of God’s personal love for each of us by the way we’re united with each other. Our union, our Christian communion brought about by the Holy Spirit, is the most important element of the new evangelization. That’s why we pray for that unity at every Mass as well, uniting ourselves as Bride to Bridegroom, as Body to Head, praying for that gift.
  • We see the ugliness of disunity, of the lack of the Holy Spirit, in today’s first reading in the dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees about the Resurrection, and about the way so many of the Sadducees and Pharisees were not only fighting each other but against Paul and the proclamation of the Gospel.
  • Jesus mentions to us that he has given us his glory so that we may be on. We know well that in St. John’s Gospel, when Jesus speaks about his glory, when he speaks about his exaltation, he’s always speaking about his being lifted up on the Cross, which is the greatest glorification of God’s incredible love for us. Today we celebrate the feast of someone who grasped this truth not just as a concept but as a way of life.
  • St. Justin Martyr was born about the year 100 in what is now the city of Nablus, which is now one of the Palestinian-controlled territories in the Holy Land. He was born of pagan parents and received a decent pagan education as a child. During his later teenage years, he began to feel a hunger within to know what made the world tick, to know what made him tick, to know whether there was a God and what his nature was. He started out on a search. He placed himself as a disciple under a well-known local Stoic philosopher — the Stoics were famous for their self-control and morality — but after some time found that he had learned nothing about God and that in fact his master had nothing to teach him on the subject. He then went to a Peripatetic philosopher, but after a short time this Aristotelian wanted money from him, and to Justin this showed that he was not a real philosopher, a seeker of wisdom, but just a philosophical mercenary who wasn’t living the truth that he claimed to had been seeking. Still searching for truth, he sought out a Pythagorean, but this Pythagorean refused to teach him anything until Justin had mastered music, astronomy and geometry. Justin didn’t want that likely-fruitless detour. Finally he found a Platonist and for a while Justin delighted that at least someone sought eternal truths and the real meaning of human life. He began to delight with his Master and fellow students. One afternoon, however, when he was in his late 20s, he was walking along the beach and, as he says in his autobiographical writings, met an old man with whom he began to converse. This Old Man listened intently to Justin pour out his heart in seeking the truth. The wise old man turned to Justin and said to him, “You’re not really in love with the truth. You’re in love with talking and discussing the truth, with philosophy, with thinking about thinking. If you’re in love with truth, you’ll live the truth.” Then the old man challenged him to read the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, bid him adieu and left. Justin was stung and intrigued at the same time. He reflected for a while on the old man’s contention that he was not really a lover of truth, but just a lover of intelligence, of being smart, of knowing more than others, and thought that the old man was reading his soul. His life did not depend or had not even much changed on the basis of his meditation upon Plato’s “eternal forms.” He was also captivated by the sage’s challenge to “live the truth.” Plato had always thought that if you knew the truth, you’d live it automatically. But spurred on by the old man, Justin reflected on his own experience and saw that knowing the truth and putting it into practice were two different things. Finally, convinced that the old man had a wisdom for which Justin yearned, he poured himself into the study of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.
  • Study of the Christian Scriptures brought him into contact, naturally, with both Christians and Jews. The Christians were the ones who fascinated him, because they took the search for truth to all new levels. Justin wrote his first series of impressions. He wrote of men and women who have no fear of death, who prefer truth to life and are yet ready to await the time allotted by God; of human beings who have a great devotion to their children, charity even towards their enemies, and a desire to save their enemies. He noted their patience and their prayers in persecution, their love of mankind including their enemies, their chastity and their courage. These Christians, he concluded, were not hypocrites. They lived the words they preached, and they actually loved and joyfully prayed for those who were persecuting and killing them. Justin concluded either that it was the most benevolent, joyous and holy craziness he not only had ever witnessed but could possibly conceive, or the truth for which he had been searching all his life. The more he got to know the Christians, the more he became convinced that the truth for which he had been searching for most of his life, the truth which had captivated him and taken him through so many stages, a truth worth living for and a truth worth dying for, had a name, and that name was Jesus. “Seek and you shall find, ask and it shall be given to you, knock and the door will be opened to you.” These words of Jesus were, in a certain sense, Justin’s motto. He searched for the Truth and found Him, and once he found him, he accounted everything else as loss in comparison with the treasure he had discovered. And St. Justin followed all the way, seeking to live the truth he knew. And he didn’t shirk Christ’s command to deny himself, pick up his Cross and follow him. He wrote several years before his martyrdom, “I, too, expect to be persecuted and to be crucified by some of those” whose arguments he had publicly refuted. While Christianity was still illegal and punishable by death, he wrote a book to the emperor, refuting all of the attacks on Christianity, and proposing the Christian truth in a clear and understandable way, trying thereby to convert the emperor, Antoninus Pius, and through the emperor’s conversion, the Roman empire. That, of course, brought him to the clear attention of the Roman authorities as a very influential and persuasive Christian. He was rounded up with six of his disciples and brought before the prefect, Rusticus, in the year 165 AD. The actual record of his trial was kept in the Acta of the Roman authorities and has survived. We can see in it clearly that Justin’s lived his love for the truth, for Jesus.
  • These are the last words of Justin’s life, and we can still sense all the drama:
    • Rusticus: What branch of learning do you study?
    • Justin: I have studied all in turn. But I finished by deciding on the Christian teaching, however disagreeable it may be to those who are deceived by error.
    • Rusticus: And that is the learning that you love, you foolish man?
    • Justin: Yes. I follow the Christians because they have the truth.
    • Rusticus: What is this teaching?
    • Justin then explained that Christians believe in the one creator God and confess His Son, Jesus Christ, of whom the prophets spoke, the bringer of salvation and judge of mankind.
    • Rusticus: Tell me where you gather with your followers.
    • Justin: I have always stayed at the house of a man called Martin, just by Timothy’s baths. I have never stayed anywhere else. Anybody who wants to can find me and hear the true doctrine there.
    • Rusticus: You, then, are a Christian?
    • Justin: Yes, I am a Christian.
    • Rusticus: Listen, you who are said to be eloquent and who believes that he has the truth — if I have you beaten and beheaded, do you believe that you will then go up to Heaven?
    • Justin: If I suffer as you say, I hope to receive the reward of those who keep Christ’s commandments. I know that all who do that will remain in God’s grace even to the consummation of all things.
    • Rusticus: So you think that you will go up to Heaven, there to receive a reward?
    • Justin: I don’t think it, I know it. I have no doubt about it whatever.
    • Rusticus: Very well. Come here and sacrifice to the gods.
    • Justin: Nobody in his senses gives up truth for falsehood.
    • Rusticus: If you don’t do as I tell you, you will be tortured without mercy.
    • Justin: We ask nothing better than to suffer for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ and so to be saved. If we do this, we can stand confidently and quietly before the fearful judgment-seat of that same God and Savior, when in accordance with divine ordering all this world will pass away.
  • As he described, no one gives up the truth for falsehood, and he clung to the truth not just with all his mind but with all his heart, strength and soul. Today we rejoice that he is in the communion of saints within the communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • St. Justin’s words about worthiness to receive Holy Communion have always moved me. He said, “No one is allowed to partake [in the Eucharist] except one who believes that the things we teach are true, who has received the washing for the forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us.” He points out a doctrinal, sacramental and moral communion as the prerequisite for Holy Communion, that we act on our faith. And today we are called in a special way to act on Jesus’ teachings with regard to Christian Unity. The Mass is the great Sacrament of Unity. St. Thomas Aquinas used to teach that the res (effect) of the Sacrament of the Eucharist was not merely the transubstantiation of Bread and Wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood, but rather our becoming one Body, one Spirit, in Christ. To say Amen! as we come to receive the Lord Jesus is an act that means more than just recognizing Jesus’ divine presence. It means that we want what Jesus wants to do: bringing us into communion with Him and in that Communion into Communion with each other. To seek Communion with Jesus without seeking it with each other, with others, with the Church, is to eat and drink the Body and Blood of the Lord unworthily. We see this in the early Church in Corinth, when they were wanting to celebrate Mass together but then to have their agape meal separately with no commingling or sharing between Jewish and Greek widows. Christ wants this Communion. He prayed for it during the first Mass. It’s, in a sense, his perpetual Eucharistic prayer. And with the Father, he not only sends the “Spirit graciously [to] make holy these gifts we have brought…  for consecration that they may become the Body and Blood of … our Lord Jesus Christ” but so that we “nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit, may become one body, one spirit in Christ.” This is the means by which the world may continue to recognize the continued real presence of Jesus as the incarnation of God’s love, as that love and presence reigns in the midst of the Communion this great sacrament brings about! On this day, the 26th anniversary of the foundation of the Sisters of Life, we pray that you may be distinguished above all by your loving communion one sister to another so that others may know of Christ’s continuous incarnation and that God loves all those whom you serve with the love with which he loves his Son! 

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 ACTS 22:30; 23:6-11

Wishing to determine the truth
about why Paul was being accused by the Jews,
the commander freed him
and ordered the chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin to convene.
Then he brought Paul down and made him stand before them.
Paul was aware that some were Sadducees and some Pharisees,
so he called out before the Sanhedrin,
“My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees;
I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead.”
When he said this,
a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees,
and the group became divided.
For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection
or angels or spirits,
while the Pharisees acknowledge all three.
A great uproar occurred,
and some scribes belonging to the Pharisee party
stood up and sharply argued,
“We find nothing wrong with this man.
Suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?”
The dispute was so serious that the commander,
afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them,
ordered his troops to go down and rescue Paul from their midst
and take him into the compound.
The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage.
For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem,
so you must also bear witness in Rome.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 16:1-2A AND 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11

R. (1) Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge;
I say to the LORD, “My Lord are you.”
O LORD, my allotted portion and my cup,
you it is who hold fast my lot.
R. Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
or:
R. Alleluia.
I bless the LORD who counsels me;
even in the night my heart exhorts me.
I set the LORD ever before me;
with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.
R. Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices,
my body, too, abides in confidence;
Because you will not abandon my soul to the nether world,
nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.
R. Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
or:
R. Alleluia.
You will show me the path to life,
fullness of joys in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever.
R. Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia JN 17:21

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
May they all be one as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that the world may believe that you sent me, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 17:20-26

Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed saying:
“I pray not only for these,
but also for those who will believe in me through their word,
so that they may all be one,
as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us,
that the world may believe that you sent me.
And I have given them the glory you gave me,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may be brought to perfection as one,
that the world may know that you sent me,
and that you loved them even as you loved me.
Father, they are your gift to me.
I wish that where I am they also may be with me,
that they may see my glory that you gave me,
because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Righteous Father, the world also does not know you,
but I know you, and they know that you sent me.
I made known to them your name and I will make it known,
that the love with which you loved me
may be in them and I in them.”’