Introduction: Our central challenge from the Holy Spirit in today’s readings is, with His grace, to rejoice in our suffering for the Faith because the more we suffer the more we are identified with Jesus who has liberated us from the bondage of sin by his suffering and death.
Scripture lessons: The first reading (Acts 1:12-14) tells us how the apostles waited in prayer for Pentecost which would enable them to preach Christ and bear witness to him in spite of persecutions. It provides a historical link between the Ascension and the election of Matthias to fill the place of Judas Iscariot. It depicts a kind of spiritual retreat for Mary and the apostles. The disciples had returned to the upper room, the site of Jesus’ last meal. Listing those gathered, Luke mentions 11 disciples and then explicitly notes the presence of “some women,” including Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. They needed the time to pray as they waited for clearer direction from the Holy Spirit before undertaking the dynamic mission that was their destiny. The apostles had been told that when the Spirit came upon them, they would receive the power they had been promised (Luke 24:49). This instruction anticipated the coming of the Spirit and the power that would be given the apostles on Pentecost (Acts 2), which we will celebrate next Sunday.
The second reading (1 Peter 4:13-16): Peter challenges his early Christian audience to accept sufferings as opportunities to identify themselves with Jesus. "Rejoice," he encourages the newly-baptized, "to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ. Whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but should glorify God because of the Name." Both the Jewish and the Gentile Christians had to face persecutions and inner suffering. The Jewish members had to give up many of their long-cherished traditions and to suffer the loss of their Jewish friends. The Gentiles had to struggle to give up some of their old ways, such as magic and idolatry, which were incompatible with the Gospel. Although they all considered Jesus the restorer of the kingship of David, they soon discovered that his throne included the cross and suffering as well as joy. Peter is not suggesting that greater Faith will make one impervious to suffering, but that, properly accepted, it can render that suffering salvific. Jesus, the Messiah, that is, the restorer of the glorious kingship of David, a monarch above all suffering, had the cross for His throne, and found his strength in his submission to the evil others did to him. Hence, the believer needs and is meant to use suffering to give meaning to his life by identifying himself with the suffering Jesus.
The Gospel gives us the beginning of the “High Priestly Prayer" of Jesus in which he prays for himself and for protection and unity for his disciples. In the first part of the section we hear today, Jesus prays for himself and his chosen apostles. He prays for the protection and unity of his disciples. In the second part, Jesus commends his apostles to the Father and prays for them because they have accepted the word of God and acknowledged his divine origin as the Messiah. They have put their trust in Jesus and His Father. Jesus prays that they may act as agents of truth and love in the world. They are to be the leaven in the dough, the purifying salt and lights shining in the darkness. Jesus prays for their protection from evil and for their unity.
Glory in crucifixion: Jesus prays first for the success of his mission. "Glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you." This “glory” of the Son would come in a very strange way – through suffering and death. To Jesus, the Cross is the glory of life and the way to the glory of eternity. Jesus considers his crucifixion as his glorification -- as do the martyrs. Their deaths show people what, who, and Whose, they really are. The Cross is the glory of Jesus because it is the completion of his Redemptive work. "I have accomplished the work," he says to the Father, "which You gave me to do." His work is to show men, by his life, suffering and death, how God loves them. The cross of Jesus glorifies God because Jesus accepts the death on the cross in perfect obedience to God.
The essence of eternal life: According to the New Testament “eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (Jn 17:3). To know God in the Gospel sense is to have a deep personal experience of God Who is working in our lives. It involves a close, intimate relationship which matures eventually into a mutual love and trust. Christian Faith is essentially a 'believing in'-- a total surrender. It is the way we come to 'know' Christ.
Prayer for the disciples: In the second part of today’s section of the “High Priestly Prayer,” Jesus commends his apostles to the Father and prays for them because they have already accepted the word of God and acknowledged his Divine origin as the Messiah. They have put their trust in Jesus and His Father. Jesus prays that they may act as agents of truth and love in the world. They are to be the leaven in the dough, the purifying salt and the lights shining in the darkness. Jesus prays for their protection from evil and for their unity. Prayer is a constant and continuing attitude of trust and acceptance of God's presence in the community. It is not merely asking for something, but also giving Him thanks for everything. It is desiring that God's Holy Will may be done effectively in and through our lives.
Life messages: 1) We need to center our Christian life on prayer. Christian prayer has several forms for individual Christians and for communities. These include individual prayer, the prayer of the liturgy, para-liturgical prayers/services, such as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. There are also different kinds of prayer, including vocal prayer, the Rosary, and contemplative prayer. In the final analysis, prayer means getting into contact with God -- listening to Him and talking to Him. We should try to set aside some time each day to spend with God in prayer. If we are convinced of the presence of God within us, we can talk to him even while we are driving, waiting in line or doing routine work in the kitchen or yard. Our talk with God can include praise and thanksgiving, pleas for forgiveness and prayer for our needs. A few minutes spent in reading the Bible is a good way of listening to God.
2) We need to glorify Christ by the lives we live. When we live ethical lives, that is, lives of integrity in which our performance is in harmony with our profession of Faith, we are glorifying Jesus. An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, a fair deal on a product, a truthful, trustworthy guarantee – all these reflect our integrity. When others see Christians, who will not cheat on their income tax, who will stand up for peace with justice, who will love even when it costs, who will stand with the poor and oppressed, who will use their money as a gift from God to bless other lives, who will use their money to guarantee that the Gospel is preached all over the world, we glorify God. We also glorify God by our prayer life and faithful observance of the Lord’s Day. We glorify Jesus by humble and selfless service – distributing lunches to the homeless begging on the street corner, volunteering at homeless shelters, tutoring children, helping with after-school care, teaching Vacation Bible School, or doing random acts of kindness. Finally, we glorify God by speaking kind, merciful, loving and encouraging words.