7th Sunday of Easter C

A young man named Saul

When St. Stephen the deacon was arrested by the Sanhedrin for preaching that Jesus was the Messiah, he was stoned to death for “blasphemy”. Though Saul threw no stones, he volunteered to watch the cloaks of the executioners, and thus became an accomplice in Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 7: today’s second reading). Not long afterward, however, Our Lord appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus and called him into His service. Thus Saul the lyncher turned into St. Paul the Apostle.

Paul was not the only terrorist in history who had a radical change of heart. Joseph Picot de Limoelan (1768-1826) was a Frenchman who attended the Royal Military School in Paris and received his military commission just before the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789. Being a royalist by conviction, he resigned from the French Army and joined as a Major-General the insurgent army that battled the revolutionary government. When Napoleon Bonaparte became head of the revolutionary government, Joseph did not hesitate to conspire to assassinate him. On December 24, 1800, he and his fellow conspirators rigged up a cart full of explosives intended to kill Napoleon when he came by. This “infernal machine” did explode, but Bonaparte was untouched. Limoelan then took flight to Savannah, Georgia under the name of Joseph Picot de Cloriviere.

As an exile, Joseph began to realize that violence solves nothing, and that he was called to higher things. So he entered the seminary at Baltimore, and on August 11, 1812, he was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. His first assignment was a difficult one. He had to hold at bay the Irish leaders of St. Mary’s, Charleston, S.C. who were battling their archbishop. In 1818 Archbishop Marechal finally appointed the 51-year-old priest to a quieter post – the chaplaincy of the Visitation Convent at Georgetown. Here he was able to do solid priestly work. He spent much of his own money on Georgetown Visitation Convent, the oldest Catholic girl’s school in the original United States. He also helped found St. Joseph’s School in Washington.

The lion had indeed become a lamb, as Saul had become St. Paul.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q268: It has been almost 2,000 years since Jesus died, and since he prayed for unity (John 17:20-26). Isn’t it futile to dream about “unity” if it hasn’t happened by now?

The Church began to spread the Good News, and add believing members, after the gift of the Holy Spirit was bestowed and received on Pentecost (which we celebrate next Sunday). This Good News — that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who came to dwell among us and bring us peace — is spread by preaching, teaching and witnessing to His presence in our lives, and by the example of our living the gospel values.

This same Holy Spirit does not guarantee that all will come into the Church who hear the word. However, the Holy Spirit does guarantee that what we call the “Church,” those who do believe and become true Christian disciples and true followers, will remain faithful until the end of time. And this can happen only because of the promises of Christ. Jesus passed on the leadership of his Church to Peter, by giving him the “Keys” to the Church he promised to build. To be united includes giving the assent of faith to whatever Peter (the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church) officially teaches.

Unity is elusive. But we do not stop striving to attain unity simply because it is slow in coming. It is the will of God that we have unity, as expressed in Jesus’ prayer today. Whose fault is it that we are not united in Christ? It is the mandate of Christ, not just a nice wish! Therefore, Christians have an obligation to renew their efforts daily to seek this “oneness.” Where do we start? Pray for that person you dislike. Pray for unity – both for and with those with whom we need to be united. And “reach out” – ecumenical awareness also extends to “outreach” to the poor and needy, for it is in unselfish loving service that our Christian witness is most powerful.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM!  “Unity” in the life of the Holy Trinity is the ultimate goal of all human life (CCC #260). There are no time limits on the prayer and work of Jesus (CCC #2749), who has completed the work of the Father. Now it us up to us, his faithful followers, to continue his work by imitating his love and unconditional forgiveness to all (CCC #589). Unity follows a life truly lived in the fullness of the truth of Christ — a fullness that subsists in the Roman Catholic Church (CCC #830). Dwell securely in the virtue of Hope (CCC #1820).

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Q580: In the beginning, did Christians disagree as much as they do today?

What a robust Church we have! It seems we always find ourselves in arguments, all the way back to our Jewish roots. The Pharisees and Sadducees argued over serious matters, such as the resurrection of the body. The Apostles even argued at the Last Supper about which one of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24). The traditionalists and progressives began their arguments early, as the Acts of Apostles shows with the differences between Hellenist Jews and Jerusalem Jews. Soon the young Catholic Church found itself embroiled in discerning between heterodox, heretical, and orthodox positions on doctrinal matters. Today folks still argue over many things, such as the liturgies (change vs. no-change); over the proper way to apply Catholic social teachings (but not disagreeing with the teachings themselves); over a married priesthood as an option vs. a celibate-only priesthood; over creeping socialism as good or contrary to church teaching; and so on.

There is a great mystery at work in our journey towards unity, reflected in today’s gospel (John 17:20-26), as we ponder the mystical yet practical words of Jesus. Somehow, this love between the Father, Jesus, and believers is all for the sake of mission. Jesus knew that arguments and dissension would happen; he grew up in that environment. Today’s gospel shows Jesus praying fervently to his heavenly Father for unity among his disciples, and unity among those who come to believe because of the preaching and teaching of his disciples. Fr. Leslie Hoppe, OFM teaches that this experience by believers of the unity between Jesus and his Father impels the believer to spread the Good News of that love. And when the believers live out that love within their families and communities, it enables non-believers to see beyond the believer to the living Christ within them. It is a great mystery of love! The importance of recognizing the goal of unity cannot be overemphasized.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth, and enable us to proclaim that truth; this is the promise of Jesus (CCC #729). Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning, and it subsists in the Catholic Church forever (CCC #820). It is the pastoral duty of the church Magisterium to see that the people of God abide in the truth (CCC #890).

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Come Lord Jesus
The martyrdom of St. Stephen reminds us that although he Lord has risen, his work is not yet completed. In the midst of his suffering Stephen’s vision of the risen Christ gives him strength to follow the way of the cross.  John’s vision in the Book of Revelation reinforces this lesson, reassuring us that the Lord will come to complete his work and make all things new.  The Gospel tells us that we are already one with Jesus and we must show this oneness in our lives so that Jesus may come to others.

Lord Jesus, you are enthroned in glory at the right hand of the Father.  Help us to understand our need for you so that we may truthfully pray “Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!”

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