Shared Homily Starter
Today we celebrate the Seventh Sunday of Easter and also The Feast of the Ascension. Jesus ascension as described in Scripture was a single event. I believe that for us ascension is a process that begins in our mortal lives and continues even after. What echoed in my mind with today’s readings were transformation and “the promises of Christ” or more specifically, the last phrase of one of the rosary end prayers, “that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ”. That phrase brings to mind images of being pruned and moulded and growing into God’s plan for us. I’m sure we all have said this phrase, which ends the rosary a thousand times. But how much thought have we given these words. I’ll come back to this.
This week at Sr. Margaret Moore’s funeral, Fr. Ken spoke of the beatitudes. The beatitudes are as Fr. Ken suggested─ “be attitudes”. But I realized that they are also much more; the beatitudes themselves ─are promises of Christ. Matthew 5.6, for example, says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.” In today’s reading, we have an example of Jesus’ promises. “But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit and saw the glory of God! Stephen was filled! Could there be a better fullness than being filled with the Holy Spirit? Jesus promise is fulfilled!
The Second reading tells us, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates.” Some of the writers that I looked at constricted this reading to a Christian context, saying John used “wash their robes” as a metaphor for baptism. But in light of today’s Gospel refrain─ “that all may be one”, I ask you to look beyond Christianity to a creation inclusive context. In this sense, consider “wash their robes”, as a metaphor for cleansing of the self from all that keeps us in attitudes of separation: separation from each other, separation within ourselves, separation from Love. Our God is Love and no-one can be separated from that Love. How could anyone loved by the Creator be left outside the gates? All that God created is beloved by God. Only our own attitudes, which cause us to think of ourselves as separated, unconnected, can keep us outside the gates of the Divine kindom.
Today’s Gospel gives us a glimpse of that Divine kindom and opens with Jesus praying for all of us, saying, “I pray also for those who will believe through their message, that all may be one.” As some of you know, I love to look up words, especially those so familiar to us that we seldom give them a second thought. What does Jesus mean by “so that they may be one, as we are one─ I in them and you in me─ that they may be made perfect in unity?” In an effort to explore the obvious, I looked up the words: one, unity, and same, and chose the definitions pertinent to this text.
“One” means “a single entity”, “undivided” and “characterized by unity.” The word “unity” is defined as “the state of being united or joined as a whole” and as “harmony or agreement between people or groups.” On the other hand, “same” means, “identical, not different, unchanged.”
Too often in Christian history I think these words have been confused. When Jesus prays for us to be one and to be made in perfect unity, he was not praying for us to be the same. He was praying for us to be united, for us as individuals and as groups to be in harmony with one another. He was not praying for us to be identical and unchanged. Jesus very words, “to be made”, signify change.
With that, I now come back to “that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ? We cannot do this alone. We can only do it through God’s grace; by letting God’s grace and the prompting of the Spirit, lead us. Stephen was preaching, spreading the Good News and they stoned him to death. Yet, as he was dying, he cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Stephen’s words echo the words of Jesus as he dying on the cross. Stephen grew into oneness with Christ.
Transformation is change; conversion is change. Had Saul not been open to change, if he had stayed the same, he could not have been transformed into Paul. Oneness and unity are growth-oriented and dynamic, while sameness is stagnant. Nothing living stays the same. You might say, “The Word of God doesn’t change”. But the Word of God is alive because what it says to us changes with the circumstances of our times. For example, “to do justice,” at one time called for local actions in the bounded regions that dotted Europe and Asia. Today, in our globalized world, it calls for both local and worldwide action. It calls us to end our individual and societal addictions that cause the domestic and global oppression of people and the domestic and global destruction of the natural world. To do biblical justice will always be a call to conversion but how to answer that call will change.
Spiritual transformation and growth call us to action. Stephen was called to forgive as Jesus forgives. Paul ─ until he was beheaded by Nero in 67 A.D., was called to spread the Gospel story beyond the confines of the Jewish community─ and to do so with love, not a conquerors sword.
Unlike Stephen and Paul, most of us are not called to be martyrs. However, we are all called to give our lives to God by living the commands that Jesus gave us. We are called to live lives of transformation, that is, lives in an unending process of conversion. Transformative lives are not lives of perfection, as the life of Saul aka Paul testifies. Transformative lives are lives that are lived for the love of God and for all that God created. Transformative living contains failing, falling, faltering─ getting up, dusting off and starting again. If we live with hearts and minds open to the Holy Spirit’s transformative influence, we may find that our own lives become more full and abundant. Transformation is the process through which we ascend toward unity with God, that all may be one, as Jesus and God are One.
Please share your thoughts?