As a deacon I am very aware of the readings which mention St Stephen, the first deacon. In today’s first reading we hear again of how he was martyred and can see parallels with Jesus’ crucifixion. How he asked God to forgive his persecutors, how strong his faith was. I find myself asking if I could forgive under those circumstances or if I could endure the trial he did. The answer for me and no doubt for many of you, is that we do not know until we are put into that position.
What is it that gives martyrs that resolve and where can we receive it? One answer is in Holy Scriptures; and one of the great sources has been accompanying us on our journey these past few weeks during Eastertide. The book of Revelations or the Apocalypse as it is otherwise known, gives us an insight of what is to come in the next life. St John was given visions to share with the world and he uses provocative language; some of it beautiful some of it terrifying. The book is filled with promise as we hear that God will protect and save all those who trust in Him. It is this promise that gives true believers like St Stephen the courage to stand up to their persecutors and trust that God will protect them.
Our Gospel this week we hear Jesus pray for his disciples and those who will follow them. This includes us. Jesus prays for all of his followers to be one. This is something which really concerned Jesus because during this prayer He asks for this oneness four times. Some scholars nowadays will say this is about Christian Unity, and I think there is an element in there where the churches must come together; something which we must all pray for.
But this is about far more than that. We as Christians need to be one with each other, that includes within families, within Parishes, within Dioceses, within Countries. Two weeks ago, during the same prayer we heard Jesus tell us that the love we have for one another will allow everyone to know that we are his disciples. How is that working for us at the moment?
Do others see us as a loving community? Do we look out for one another? Do we see ourselves as a loving community? In His prayer, Jesus says that He wants those the Father has given Him to be where He is, so that we can always see His glory. Are we helping each other as we accompany one another towards that goal? Do we always speak lovingly of our brothers and sisters? Do we listen to gossip or when we hear others start to share things do we encourage them to speak well of people? Or worse still do we start gossip? Do we criticise our brothers and sisters or do we give them the benefit of the doubt? Do we encourage those amongst us who are struggling, do we join in the criticism or let them go on struggling?
We are called to be one. One body; the Body of Christ. If we are not one, then the enemy is winning. By being one, the world will see that we are His disciples. By living as disciples then others will recognise that Jesus is Lord and that He was sent by the Father.
This week, many parents and grandparents hugged their children tighter after the terrible news which came out of Texas, where so many innocent children were killed by a young man who entered their school intent on doing evil. We pray for the families of those children and for the children and staff who survived and may be left wondering why they were blessed to live, and their colleagues or pupils were not. We will never know, but I pray that those who survived make the most of their lives; that they are kind to one another.
Next Sunday we will be celebrating Pentecost. This week I will be taking part in a Novena praying for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit to revitalise our Church and our world. There is too much pain in the world. The war in Ukraine still rages, although it barely makes the news these days, sadly appearing to normalise it. There are various flashpoints around the world like Yemen, Palestine and Bamenda. There are civil wars, persecution of Christians in parts of Africa and China as well as persecutions of Muslims in China. With the war in Ukraine the famines in parts of Africa and in Afghanistan will get worse before they get better.
Please join me in asking God, that this Pentecost will bring the Peace of Christ to the whole world. That people throughout the world will recognise that we are all part of the same one human race. That by living in peace, we can work together to tackle the challenges of climate change, poverty and inequality.
This is the prayer of Jesus, this is His call that we are all one, as He is one with The Father.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
CCC 521: through Christ we live in communion with Father
CCC 787-790, 795, 1044-1047: the Church is communion with and in Christ
Please keep in your prayers this week
- The Ukrainian and Russian people, may they be able to live in peace.
- The people of Uvalde in Texas as they come to terms with their loss. Not forgetting the Emergency responders who have to see things none of us would wish to see.
- Those who are sick, those recovering from surgery, those who are dying, the recently deceased and those who mourn.
- The Year of the Eucharist, that this will lead to a fresh outpouring of love by the people of God for the Body and Blood of Christ.
- Those attending the RCIA course at St Bede’s on Wednesdays.
- Our Confirmation candidates as they continue their preparations.
- Fr Chris Whelan who is sick and Fr John & Fr Dominic who are having to make changes to support St Joseph’s at this time.
- Success of the face to face afternoon tea at St Bede’s this Sunday, hopefully raising funds for Cafod.