In our second lesson today, St. Paul exhorted us, “I, Paul, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to live the vocation you have received,” and that really is what we must try to reflect on this morning as we listen to the scripture lessons -- how these lessons can guide us to live the vocation we have received. First of all in our reflection, I think it’s very important to remind ourselves that in this instance, when we hear the word “vocation,” it’s not something specific, like a call to the priesthood, which we often think of as a vocation, or to the religious life, that’s a vocation in the church.
The Peace Pulpit
If we listen to the three scripture lessons carefully today, we discover that in each of them, God takes an initiative in a time of crisis. God enters in to the activities of God's people. In the first lesson today, it's very clear that it's God's initiative that has brought it about that Amos has gone to the king's palace and has gone there to challenge the king and the elite of the people, the rich.
A couple of weeks ago, when we celebrated our Sunday liturgy, we celebrated the sacrament of baptism for one of the newest members of our parish family, and we do that periodically. So most of you (or all of you, I’m sure, at one point or another) have witnessed a baptism, and you may remember that during the baptism ceremony, after the water has been poured, the baby has been baptized, there are a couple of other small ceremonies that happen:
If we listen very carefully to the readings today, even more than just learn in our minds, we will experience more deeply who God is as God is revealed in Jesus. We will come to know Jesus much more deeply in his humanness, something that we can relate to and try to become like him as we get to know him. In the second lesson, St. Paul reminds us of the generosity of Jesus who, though he was a god, did not think his equality with God something to be clung to, but emptied himself.
If I tell you that we live in a time of great turmoil and stress, both within the Church and within our world, I’m sure no one will be surprised. It’s certainly very evident within the Church that we are living in very troublesome times. Large numbers of people, in fact, are leaving the Church -- one out of ten people in the United States is a former Catholic; that’s 30 million people. We’ve experienced, just recently it happened again, a terrible scandal of sex abuse.
You may remember last Sunday on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, our gospel lesson ended with the very last words of St. Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus promised his disciples and promised all of us, “I will be with you always, even until the end of time.” Now many of us, I believe, when we hear that promise and reflect on it, think of Jesus being present with us; as he said, “I will be with you, present to you,” and we think of what we call the real presence in the Blessed Sacrament, the presence of Jesus living, risen, truly his body and blood, the whole Jesus.
We’re so very familiar with the sign of the cross, which we say at the beginning of this liturgy, for example, and most of the time before any of our prayers or devotion, “In the name of the Father and of the son and of the holy spirit,” we are very familiar. But we probably do not reflect often enough on the fact that that formula, which we take in a sense, I think, very much for granted, was not how the first disciples in the beginning experienced God and reflected on God. It’s a formula that, in fact, only was developed within the Church about 200 years after the last biblical writings were proclaimed.
There is one line in the gospel today that is very important, and yet it's very easy for us to overlook it. Jesus tells his disciples and is telling us that Jesus has many things that we need to know. He was speaking to the disciples at the Last Supper Many things that they had to know, but they couldn't hear them all now, so that is why Jesus tells them, "I will send you the holy spirit and the spirit will make known to you all that has been revealed to me."
Now when we think of the Feast of Pentecost, we think of it as an event that was extraordinary, of course, but we think of it as an event that is over. It happened that one time; 50 days after Easter, the whole community was gathered together in the upper room. They were living in fear and doubt, not knowing what to do. Then there was the extraordinary experience that St. Luke describes in the Acts of the Apostles, and he makes it very clear that this is something special.
Probably all of us are able to picture the ascension of Jesus as it's described by Luke in our first lesson today. It's something that we've heard from the time we were very young and we, I'm sure, have seen many pictures showing the disciples standing around in a circle looking up and Jesus kind of floating up in the air out of their sight. But that's not the way it happened, I have to tell you this. It's very important that we take some time to understand what the gospel writers are doing, what Luke is doing in the Acts of the Apostles, which is the history of the early church, but also in the gospel, and the other gospel writers -- they are not giving us historical facts.
As I just mentioned to you, you have to be committed to wanting to be confirmed, so that’s why I ask that question: “Do you want to be confirmed?” When I ask you the question, I always look for a very clear and strong answer that you say with confidence, “Yes, I want to be confirmed.” Why is that so important? After all, you have prepared for a number of months for this moment and obviously if you didn’t want to be confirmed, you probably would have dropped out a long time ago.