By Bishop William Murphy
There are three persons who open up the Gospel to us. Two are known to us, Stephen the first Martyr in the first reading and John who shares his vision in the second. The third lurks in the background. His name is Saul, who witnesses the martyrdom of Stephen. Luke tells us that, as he witnessed the killing of Stephen, the first martyr, Saul was consenting to his execution.
Only later would Saul encounter Jesus and that encounter would dramatically and permanently change his life. He then became Paul, the greatest missionary and evangelizer of all times. What happened to Saul now Paul is what has happened to all of us here: Like Stephen, like John, like Paul, we have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. We see with the eyes of faith. We know with the mind and heart of a disciple of Christ. And we hear the words of the Gospel from this side of his Resurrection from the dead.
On the night before he died, Jesus gathered his disciples whom he made then and there his first apostles. As his friends, he opened his heart to them and told them many things, ending with what we have just heard. He prayed for them. He did not pray for their success or that they would be rich or famous. What did he pray for us and for the Church? Holy Father, I pray for all who will believe in me through their word so that they all may be one! And what kind of unity did he pray that we as His Church would have? They may be one as you Father in me and I in you, that they may also be in us! And why, in Jesus’ prayer, ultimately is our unity as Church so crucial for us but also FOR THE WORLD? That they may be in us that the world may believe that you sent me!
Stephen had a short life of this kind of witness. John a long one and Paul an unending constant witness. He preached the unity of the faith and built up churches of men and women who themselves became witnesses. And that is who we are today!
Being a witness is not always easy. Being faithful will offer us from time to time some real challenges. Some are clear and relatively simple. One is the witness we make for Christ here today and every Sunday. We listen to His Word, proclaim Jesus as Lord and share in his Body and blood. We witness in our homes as we pass on the faith to our children and call them to live up to the Church’s teaching. We find in one another courage and offer one another words of reassurance in times that may be challenging, difficult or sorrowful.
But what happens when we are faced with making choices for our civic and political leaders? Do we witness what we believe then? What happens when we are members of a financial firm or a commercial business and customers are being cheated or your partners are pulling a fast one? What happens when everyone around us is making a mockery of marriage vows or indulging in drug use and giving up all sense of personal responsibility?
I pray that the prayer of Jesus will be heard in our hearts and that we will always prefer to be one with Him and with the Father in the unity that gives true witness to the world. The prayer of Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father, is constant and powerful. The Holy Spirit he pours into our hearts reminds us of who we are and how we have been redeemed. That Spirit lives in us and in the Church. It is the ongoing seal of Divine love. It strengthens us to say NO to what is false and wrong. It helps us to see what is right and embrace what is really true and always beautiful.
While I pray daily for you as you do for me, and while I have every confidence in God’s active presence in our daily lives, I also know the reality of temptation and sin. So does our Holy Father, Pope Francis. That is why he has called this special Holy Year of Mercy. He is giving us a special time to realize more deeply how much the Father loves us and with what abundant merciful love he wishes to embrace us. The Pope invites us to deepen that love and let it transform us to belong more deeply to Christ, to His Church and to one another! And as we recognize his love in us, his forgiveness and his merciful renewal of our lives, he invites us to be merciful like the Father, to be ourselves instruments of mercy to one another, reaching out, understanding, forgiving and embracing one another as the Father has already done for us. In His Gospel prayer for unity, Jesus tells the Father about us. He says, Father they are your gift to me! I pray that they stay with me…I know you and they know that you sent me. May the love with which you loved me be in them and I in them. May we all be one in the merciful love of the Father! AMEN!