Today’s Gospel reading from John is part of Jesus’ instruction to the apostles at their last Passover meal. It is familiar to us because it is often read at funerals. What do the apostles have to be troubled about? (Often anxiety wells up from experiences that we don’t understand. Think of our anxiety from constant news about the Covid virus).
The apostles have already had their feet washed and wondered about its meaning; Jesus has told them he is leaving and where he is going, they cannot go; Peter’s denial has been foretold and the betrayal of Judas predicted. And in the days before the dinner they experienced the raising of Lazarus and the entry into Jerusalem. How to make sense of all they have seen and heard? (How often we are being told that we are living in uncharted territory even as we long for what was?)
The last line in this reading is truly marvelous and could well have added to the anxiety of the apostles. Jesus who knew well how much they had or had not understood of his teaching, promises them that if they believe in him, they will go on to do greater works than he. That belief in him will be tested even as ours so often is.
In the second reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we already see that the prediction of Jesus has happened. The work of the new Church has resulted in growth, but issues have come with growth. The complaints over the distribution of alms and food to two different Christian communities of widows forced the apostles to make a couple of decisions. One was the realization that their primary ministry had to be the preaching of the word. The other was to find a way to deal with the works of mercy that were now part of a growing community.
How to solve a problem that could have split the community? The trait of the community was that they loved one another and held things in common. The Apostles could have thrown the complainers out, or divided into two congregations. They did not shun the unhappy ones or form a committee to discuss the problem to death. Instead they looked for those filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, who would also be acceptable to the larger community. Seven men were chosen, and through the laying on of hands became part of the ministry of the apostles who were the leaders of the early Church.
The opening prayer of the Liturgy for the Fifth Sunday of Easter asks God “to constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us, that those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism may …. bear much fruit….” Today’s second reading from 1 Peter is an Epistle full of baptismal references. Today’s passage may well have been an instruction for baptismal candidates.
I found myself praying for this year’s catechumens who prepared for baptism to be received at Easter only to have everything cancelled. May they know, when finally, the waters of baptism are poured on them, that the delay will have made them stronger in becoming “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, people of his own……..”
– Sr. Dominica Rocchio
Sr. Dominica serves as a Councilor/Assistant to the President on the Congregation’s leadership team. Previously she ministered in education as a teacher, principal, and in administrative positions in the archdioceses of New York and Newark, N.J., where she served as Superintendent of Schools and Secretary for Education.
Photo: Mount Saint Vincent grounds, by Elena Miranda, May 2020.