6 SUNDAY MASTER 2013 C
Today, our attention is drawn to a crisis that could have severely impacted the unity and continuity of the early church. Jews converts were accustomed to thinking of themselves as God’s chosen ones, and so they were, but they thought gentiles were beyond the pale of God’s saving concerns. Even though the prophets shared visions of a universal community, and even though Jesus had gone out of his way to minister to gentiles and praise them for their faith. If they could not overcome their unwillingness to recognize them as their brothers and sisters in the Lord, then their preaching of the universal love of God and Jesus’ saving death would be contradicted by their own prejudices.
Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Silas, and many others made great efforts to avert this division that threatened the survival of the church.
Luke recounts his version of the Council of Jerusalem. At issue was the reluctance on the part of some Jewish Christians to accept that gentiles could come to Christ without first accepting Judaism, its law, dietary customs, circumcision and purification rituals. What should have been a community characterized by harmony, joy and peace was deeply divided.
While each side clung to its own ideas, little progress was made; but when all gave themselves over in prayer and surrendered to the Holy Spirit, they were able to negotiate and overcome prejudice.
We are also challenged by the vision set before us by the author of Revelation. By God’s design, the author witnessed the heavenly Jerusalemthat is open to all without distinction. But the earthly city is to reflect its heavenly counterpart.
In those times when we realize that we distort rather than reflect, and segregate rather than integrate, we must turn to the Spirit whom Jesus promised to send in his farewell speech to the apostles. He shares with them that he is going to the Father but that he will sent the Holy Spirit who will teach us all things and remind us of all that he has said to us. The Spirit is God’s personal pledge of grace, within each of us and in all of us together.
It is the action of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that brings about conversion. It was decided in Jerusalem that the gentile converts did not need to be circumcised but rather the mark of the Christian was to be a changed heart; a heart opened by the Spirit of Christ to live a life of service and love. Christ desires no one to be marginalized or excluded.
Later this month on May 21st, we celebrate the feast day of St. Eugene de Mazenod, the founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Eugene was born in 1782 in France a member of the aristocracy. His father was President of the Auditor General’s Office.
He was an heir to one of the biggest fortunes in Aix-en-Provenceyet he inherited his mother’s deep sensitivity towards the poor.
When he was five years of age, one winter day Eugenemet a half -frozen little boy who delivered coal. Eugene exchanged his warm clothes for the child's rags and returned home. He got a lecture when he got home, reminding him of his dignity as the president's son.
"Well", he replied, “I’ll be the President of the coal boys."
For eleven years he and his family were in exile from Franceduring the French revolution. When he returned at twenty years of age his family fortune had been lost. His goal was to re-establish his fortune. He wrote to his father in Sicilythat he would marry only a lady who would bring a very large dowry. His heart was still attracted to class that separated and excluded.
- But at a service on Good Friday 1807, at the age of 25, he had a very spiritual experience before the crucifix. “Shall I ever forget those bitter tears which the sight of the cross drew from my eyes one Good Friday? Ahl They welled up from the depths of my heart and I was unable to check them. My soul was in mortal sin, and it was this that caused my sorrow. Never was my soul more relieved, and never did it feel happier. And it was simply because , during this shower of tears, in spite of my grief, or better, by reason of it, my thirsting soul reached up to its final end, to God, its only God, whose lack it felt so keenly."'
The function of the Spirit is to “teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” It is not the work of the Spirit to convey ever new revelations, but to unfold in ever new understanding. This new understanding of the old is the work of the Spirit in Eugene’s heart. This work of the Spirit gives the Eugenepeace (communion with God) and takes away his fear. Peace is the very presence of God reigning in the human heart.
He felt a call from Christ to serve the poor as a priest. He no longer grasps for the trappings of wealth and prestige. Those who entered the Seminary at that time were completely selfless since the priesthood after the revolution no longer held the promise of material security. Churches had been destroyed and the faith abandoned and despised.
Eugene wanted to serve especially the poor and uneducated. He speaks in Provencal, the dialect of the poor, rather than the refined French of the cultured. His Charism was to reach out to the marginalized. As an Oblate Parish my hope is that we all yearn for his Charism to welcome the excluded.
The extent of his conversion is expressed so well in a Lenten homily given at the Church of the Madeleine in Aix-en-Provencejust two years after his ordination:
"You poor who belong to Jesus Christ, you who are unfortunate, suffering, sick and covered with ulcers, all of you who are weighed down by misery, my brothers, my dear brothers, my brothers who are worthy of respect. Listen to me... Servants , you servants, who are you in the eyes of the world? slaves of those who pay you; exposed to contempt, to injustice and often even to the ill-treatment of demanding masters...
And you farmers, who are you in the eyes of the world? The world looks on you as Society’s rejects, beneath contempt. You are children of God, brothers of Jesus Christ, the heirs of His eternal kingdom. May your souls take delight in that! For once, let your eyes look through the rags which cover you. Within you there is an immortal soul made in God's image? A soul whom God loves more than any earthly kingdom. God alone is worthy of you!”
Our lives must attract others to the truth of the Gospel. It was Socrates who told us that the greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be.