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April 28, 2013 - Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 14:21-27; Rev 21:1-5A; Jn 13:31-33A, 34-35

April 25, 2013

The lectionary readings in the period after Easter are particularly beautiful and exuberant and that is the case for this fifth Sunday after Easter.  In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear about the results of Paul and Barnabas' first missionary journey.  They had set out from Antioch, the great Roman city located on the present day border between Turkey and Syria.  Antioch had become Paul's home base and there, under the tutelage of Barnabas - one of the great leaders and unsung heroes of the early Church - he would be prepared for his later mission.  Their first missionary journey together had taken them first to Cyprus and then into the center of Asia Minor - at each stop proclaiming the gospel.  Now they were sailing home and the church in Antioch would rejoice with them when they reported the results of their mission - as the text says, "how he had opened the opened the door of faith to the Gentiles."  The whole spirit of the Acts of the Apostles shows the dynamic power of God's Spirit, moving the Church from its safe haven in Jerusalem out into the Gentile world, bringing words and deeds of love and service - echoing the beautiful words of this Sunday's psalm response: "the Lord is gracious and merciful."

Recently, Pope Francis has urged the Church in our day to do the same.  He warned that if we stay turned in on ourselves, we will "breath stale air" - we need the fresh air of service to those in need.  The early Church - here in the courageous journeys of Paul and Barnabas - had taken that lesson to heart.

The second reading is from the end of the Book of Revelation and is one of that prophetic book's most beautiful passages.  Here the seer John has a glimpse of the final destiny of the world - a world filled with turbulence and suffering, as the early Christians in Asia Minor felt the brunt of Roman Imperial power.  But John sees the advent of a different world, a world whose centerpiece is the "new Jerusalem," a beautiful renewed city, where God will dwell with his people and where he "will wipe every tear" from his peoples' eyes and where "there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away."  God's voice echoes over the whole glorious scene: "Behold, I make all things new."

This is a unique feature of the Book of Revelation.  It speaks of a renewed future to be found not simply in heaven but here on earth - a "new heaven and a new earth" - made so by the power of God's redeeming love and the fidelity of those who live according to the gospel.  After a terrible week in which we saw a terror attack in Boston and terrible loss of live in the explosion of West Texas, this gospel vision offers a sharp and hopeful contrast.  Our God is a God of life.  We are built for love and peace not hatred and destruction.

The anchor of all three readings is found in the gospel selection for this Sunday which is taken from the beginning of Jesus' farewell discourse to his disciples in the Gospel of John.  As Jesus is about to face his own death, he is anxious to leave to his disciples the very heart of his teaching: "I give you a new commandment: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you also should love one another."  This deep, faithful and abiding love - love in the manner of Christ's own infinite love for us - is the true hallmark of the Christian.  John's Gospel distills all of the Jesus' teaching into this one penetrating instruction.

This past week at CTU we gave our annual "Blessed are the Peaemakers" Award to Mary McAleese, the 8th president of Ireland.  She was born in the Ardoyne section of Belfast, a hard scrabble neighborhood that pitted Catholic and Protestants together and which, during the "troubles," was the scene of more sectarian killings than any other location in Northern Ireland.  She and her family knew firsthand the scars of violence from attacks they had personally experienced.  When, remarkably, she was elected the President "of all Ireland" she and her husband Martin vowed that they would devote the power of her office to "building bridges," to forging reconciliation and healing between the warring factions of her homeland.

In a remarkable and deeply moving speech at the award banquet in Chicago, she spoke about her motivation - a motivation rooted in the gospel that she had learned from the deep faith of her family and from the strong catechesis of the Holy Cross Parish in which she and her family lived.  Quite simply, she believed that the words of today's Gospel - "love one another as I have loved you" - could work.  And so, she and her husband spent the fourteen years of her terms as president reaching out to their enemies, inviting them to their home, befriending them, and building trust.  She also reached out across the Irish Sea and invited Queen Elizabeth to come to Ireland - the first British monarch to do so - in what turned out to be an extraordinary experience of reconciliation and healing between two countries that for centuries had had great suspicions of each other.

Mary McAleese closed her remarks at the awards banquet by saying that on the day she and her husband left the presidential residence, they were able to say to each other that living as best as one could in the spirit of the gospel actually worked and the cause of peace and reconciliation had been advanced.  "If you love one another, if indeed you strive to love even your enemy, the world can change."

Donald Senior, C.P.
President, Professor of New Testament Studies

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