26 May, 2017. Friday, Week 6 of Easter

Saint Philip Neri, priest

1st Reading: Acts 18:9-18

Paul’s trial by Gallio the proconsul breaks down for lack of evidence

One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.” He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal. They said, “This man is persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law.” Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of crime or serious villainy, I would be justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews; but since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves; I do not wish to be a judge of these matters.” And he dismissed them from the tribunal. Then all of them seized Sosthenes, the officer of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of these things.

After staying there for a considerable time, Paul said farewell to the believers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had his hair cut, for he was under a vow.

Gospel: John 16:20-23

They will grieve when he goes to the Father – but he will return

Jesus said to his disciples,
“Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.”


He is always with us

Some people, even theologians, give the impression that all possible questions regarding faith or morals can be easily and definitively resolved from the Bible and the Church’s sacred tradition. Today’s Gospel, however, suggests that we will have questions on our mind until the Lord’s second coming. “[Only] on that day you will have no questions to ask me,” says Jesus. Maybe such a statement might be expected from the earliest strands of the New Testament, say from the gospel of Mark, or the Epistle to the Thessalonians. Yet, the statement comes in the gospel of John, written some sixty years after the resurrection. Since the author of this gospel could survey almost the the whole New Testament, he should have had all the answers, we imagine. Yet he gives it as the mind of Christ that we must wait until the second coming of Jesus before all questions cease.

To balance this, we have the assurance that the risen Jesus is with us, as we seek answers to the questions that life continues to throw up. In a moment of uncertainty about how to go about sharing the Gospel message in Corinth, Jesus appeared to Paul assuring him: “I am with you.” Yet after this initial promise Paul has some serious crises to face. He is dragged before the Roman proconsul, and then the Jewish protestors turn upon their synagogue leader, Sosthenes (who has supported Paul) and beat him up. Then Paul’s loyalty to Mosaic tradition shows up clearly in his taking of the Nazirite vow (Num 6:1-21). He shaved his head and would not cut his hair again until the vow is completed. He would follow strict dietary laws and keep himself ceremonially pure. It looks as though Paul returned more fully to Jewis practice and immersed himself in traditional Jewish customs, before leaving Cenchreae (the seaport of Corinth) and beginning his journey toward Jerusalem.

Why would St Paul continue living as a fervent Jew, while proclaiming the freedom of Jesus’ disciples from these laws and regulations. Evidently, Jesus’ will for Paul was taking a long time to be clarified – one might imagine that the way forward was gestating in the apostle’s mind and heart. This brings to mind the words of Jesus about a woman in labour. She suffers pain and grief just before delivering her child. She may be anxious about the unborn child, about its sex, facial features, health, about its future. In some sense, we are all like that pregnant woman, for we are called to pledge ourselves to others and to our work, when often the future is not clear. But we have the assurance of Jesus that “your grief will be turned into joy.” And when more questions arise, Jesus’ presence gives us strength to live with our questions still longer!

During his absence

Jesus is very honest about the impact which his death on the following day will have on his disciples, “I tell you most solemnly, you will be weeping and wailing… you will be sorrowful.” The death of someone close to us always generates strong feelings of sadness and loss within us. Jesus speaks to his disciples in the awareness that they will experience all these feelings when he is taken from them in death. Yet he also assures them that these feelings won’t last forever. Their sorrow will turn into joy, a joy that no one will take from them, because Jesus will see them again when he rises from the dead. He reassures them that because his death will be an opening to new life, their sorrow and pain will be a prelude to joy, just as the pain of a pregnant woman is the prelude to the joy of new life. Jesus is assuring us all that sorrow and pain and death will not have the last word in our lives either. Because he has triumphed over death and has passed from death to new life all our sorrows, pains and losses will be ultimately transformed by him. Because he is present to us here and now in the power of his risen life this transformation can begun to be experienced here and now. Because he journeys with us as risen Lord, he can say to us, “your sorrow will turn to joy,” not just in the life beyond death but on our present life journey. This was something the two disciples on the road to Emmaus discovered, and that we can all discover for ourselves.

Saint Philip Neri, priest

Filippo Romolo Neri (1515-1595), known as the Apostle of Rome, was an Italian priest noted for kindness and compassion and a special ministry of mercy. He founded a society of secular clergy called the Congregation of the Oratory (Oratorians).

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