7th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 1:15–17, 20–26; 1 John 4:11–16; John 17:11–19
I Do It for Them The best way to help others follow Jesus is to follow him more closely ourselves.
Years ago Jimmy Stewart, the famous Hollywood actor, wrote an article for McCall’s magazine.
He began by saying that when he was a boy, the center of his universe was the Stewart Hardware Store. It was a monstrous three-story building that contained everything you need to build a house, repair a car, or plant a garden.
But then one day it dawned on Jimmy that the center of his universe was not the store, but the man who ran it—his father.
Jimmy went on to describe the big influence his parents had on him, especially his father. A good example of his dad’s influence was an incident that took place just before Jimmy’s bomber squadron went overseas during World War II.
As the moment of departure neared, Jimmy sensed that his father wanted to say something special. But the words never came out.
Finally his father embraced him and departed. Only later did Jimmy discover that his father had slipped a letter into his pocket. It read:
“My dear Jim boy, Soon after you read this letter, you will be on your way to the worst sort of danger. . . . I am banking on the enclosed copy of the 91st Psalm. The thing that takes the place of fear and worry is the promise of these words. . . . I can say no more. . . . I love you more than I can tell you. Dad”
Jimmy then read these words of Psalm 91:
“[you] will be safe in [God’s] care; his faithfulness will protect and defend you. . . . God will put his angels in charge of you to protect you wherever you go.” Psalm 91:4, 11
The story of Jimmy Stewart and his father helps us appreciate something Jesus says in today’s gospel.
The context for today’s gospel in Jesus’ prayer for his disciples shortly before his departure from this life. In the prayer, Jesus says to his Father:
“And for their sake I dedicate myself to you, in order that they, too, may be truly dedicated to you.” John 17:19
Let me repeat those words. They’re so important. Jesus says:
“And for their sake I dedicate myself to you, in order that they, too, may be truly dedicated to you.” John 17:19
The word consecrate means “to make holy.” And so we may rephrase Jesus’ words to read: “I make myself holy that my disciples may be holy.”
I think that phrase could become the motto and the motivation of every person here, whether we are parents already or whether we hope to be parents someday.
Let’s rephrase Jesus’ words to apply directly to parents: “I make myself holy that my children may be holy.”
In other words, the best way to help children follow Jesus is for parents to follow him more closely.
Jimmy Stewart’s article in McCall’s makes it clear that his inspiration to love God and to follow Jesus came from the fact that his parents loved God and followed Jesus.
The first and the most important teachers of children are parents. Nothing can substitute for their influence— not the best CCD program in the world, not the best parish in the world, not the best school in the world, not the best friends in the world.
These can all contribute to a child’s education, but they remain only secondary influences.
The great educator Booker T. Washington wrote this paragraph in this autobiography, Up from Slavery:
“The older I grow, the more I am convinced that there is no education which one can get from books and costly apparatus that is equal to that which can be gotten from contact with great men and women.”
We can rephrase his words to apply to parents:
“The older I grow, the more I am convinced that there is no education which one can get from books and costly apparatus that is equal to that which can be gotten from contact with a great father and mother.”
If we are looking for a way to give others an appreciation of prayer, we can do no better than to become more prayerful ourselves.
If we are looking for a way to lead others to greater involvement in the Mass, we can do no better than to become more involved ourselves.
If we are looking for a way to inspire others to be more loving, we can do no better than to become more loving ourselves.
Today’s gospel is an invitation for us to imitate Jesus. Just as Jesus made himself holy for the sake of others, so the gospel invites us to make ourselves holy for the sake of others.
We could hardly find better motivation for striving for holiness than this one.
If we decide to respond to the gospel invitation, we will bring about a transformation not only in our own lives but also in the lives of all we touch.
Let’s close with a prayer for others, especially our own families: Holy Father in heaven, bless all families as you blessed the family of your own Son.
Bless all families with the desire to seek you, with the patience to pursue you, with the wisdom to find you, with eyes to see you, and with a tongue to praise you.
Finally, bless all of us here. Bless us with a productive life, a happy death, and a glorious resurrection to eternal life. Series II 7th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 1:15–17, 20–26; 1 John 4:11–16; John 17:11–19
Pip As the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus sends us.
Charles Dickens wrote a novel called Great Expectations. It was made into a popular Hollywood movie.
The story centers around a boy named Pip. Pip comes from a poor, lower-class family in a small town in England. He has no hope of ever leaving his surroundings, getting a good education, and amounting to something. He is doomed to a life of poverty and drudgery.
Then, one day, Pip is playing in the hills outside his town. Suddenly he comes upon an escaped prisoner. The prisoner is in desperate need of help, and Pip goes out of his way to help him.
Months later, a lawyer from London knocks on the door of Pip’s home. He informs Pip’s family that an anonymous donor has arranged to send Pip to London. He’s to be brought up in an upper-class home and given the finest education money can buy.
From that moment on, Pip’s life is changed in the most remarkable way imaginable. He is rescued from a life of poverty and drudgery and given a life of hope and opportunity.
Years later, when Pip is a successful businessman, living in a fine London home, a dirty, lower-class workman knocks at his door.
When Pip sees the filthy-looking man, he treats him rudely and tries to get rid of him. Then comes the surprise. The man turns out to be the escaped prisoner, whom Pip had befriended years ago.
Then comes an even greater surprise. This same escaped prisoner turns out to be the anonymous donor who rescued Pip from a life of poverty and ignorance and made possible the life of wealth and education that he now enjoys.
The escaped prisoner looks at Pip, and says proudly:
“Pip, I’m your second father. I’ve put away my money only for you to spend.
“When I was a hired-out shepherd in a solitary hut, not seeing no faces . . . til I half-forgot . . . wot faces wos like, I seen yourn. . . . I says each time . . . ‘I’ll make that boy a gentleman!’ And I done it. Why look at you . . . look at these lodgings.’’
With that, the old man grabbed Pip’s clean, uncalloused hands into his filthy, rugged hands and kissed them. Pip was so stunned, he could hardly think or speak.
That story is a kind of parable of Jesus and each one of us.
Sin had doomed us to a life of slavery and wretchedness. We were like Pip—without any hope. We had nothing to look forward to, only poverty and drudgery.
But then came Jesus. He rescued us from that doomed life and gave us a life of freedom and spiritual opportunity.
Everything we are today, everything we have today, everything we enjoy today, we owe to Jesus Christ, who bought it for us with the price of his own life. And now we find ourselves in Pip’s position. Just as Pip suddenly became aware of how much he owed the escaped prisoner, so we suddenly become aware of how much we owe Jesus.
And just as Pip was suddenly faced with an important decision—How will he use the new life of freedom and opportunity—so we are faced with the same decision— How will we use our new life of freedom and opportunity? How will we show our gratitude to Jesus for all he has done for us?
And that brings us to today’s gospel reading.
Like Pip, each of Jesus’ apostles faced the same decision that he faced. What would they do with their new life of freedom and opportunity? How would they show their gratitude to Jesus for all he had done for them?
Each one, with the exception of Judas, decided to cast his lot with Jesus. Each one decided to commit his life to the task of completing the work Jesus began.
And so Jesus prayed to his Father for them, saying:
“Holy Father! Keep them safe by the power of your name. . . . keep them safe from the Evil One. . . . I sent them into the world, just as you sent me into the world.” John 17:11, 15, 18
And that brings us back to ourselves in this church today.
Like Jesus’ Apostles, we too have decided to cast our lot with Jesus. We too have decided to commit our life to the task of completing the work Jesus began.
And so the same prayer that Jesus prayed over his apostles at the Last Supper 2,000 years ago, Jesus prays over each one of us here in this church this morning:
“Holy Father! Keep them safe by the power of your name. . . . keep them safe from the Evil One. . . . I sent them into the world just as you sent me into the world.”
And so Jesus not only commissions us to complete the work he began. He also empowers us to do so by personally praying over us.
This is the good news contained in today’s Scripture readings.
This is the good news that we celebrate in today’s liturgy.
It is the good news that as the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus sends us into the world.
We are to complete the work that Jesus began. We are to share with others the life of freedom and spiritual opportunity that Jesus shared with us. Let us close with these words from today’s second reading. They make a fitting response to what we have been saying:
Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another. . . . he has given us his Spirit. And we have seen . . the love which God has for us.” 1 John 4:11, 13, 16
Series III 7th Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 1:15–17, 20a, 20c–26; 1 John 4:11–16; John 17:11b–19
Wait and pray Sometimes that’s all we can do, and it’s the best thing to do.
Keep them safe by the power of your name. . . . Keep them safe from the Evil One.” John 17:11, 15
Those of us who were living during those unforgettable days of World War II may recall a poem called “Conversion.”
Movie stars quoted it at bond rallies. Politicians cited it in their speeches. Disc jockeys read it against a musical background on radio stations.
After it was featured on one station, the network had to hire a staff of people to fill the thousands of requests for it.
In the jungles of the South Pacific, the poem was found tacked to trees. In England, a handwritten copy was found in the pocket of a badly wounded turret gunner, pulled from a crashed plane.
On D-Day, a chaplain found it clutched in the hands of dying soldiers on Normandy Beach.
One critic said of the poem, “Its appeal is its simple expression of a great spiritual truth in a way that people of that era could relate to.”
Unless we transport ourselves back to an era far less sophisticated than our own—when thousands of soldiers were dying daily—we may find it hard to appreciate or relate to.
The poem is written from the perspective of a young soldier about to go into a dangerous battle. It goes like this:
Look, God, I have never spoken to You. . . . You see, God, They told me You didn’t exist—And like a fool— I believed all of this.
Last night from a shell hole I saw Your sky—I figured right then they had told me a lie.
Funny—I had to come to this hellish place, Before I had the time to see Your face. . . . But I’m sure glad, God, I met You today. . . .
The signal!—Well, God—I’ll have to go. . . . Look now—this will be a horrible fight—Who knows—I may come to Your house tonight—Though I wasn’t friendly with You before, I wonder, God—If You’d wait at Your Door—Look— I’m crying! Me! Shedding tears!— I wish I’d known You these many years. . . .
Strange—since I met You—I’m not afraid to die.
The poem was written by Frances Angermayer of Kansas City, in the early hours of June 3, 1943.
It was a hot night and she couldn’t sleep. She began thinking about her brother who was in service. But all she could do was to wait and pray for his safe return.
Then she began thinking about the terrible reality of thousands of other men and women going into battle that night and, maybe, not returning.
She wondered what a GI who had never prayed before might say to God in a situation like that.
It was at this point that her waiting and her praying bore fruit.
She got out of bed and wrote the poem “Conversion.” Little did she dream that it would touch the hearts of millions.
And that brings us to today’s Mass readings.
In the reading for today’s Gospel, we find the apostles and Jesus gathered in a room in Jerusalem.
They, too, are thinking about terrible reality brewing in the city of Jerusalem that night. But all they, too, can do is wait and pray.
Little did they dream that the fruit of their waiting and praying would be an event—only hours away—that would save the human race: the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we find the apostles and Mary gathered in a room. They, too, are waiting and praying.
Jesus had just ascended to heaven. Now they were without him—terribly afraid of what lay ahead for them: persecution and even crucifixion.
And the fruit of their waiting and praying was an event that would give them the strength and the courage to go forth and tell the good news of Jesus to all the world.
The Holy Spirit came upon them and formed them into a single body: the Body of Christ, the Church. It, in turn, transformed their lives—and through them—the lives of billions of people yet unborn.
And that brings us to how we can apply all this to our lives.
Waiting is something we all do every day. And it drives some of us crazy. Instead of waiting and praying, we wait and shout.
To use a simple example, we find ourselves waiting at a traffic light. When it is slow to change, we shout at it, as if it had ears and could hear us.
Or, at a more serious level, we find ourselves, as a parent, waiting for the kids to act maturely. Meanwhile, we shout at them, thinking this will hasten the process.
Or at an even more serious level, we find ourselves waiting for a spouse to conform to our way of thinking. Meanwhile, we shout, thinking that will effect such a miracle.
Today’s Gospel suggests a totally different approach to these trying situations. It suggests we follow the example of Jesus and the apostles, of Mary and the apostles, and of Frances Angermayer.
It suggests we substitute waiting and shouting for waiting and praying.
Such an approach would allow the Holy Spirit to act through us and do for us what we could never do on our own.
Such a change in approach would allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives the same miracle the Spirit worked in the lives of the apostles and Jesus, the apostles and Mary—and millions of people since their time.
This is the good news contained in today’s Scripture readings. This is what we are gathered here to celebrate in this liturgy. This is the change that the Holy Spirit invites us to make in our lives as we go forth from this church today.