Seventh Sunday of Easter May 13, 2018

7th Sunday of Easter May 13, 2018

Fr. Phillip Forlano, St. Stanislaus Parish

 

I am not a basketball fan, but when the Sixers got hot toward the end of the season and made the playoffs, I began to pay attention to how they were doing.  It was surprising how well they did this year after so many recent years with losing records.  The coaches and the team had sort of a mantra over these past few years:  “trust the process”.  When they lost this last playoff round, one of the players said in the press conference, “The fact that we got this far shows that the process worked.”  In times of rebuilding, there are often processes at work that we don’t understand – choices that are made, and things that are given to us, that we are asked to follow without seeing or knowing the outcome in advance.  God has a process in place to guide his plan for salvation, and we are asked to “trust the process.”

God reveals his “process” or method through sacred scripture – divine revelation – that gives an account of salvation history.  It is important that we see ourselves as part of that history – a history that is not just a record of events from the past that we are meant to imitate, but rather a history – a story that is still being written by God in which we play an active part.  We are connected to a past and guided to a future.  Do we see our lives in this way?  How do we know if we are on the right track, and how do we discern how to cooperate with God’s plan?  We see an example in our first reading today, a passage from the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, that shows Peter “following the process” revealed by the Lord.  This comes right after the Ascension.  In this time of transition and rebuilding, the disciples didn’t form a committee and develop an action plan, but they gathered together in prayer and waited for the Holy Spirit.  How do they deal with the fact that one of their group, Judas, betrayed the Lord?  How do they try to understand it?  They reflect on sacred scripture.  Peter says, “My brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand through the mouth of David, concerning Judas…”  He quotes from the Psalms relating what was revealed in the scriptures to their present experience.  And the scripture gives an indication of what they are to do next: “may another take his office.”  If what is revealed in sacred scripture is verified in life, it is a sign that the “process” of God is unfolding.  They are following what God is doing in reality and taking cues from the scriptures on how to proceed.  So they hold a “draft” to see who will replace Judas.  Who goes into the pool?  They don’t pick the two candidates at random, rather they use the same criteria that the Lord used when he chose them.  “It is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.”  Then they pray and ask for God to reveal who he has chosen.  They accept whoever the lot fell upon, confident it was the one the Lord has chosen.  We see also in the choosing of a successor to Judas a desire to maintain a continuity with the past – to follow the pattern revealed by God.  The Twelve apostles recall the twelve tribes of Israel and signify the Church as the fulfillment of God’s chosen people.

Following or accepting who God has chosen, rather than following our own plans and ideas, is the essential factor in bringing about peace and unity because what defines our belonging to God and to each other is the fact that God has chosen us.  We heard Jesus remind the disciples about this in last Sunday’s Gospel: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain” (Jn 15:16).  The fruitfulness of our mission and our lives relies on our awareness of this fact, not on our own “goodness”, efforts, skills, or ingenuity.  The word “belong” echoes repeatedly throughout today’s Gospel passage in which we hear Jesus praying to the Father for the disciples.  Jesus’ prayer is an expression of his belonging to the Father.  Jesus knows who he belongs to: he begins his prayer, “Holy Father.”  “Father” is a relational term.  To call someone “father” says, “I belong to you”… “It is you who have generated my life.”  It is noteworthy that Jesus makes reference to Judas as “the son of destruction.”  “Son,” of course, is another relational term that implies belonging.  A son belongs to a father – is the offspring of another.  But to be the “son of destruction” implies that one belongs not to God the Father, the source of unity and life, but to Satan, the one who came to kill and destroy.  Judas was chosen by Christ, but was free, like all of us, to let Christ’s choice define him, or not.  Judas could have chosen to follow the process that Jesus was revealing – to stay in the place that Jesus had for him, but instead, he “turned away to go to his own place.”  Jesus prays to the Father for his disciples, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.”  We are kept from the evil one not by fleeing from the world, separating ourselves from the world, or creating “safe spaces” in which to practice our faith undisturbed by the comments of others.  No.  We are kept from the evil one by recognizing who we belong to and letting our belonging to Christ define who we are.  In that way, we can be in the world without belonging to the world.  We can deal with the world’s hatred because we belong to something greater than the world.  In our baptism, we are consecrated in this truth that we belong to God.  We are “set apart” for God, for a holy purpose.  Our belonging to God  – the grace of our baptism – is renewed in every confession in which we again encounter Christ’s mercy in which Jesus again says to us, “you are defined not by your sin but by your belonging to me.”  In every Holy Communion, our belonging – our union – with Christ is strengthened.  In Confirmation, our identity as a son or daughter of God is strengthened for mission.

Whenever I have doubts or feel overwhelmed by my weakness or incapacity in relation to priestly ministry, I always go back to the fact – the certainty in my life, that I have been chosen by God – that I belong to Him.  Praying with the scriptures daily helps me to become familiar with Christ’s method and “trust the process” as events unfold in my life.  We are always in a period of transition and renewal.  We come together to pray to the Lord who knows our hearts, to reflect on the scriptures, and to listen to how the Lord is revealing his plan to us.  In accepting what God chooses, God’s plan for salvation is fulfilled in us.  Jesus reveals himself – the way to salvation – so that we can share in his joy completely.  God so loved us that he chose us to share in his life.  May we trust in his love and remain in him so that we may be one just as Jesus is one with the Father.

The Ascension of the Lord: May 10, 2018

The Ascension of the Lord: May 10, 2018

Fr. Phillip Forlano, St. Stanislaus Parish

With the Ascension of Jesus, we can say that the mission of Jesus has come to its completion.  Jesus became man, suffered and died in order to forgive our sins and reconcile us to the Father.  Forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus ascends into Heaven.  With his Ascension, the humanity that Jesus assumed – our humanity, has entered into heaven.  The road to heaven has been restored – he has unlocked the way for us, and as the opening prayer for this mass says, “where the Head has gone before in glory, the Body is called to follow in hope.”  We rejoice on this feast because our humanity has been exalted to the heavenly heights.  Jesus has not left us, but has taken us with him, and his going up prepares the way for us to follow.  As he has gone up to heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit, he will return in the same way – not merely at the end of time, but with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  It is then, he promises his disciples, that they will receive power to be his witnesses “to the ends of the earth.”  As our flesh enters the inner life of God at the Ascension, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the inner life of God enters our flesh to make Jesus present in the world.  This is how we become witnesses and teach all nations.  It is also how Jesus keeps his promise to be with us always, until the end of the world.  As the conclusion of the Gospel of Mark relates, Jesus being taken up to heaven does not mean that he is absent or has abandoned us.  Rather, as the disciples went forth and preached everywhere, “the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.”

As a diocesan priest who grew up in a parish run by diocesan priests, my experience of the Church has been very local.  I’m sure that has been the same for most of us who grew up here in Lansdale or in the Philadelphia area.  It is hard for us to get a sense of this missionary aspect of the Church that Jesus speaks about and how his promise is fulfilled and how he continues to act among us in the way he promised in the Gospel.  Tuesday evening, I went to hear confessions at St. Rocco parish in southern Chester County.  It is a parish formed a few years ago to minister to mostly immigrant families who are Spanish-speaking.  The sisters who work in the parish are a congregation of sisters founded in Argentina in 1988.  They are the female branch of the Institute of the Incarnate Word or IVE, a religious order founded in 1984.  The sisters invited me to the convent for dinner after confessions along with the other priests because they were celebrating the feast day of Our Lady of Lujan, the Patroness of Argentina.  There were four other priests around the table besides me, a deacon from the order, and four sisters.  I witnessed, just around this table, exactly what Jesus promised.  Besides the 2 Philadelphia priests, there was a priest from Mexico, an IVE priest from Argentina, and IVE priest from Virginia, sisters originally from Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and North Dakota.  The deacon was from El Salvador.  Since the order’s founding, there are now approximately 1,000 sisters in 35 mission areas.  The missionaries around the table had been stationed in Greenland, Iceland, the Holy Land, Chile, Peru, Argentina, and the U.S.  They are getting a lot of vocations now from Tanzania in Africa.  Except for the priest from Virginia and the sister from North Dakota, none of the missionaries had English as a first language, and everybody around the table spoke Spanish.  The order also has missions in the Ukraine, Papa New Guinea, Ecuador, the Philippines, Kazakhistan, and Italy.  It was beautiful to see this unity of faith among such diversity.  Why this mission?  It is to evangelize the culture – to bring Christ to the ends of the earth.  As Paul says, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ.”  We want the whole world to go where the head has gone before.  This is what gives us joy – that we all attain this full stature of Christ.

We begin with the Ascension the Novena to the Holy Spirit – the 9 days until Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit makes all of this possible.  We need the Holy Spirit to achieve unity, peace, gentleness, and patience, and to bear with one another with love.  If you see this lacking in yourself or in your family, or at school or your place of work, pray to the Holy Spirit.  What I saw the other night was the promise of Christ in action.  In can happen in our parish and in our family and our lives too if we pray to the Holy Spirit and open our hearts to Him.  Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit, and they will be created, and you will renew the face of the earth!