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.