We are almost at the end of the Easter Season. Next week we will begin the long stretch of Ordinary Time, which will extend from the Feast of Pentecost until Saturday of the 34th Week of the Year. This time between the Ascension and Pentecost gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect upon what we have experienced so far as we have journeyed in the heart of Mother Church throughout this liturgical year.
We began in Advent, waiting in the darkness of our sin condition for God to have mercy on us. We felt our poverty and neediness, but we found hope in reflecting upon the promise of the prophets, that God would send us a Savior. We rejoiced in the fulfillment of those prophecies as the dazzling light of Jesus’ birth dawned upon us on Christmas Day, and we celebrated throughout the Christmas Season the great marvel of “God with Us.”
After a brief period of Ordinary Time, we entered the Season of Lent, during which we went with Jesus into the desert, seeking by his grace to be purified. We found that, although God has indeed come to us in Jesus, making sacrifice to free us from sin and offering us union with the Father, we were unable to make an adequate response to God’s loving gift of self. We were still too much caught up in our own selfish desires and attachments. And so we sought to follow Jesus as he made his way through his Passion and Death, emptying ourselves in sacrifice with him, so as to be raised up to a new life.
As we died with Jesus on Good Friday, so we rose again with him on Easter morning! Throughout the Easter Season we celebrated with great joy the new life which Jesus won for us, marveling at his amazing victory over sin and death. We read many stories of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples and reflected on the growing life of the early Church.
Last Thursday we celebrated the Ascension of Jesus into heaven, and so now we have a sort of a pause. He is no longer with us in his physical body, but he has not yet sent the Spirit to us. In the Gospel reading for the Ascension, he told the disciples to wait in the city until they were “clothed with power from on high.” The next paragraph of the reading tells us that the disciples “were continually in the temple praising God.” This gives us the insight about what we are to be doing during this week. We should be “continually in the temple,” praising God for all that he has done in us so far, and preparing for the coming of the Spirit, who will empower us to go forth as witnesses of Christ “to all the nations.”
The “temple” here is the inmost depths of our hearts, where God dwells, and where we come before him in prayer. It is also represented by the “upper room” in which the disciples waited with Mary for the coming of the Spirit. We are called into this place during this week, to reflect on all that we have seen and known of Christ, as the disciples did.
Ultimately this interior place in which we meet God is to be like a bridal chamber, where we are to be united with God in a way analogous to the unity of a husband and wife in the intimacy of their marital love. Jesus makes this clear in today’s Gospel, where he prays to the Father, “that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one.” It is hard to take in the fullness of what Jesus is saying here. God’s plan is to bring us into perfect union with himself, sharing with us the same love with which the Persons of the Trinity love each other: “I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.”
The first reading shows us that this is not just a beautiful-sounding idea which has no real connection to our actual life in this world. We see in St. Stephen an example of the union between a human person and God. Jesus is a divine Person who took on a human nature. What we see in Stephen is a human person who has to a certain extent taken on almost a divine nature, by the work of the Spirit in him. Stephen has been so filled with the Holy Spirit that he has become like another Christ. Like Christ, he freely offers his life for the glory of God and the salvation of sinners. He even repeats some of Jesus’ last words from the Cross.
Now we see that when the Lord commissioned us on Thursday to be his witnesses “to all the nations,” he did not mean merely that we should talk to other people about him, or write books, or even do good works in his name. We are to go into the world as “other Christs,” transformed into living icons of God’s loving presence, as Stephen was. This is the mission which Mother Church sets before us as we prepare for the great feast of Pentecost and the season of Ordinary Time.
We know that we can never be such witnesses by our own power. Only the Spirit can empower us to give a true witness to Christ. And so the Church encourages us to take good advantage of this week of preparation, waiting in the “upper room” of our hearts with Mary, doing all that we can to open ourselves to the transforming work of grace. We eagerly invite God to work in our hearts, longing for the Spirit to fill us more fully at Pentecost. Let us repeat again and again, throughout the coming week, these words from the conclusion of the Book of Revelation, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”
Am I ready to be a witness of Christ to others? How can I be like St. Stephen, who freely offered his life for the glory of God and the salvation of sinners? In what ways do I depend upon the Spirit in my daily life?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.