28 April 2009 Tuesday of the 3rd Week of Easter
Acts 7, 51 – 8,1; Psalm 31; John 6, 30-35
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is the story of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian faith. And as first martyr, the way of his death is like a parallel to the death of Jesus. Stephen was cast out of the city and stoned to death, just as Jesus was cast out and crucified. Stephen said, “Lord, receive my spirit” just as Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!”. And finally, both Stephen and Jesus forgave those who have been part of their death. Stephen said, “Lord do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7,60), just as Jesus said, “Lord, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
For Luke, who wrote Acts, these parallels are important. With the prayer of forgiveness, Luke wants to convey to the Jews of Jerusalem, that they have a second chance to believe in Jesus. They will have that chance if they would not be “stiff-necked people” as the reading says. To be stiff-necked means to be stubborn, to resist the Holy Spirit. Like the Jews’ ancestors who killed the prophets, their being “stiff-necked” also resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus. The prime example is a young man named Saul, who had been part of Stephen’s death. Later on, he would convert and defend the Christians, and would thus change his name to Paul, the missionary to the Gentiles. “Saul” was forgiven, and now he has become one of the greatest apostles of Jesus. And to follow the life of Jesus means to live our lives according to the Spirit. Paul said, “Know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
When were the times you have been stiff-necked? That you resisted the force of the Spirit? Where there times that you concealed the truth when it would have been better to be honest? The Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. Where there times when you refused to bother to love, when there were opportunities to show you care, whether for God, society or the environment? James Keenan SJ described sin in his book, “Moral Wisdom” as one’s refusal to bother to love. The Spirit is Love.
The Spirit is described as a wind, or “ruah” — we don’t see it, but we feel it and we know it is present and real. And therefore, like a river, our heart flows towards it smoothly. When we go against it, we feel heavy as moving upstream, we feel that something is not right and we are not at peace. Reflect: when we forgive another, we feel a certain “lightness” the same thing when we are forgiven by another and by God. When we do good even if it was uncomfortable, we feel whole. So those who went against the Spirit, often feels broken.
The Spirit, using my image of it as a river, moves to its destination. It is not stuck, or else it would cease to be what it is. When we are stuck with our issues and our sinfulness or even our paradigms and our way of doing things, we are not able to move on, adapt or grow with the “signs of the times” (Vatican II). When we are stuck with our little traditions, and we find ourselves being left behind, or we are always against the world. We have seen river waters that become unruly and dangerous when it flows through rocks and boulders.
How can we move with the Spirit? First, we grab the Lord’s offer for another chance to change. Then, perhaps it is time to begin to update and read about the development of our doctrines or teachings. Many things have changed, and many of our questions might have been answered by the Church herself long ago — we just don’t know the updated teaching. The Bishops of the Philippines (PCP II) endeavors for an informed faith. Meaning, our correct knowledge of our faith enriches and supports our belief. One of the key words of Vatican II was “aggiornamento” meaning “bringing up to date”. This word was used by the bishops and the clergy who were attending the sessions. It was the program of Pope John XXIII in his speech on January 25, 1959. There is another word: ressourcement which means “return to earlier sources”. They may seem to be opposites, as many in the past have thought.* But Pope John Paul II’s theology brought these two words together. So, he said that we have to draw upon the “ancient deposit of faith” — meaning our earlier sources — to address contemporary issues in an engaging way. For example, when we have to make changes in an organization, we have to look back at our history and the values on which the organization was founded. The values and the learnings does not change. Our lives until forever should be patterned on the life of Jesus; the beginning and end of all our lives is Jesus. And then, we face our contemporary issues and engage them according to the values that comprise our identity. How would Jesus address the issue of our present financial and environmental crisis? Thus, the method and way of doing things might go through several changes, as we learn from the world and as we read the signs of the times. I think this is how we move with the Spirit.
*The aggiornamentos were the progressives. The ressourcement members were the conservatives.