Monday, April 27, 2009

The Path To Holiness

Today's Word:
Acts 6:8-15 (Deacon Stephen, filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit, testifies to the truth)
Psalm 119:23-30 (Remove from me the way of falsehood; favor me with your law)
John 6:22-29 (The Bread of Life Discourse, Part II: "Do not work for food that perishes, but for that which endures for eternal life")

On Friday the daily Lectionary began to read through John 6. This will continue throughout the week. This chapter, known as the "Bread of Life Discourse, " is of special importance in the celebration of the Eucharist - Holy Communion; for it is here that the evangelist, drawing on Jesus' teaching, explains something that is still not quite understood in the Church at large - transubstantiation.

Between this chapter in this particular Gospel and the words spoken by Jesus at his last Passover Seder (This bread is my body; this cup is my blood; when you gather, do this in remembrance of me) have formed the basis of  this Catholic doctrine. Christ is totally and fully present in the forms of the bread and wine once the words of consecration are spoken by the priest at Mass. It's a heavy doctrine, one not easily explained let alone accepted. John 6 will be featured on six consecutive Sundays later this summer, when every Catholic congregation will have another opportunity to reflect on this great mystery of faith.
Now, Catholicism may teach of the "Real Presence," but those who live the message of Christ have Jesus 'really present' within them and revealed to others. A community "loving God, loving others, and proclaiming Christ" is - at least to me - just as much Eucharist as the consecrated bread and wine. You the reader know who you are and where you stand. The Real Presence is meant to make Jesus "really present" to others. It seems so simple, but that we are human and have to be reminded of this means we are still walking on our journey in faith; the path to holiness; the road that leads to Heaven.

One person who most likely needed no such reminder was Deacon Stephen. One of the original seven chosen from among the community and blessed by the Apostles by the laying on of hands, and the patron of my office within the Church, Stephen soon eclipsed his brother deacons in furthering Jesus' mission. He not only was fair in the distribution of the Church's goods to the poor and widowed; he was a gifted orator and, per today's account (Acts 6:9-10) a strong debater in defense of the Truth. In Acts 7:1-53 he testifies succinctly the whole of salvation history and Truth has yet another day in court.

Deacon Stephen is among the first people outside the Apostles who figure prominently in the earliest days of the Church. (Matthias became the surrogate 12th Apostle; see Acts1:15-26.) His ministry; his 'career' if you would; would be eclipsed much too soon, as we shall be reminded. He is still among those I look to as an example; for even though my footsteps are directed differently, I must still be prepared to defend my beliefs as a follower of Christ to the best of my ability.

Pastor Paul made a good point yesterday that relates to this. He gave his sermon yesterday while handcuffed. It is rather thought-provoking that most of us will never have to be literally chained or imprisoned for our beliefs; yet the fact that we probably won't has led to a sense of complacency over the centuries. And as we will recall over the next few days, an event that might only appear to us as ripples on the water was an engulfing tsunami to at least one of the men who observed Deacon Stephen's oration and admonition.

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