Monday, May 11, 2009

'We pray to be re-created in the Spirit'

To be delivered at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, N.Y., during the Community Mass this morning. The readings are
Acts 14:19-28; John 14:27-31a:

In one of my assignments, I lived with a priest who called the travel section of the New York Times his favorite. On Sunday afternoons, he could be found reading about that week’s featured destination. He did this with an eye toward planning his next trip. It was Greece one time; Italy the next and South America the time after that.

For years now, he has been inviting others on his transcontinental journeys and sharing his love of going places both new and not so new. Despite the passing of time, his interest seems not to have waned and his physical endurance not to have declined very much.

He savors the thrill of it all and is not too troubled by delays and glitches of various kinds. He seems like the ideal candidate for missionary work, ready to drop present concerns and take up the evangelical yoke so that others may know the surpassing gift which is Jesus Christ.

This Easter season, we have been edified by Peter’s speeches; been moved by Stephen’s martyrdom; been astonished by John’s healing and now we are amazed at the resilience of Paul. He was stoned one day and thought to be dead. (Acts 14:19) But the very next day, he was off to Derbe with Barnabas. (Acts 14:20) How’s that for a turn-around! Imagine how little time Paul would have lost if he hadn’t been stoned but had a cold or something like that!

Paul’s brush with death did not deter him in the least. His mission-mindedness was all-consuming and he set a standard for perseverance which was nearly matchless.

We cannot help but be impressed with the number of places Paul visited. Today’s first reading mentions besides Derbe: Lystra; Iconium; Antioch; Pisidia; Pamphylia; Perga and Attalia. They are all places on a map, and all are places where the apostle could give witness to Christ.

In a short while, many in this community will be traveling. Some will leave the country; others will only leave the county. This does not, however, alter the fact that we will be away from each other for an extended period of time. Many of us will be re-united in September; others will not, though.

It is overly dramatic to think that our departures will be anything like Paul’s departure from Miletus when the Christians there wept loudly as they threw their arms around him and kissed him. (Acts 20:37) But in our going forth from here, we will take with us memories.

They are memories of men on their knees before the Blessed Sacrament; of gathering for Vespers on the alley; of working on a paper in the library; of driving a classmate to a doctor’s appointment; of meals in the refectory and so many other seemingly incidental aspects of priestly formation. These memories are like the disciples who gathered around Paul in today’s first reading after he was stoned. (Acts 14:20) They help us to rise from the ground of discouragement and dejection whether the figurative stones of others have caused these conditions or not.

Jesus is going somewhere. Today’s gospel has Him on the eve of His Passion telling the apostles He is going away. (cf. Jn 14:28) He is going to the Father (cf. Jn 14:28) – to be precise. He will get there, of course, when He ascends to the Father’s right hand in glory and completes His redemptive mission.

Jesus went to His Father often in His public ministry. He went to the Father in prayer. And we must go to our heavenly Father in prayer, too.

We pray to be re-created in the Spirit. Like the deer that yearns for running streams (Ps 42:2), we find our refreshment in the Lord. While we rest and enjoy some “down time” in the summer, we must still be disciplined when it comes to being with the Lord. Yes, spending time with the disciples is important vocationally and today’s first reading says this expressly: Paul and Barnabas “spent no little time with the disciples.” (Acts 14:28) But we cannot substitute this kind of time, that is, ministerial and apostolic time, for time with the Lord. In truth, of course, we must do both. Yet, it is Jesus who makes a greater claim on us. He and the Father are greater. (cf. Jn 14:28) We might also think here of Jesus’ instruction to Martha that Mary has chosen the “better part.” (Lk 10:42)

It is the Good Shepherd who calls us personally. Other disciples may confirm His call. But they are in fact not the ones who have chosen us; this is a prerogative belonging to the Lord alone. (cf. Jn 15:16) To recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd, we must be inwardly still, discerning carefully what God wants of us. To borrow the image from this past Sunday’s gospel, we must remain in Him if we are to bear fruit. (cf. Jn 15:5) The act of remaining in Him is accomplished, above all, in prayer. We do not give ourselves everything we need; the Lord who is the vine (cf. Jn 15:5) supplies what the branches (cf. Jn 15:5) need. Ministerial and apostolic effectiveness proceed from prayer; without prayer we might accomplish some good but we will never become holy. Our aim, of course, is to become good and holy priests.

In the Farewell Discourse, Jesus extends the gift of peace to the apostles. May this gift of the Lord be ours as we anticipate traveling for Him and with Him this summer.

Monsignor Robert J. Batule is a priest of the diocese of Rockville Centre.