N.B. There will be no Online Newsletter next week
First reading Acts 7:55-60
The stoning of Stephen
Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God's right hand. 'I can see heaven thrown open' he said 'and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.' At this all the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they all rushed at him, sent him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he knelt down and said aloud, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them'; and with these words he fell asleep.
Second reading Apocalypse 22:12-14,16-17,20
Come, Lord Jesus
I, John, heard a voice speaking to me: 'Very soon now, I shall be with you again, bringing the reward to be given to every man according to what he deserves. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Happy are those who will have washed their robes clean, so that they will have the right to feed on the tree of life and can come through the gates into the city.'
I, Jesus, have sent my angel to make these revelations to you for the sake of the churches. I am of David's line, the root of David and the bright star of the morning.
The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.' Let everyone who listens answer, 'Come.' Then let all who are thirsty come: all who want it may have the water of life, and have it free.
The one who guarantees these revelations repeats his promise: I shall indeed be with you soon. Amen; come, Lord Jesus.
Gospel Reading John 17:20-26
Father, may they be completely one
Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said:
I pray not only for these,
but for those also
who through their words will believe in me.
May they all be one.
Father, may they be one in us,
as you are in me and I am in you,
so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.
I have given them the glory you gave to me,
that they may be one as we are one.
With me in them and you in me,
may they be so completely one
that the world will realise that it was you who sent me
and that I have loved them as much as you loved me.
Father, I want those you have given me
to be with me where I am,
so that they may always see the glory you have given me
because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
Father, Righteous One,
the world has not known you,
but I have known you,
and these have known that you have sent me.
I have made your name known to them
and will continue to make it known,
so that the love with which you loved me may be in them,
and so that I may be in them.'
"… so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you …."
Today's Gospel Reading is set at the Last Supper. In His "High Priestly Prayer" in John 17, Jesus prays to God the Father about matters that are central to the life of a disciple and the life of the Church. One of these matters is unity: man's unity with God, and the unity of human persons with each other.
The greatest threat to unity with God and our neighbours is sin. Our sins pierce our souls as they pierced the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Because of this, our souls can become like sieves, unable to contain the grace of the Holy Spirit's Presence and His seven gifts. So our Christian life poses to us the struggle of allowing our souls to be re-created. Here we need to reflect upon what it means for us to be "born again". This means first being washed clean of sin in Baptism, and from there on out it means being renewed in our relationship with God through the Sacrament of Confession.
Some people claim that believing in the Sacrament of Confession cheapens the meaning of our Christian faith. They claim that being able to go to Confession over and over again encourages people to sin. Of course, this makes about as much sense as saying that being able to take a shower every day encourages people to get dirty and stink. God gave us the Sacrament of Confession because he knows that without Him, we can do nothing. But with Him, we can do anything He asks.
It's always confusing, then, to hear people talk about the Sacrament of Confession as an easy way out of sinning. After all, what are the alternatives? If God didn't truly establish the Sacrament of Reconciliation, there are only three basic alternatives. The first is that there's no such thing as sin. The second is that there is sin, but that as long as we have at some point accepted Christ as our personal Savior, our sins don't matter because we are already saved. The third is that there is sin, and when a Christian sins he or she needs to turn to God for forgiveness, but that nonetheless this forgiveness can be obtained simply by praying directly to God. When you put these three alternatives up against the Catholic's need to confess mortal sins through the Sacrament of Confession, it hardly makes sense to say that Catholics have an easy way out.
Even if we put reason and logic aside, however, we can also look at our relationship with God from a more personal perspective. If you reflect upon the most intimate relationships that you have in your life--whether with a spouse, parents, children, or friends--you can ask yourself in what manner you seek to be reconciled with those persons when you have offended them in a serious way.
We might consider several alternatives. First, we could pretend that we had never harmed the other: that we have no need to ask forgiveness. At times perhaps we do act this way, but we know it's not honest.
Second, we could admit that we had harmed the other, but then claim that as long as we had professed our love for the other at some point in the past, that they will automatically forgive us without our asking. At times perhaps we do act this way, but we know that it's presumptuous.
Third, we could admit that we had harmed the other, and know that we need to ask for forgiveness, but then seek this forgiveness in roundabout ways: for example, through flowers, a card, or some act of kindness for the other. These are all good things, and can lead up to forgiveness, but until a person breaks down, gets on his knees, and opens his mouth and speaks out his sorrow and need of forgiveness, he cannot, even from a merely human point of view, receive the full joy of being forgiven and being able to go on to have an even stronger relationship with his loved one.
That is what this Easter season is all about: accepting the full measure of the forgiveness that Christ offers us through His death and Resurrection. Everything we do as Christians is for others, and the manner in which we do things as Christians says something about how we will respond to others in our lives. The Holy Spirit, especially through the Sacrament of Confession, makes it possible to experience a unity with God and neighbour that cannot be achieved through our human efforts alone.