Thursday, May 28, 2009

As You Sent Me Into The World, So I Send Them. Consecrate Them In the Truth

At Miletus, Paul spoke to the leaders of the Church of Ephesus:

Keep watch over yourselves, and over the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.  know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You are well aware that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.
Acts 20:28-38

Lifting his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed:

Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, any more than I am of it. Consecrate them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I consecrate myself, that they too may be truly consecrated in the truth.
John 17:11b-19

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It was just four days ago, on Sunday, that the gospel of the day was this passage from the Gospel according to John.  One of the themes of the reflection that day was the meaning of the Greek word hagiazo, which is rendered "consecrate", or "sanctify" in English translations of the Scripture.  In the Old Testament, this verb is used in reference to the sacrifice of lambs or pigeons (for those who could not afford lambs) in the Temple, and at the Paschal Meal (the Seder Supper on the first night of Passover). 

In today's first reading, Paul's message to the leaders of the Church of Ephesus carries the same message:  The Holy Spirit has chosen you as leaders of the disciples of Jesus.  Tend them as a shepherd tends his sheep. Remember the example Jesus gave of the Good Shepherd, who protected the flock entrusted to him, who went out into the wilderness to find the lost sheep, and who gave up his own life to save his flock. 

After Paul left Asia Minor to go to Rome, there were indeed wolves in sheep's clothing among the flock, who perverted the truth in order to draw the sheep away from the fold.  In every age of the Church the same scenario has been repeated.  Just yesterday I read a letter on-line from someone who suggested that the first schisms and heresies did not affect the Church until the first half of the Second Millenium.  But the truth is that there were divisions within the Church beginning not long after Paul and Peter arrived in Rome. 

The message of Paul to his disciples echoes the prayer of Jesus in the gospel, and it is as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago:   May we (today's disciples) be one, as Jesus is one with the Father; through the Holy Spirit, may we be one with Jesus, and with one another, and may all divisions cease.  It will only be then that the whole world will know that Jesus is God, and that we are all God's children.

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