Monday, May 10, 2010

When The Advocate Comes, He Will Testify To Me, And You Also Will Testify.

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 16:11-15
We set sail from Troas,
making a straight run for Samothrace,
and on the next day to Neapolis,
and from there to Philippi,
a leading city in that district of Macedonia
and a Roman colony.
We spent some time in that city.
On the sabbath we went outside the city gate
along the river where we thought
there would be a place of prayer.
We sat and spoke with the women
who had gathered there.
One of them, a woman named Lydia,
a dealer in purple cloth,
from the city of Thyatira,
a worshiper of God, listened,
and the Lord opened her heart
to pay attention to what Paul was saying.
After she and her household had been baptized,
she offered us an invitation,
“If you consider me a believer in the Lord,
come and stay at my home,”
and she prevailed on us.
Following on his vision of the young Macedonian man, Paul and his companions decide to cross over from Troas and head towards the town of Philippi.

On the way they passed through Samothrace (a place made famous by the magnificent marble sculpture of Victory on display in the Louvre at Paris) and Neapolis (= New City, a name it shares with Naples among other places).

Samothrace was actually an island in the north-eastern Aegean Sea, lying just half way between Troas and Neapolis. It was a convenient place for boats to anchor rather than risk sailing at night.  Neapolis was the seaport for Philippi, about 16 km (10 miles) away. Today it is known as Kavalla.

Philippi, as Acts tells us, was a major town in the principal district of the province of Macedonia; it had become a Roman colony and was a completely Latin city, its administration modelled on that of Rome. It was a city… named after Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. Since it was a Roman colony, it was independent of provincial administration and had a governmental organisation modelled after that of Rome. Many retired legionnaires from the Roman army settled there, but few Jews. Its name was further enhanced by Paul writing one of his most beautiful letters to the Christian community of the town. Hence, a place, then as well as now, steeped in history, both secular and religious.

Paul and his companions spent some time in the city. On a sabbath day they went outside the city to find a place to pray. With so few Jews in the city, there was probably no synagogue so, as was not uncommon, they chose an outdoors venue near running water. In this case it would have been the bank of the Gangites River. By choosing such a place they could also carry out the necessary ablutions before prayer. (It is clear that Paul the Pharisee maintained many of his old religious customs.)

There they met some women and among them was one called Lydia, a dealer in purple goods from Thyatira. She may have been called Lydia because she came from the district of Lydia. Thyatira, situated in the Roman province of Asia, 33 km (20 miles) southeast of Pergamum (in the Hellenistic kingdom of Lydia), was famous for its dyeing works, especially royal purple (crimson). Later there was a Christian community there which is twice mentioned in the book of Revelation (1:11; 2:18). As purple-dyed goods were expensive and only worn by the wealthy, we can take it that this woman was fairly well off. And we remember that the rich man in the parable of ‘Dives and Lazarus’ was clothed in fine purple (Luke 16:19-31).

But Lydia was also a “worshipper of God”. In other words, though a Gentile she believed in the God of the Jews and followed the moral teachings of Scripture. She was not, however, a full convert to Judaism. But, being well disposed, she “opened her heart” to what Paul was saying and accepted the Gospel message. Like Cornelius before her, she and her whole household (family members and servants) were all baptised.

She then invited Paul and his companions to share the hospitality of her (probably large) house, if they truly regarded her as “a believer in the Lord”, and would brook no refusal. The wording suggests that Paul was not altogether willing to stay in such a place; in general, he tended to boast that he supported himself from what he earned by his work. In this case, he may have regarded Lydia’s place as too grand or he remembered the instruction of the Master about not moving from house to house but to stay in the first place which offered hospitality. But Lydia - as rich ladies can often be! - apparently was a woman who would not take ‘No’ for an answer. A place like hers, in fact, would make an excellent house church where the community could gather. So it seems that in this one case Paul did accept and it is a compliment to Lydia’s charity and of the other newly baptised Philippian Christians.

Philippi then shares the distinction of really being the first European centre to hear the Christian message. It was to be the beginning of a glorious history which was to transform the continent not only in the area of religion but also in culture, the arts (painting, sculpture, literature, music), social and political development - a movement which still continues.

Paul, of course, was not to know any of that. As he was to say himself, “One man sows and another reaps.” He saw himself primarily as a sower. The same is true of each one of us. But it is important that we sow the seed; otherwise there is nothing to reap.
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Psalm 149
The Lord takes delight in his people.
Sing to the LORD
a new song of praise
in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel be glad in their maker,
let the children of Zion
rejoice in their king.
The Lord takes delight in his people.
Let them praise his name
in the festive dance,
let them sing praise to him
with timbrel and harp.
For the LORD loves his people,
and he adorns the lowly with victory.
The Lord takes delight in his people.
Let the faithful exult in glory;
let them sing for joy upon their couches.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats.
This is the glory of all his faithful. Alleluia.
The Lord takes delight in his people.
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John 15:26--16:4a
Jesus said to his disciples:
“When the Advocate comes
whom I will send you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth
who proceeds from the Father,
he will testify to me.
And you also testify,
because you have been
with me from the beginning.

“I have told you this
so that you may not fall away.
They will expel you from the synagogues;
in fact, the hour is coming
when everyone who kills you
will think he is offering worship to God.
They will do this
because they have not known
either the Father or me.
I have told you this
so that when their hour comes
you may remember that I told you.”
We continue reading the discourse of Jesus to his disciples at the Last Supper.

Today he promises that the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth will come, sent both by the Father and by Jesus the Son. As we saw earlier, Paraclete (Greek parakletes) means a person who stands by one and gives support. It can be applied to a defence lawyer in a court of law. So the word is sometimes translated ‘Advocate’. It can be anyone who gives comfort, good advice or moral support. Various forms of the word are used about eight times in a short and beautiful passage at the opening of St Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

Here the Spirit that God bestows through Jesus on his disciples will be one who will comfort and strengthen them in the sometimes difficult days ahead and will guide them in their fuller understanding of what Jesus has taught them. The Spirit will confirm all that Jesus has said and done.The disciples too are, with the help of the same Spirit, to give witness to all that Jesus has said and done.

Again he warns them that they will need all the help they can get from the support of the Spirit. “They will expel you from synagogues and indeed the hour is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is doing a holy duty for God.” A prophecy which was very soon to be fulfilled and continues to be fulfilled down to our own day. People will do this because they do not really know the Father or Jesus. If they did, they too would believe and would recognise the presence of Jesus in the Christian community and its message.

So, as has been mentioned several times already, we are not to be surprised if we find ourselves - as Christians - the object of attack, of slander, of abuse, of misunderstandings, of contempt. St Ignatius of Loyola is said to have prayed that the members of the order which he founded would always be persecuted. It was a sign that they were doing their job. It is a strange paradox but the message of Christian love and forgiveness, the message of peace and justice is found by many to be very threatening and must be attacked.


Sarah in the tent said...

Your commentary on the reading from Acts mentions modern Kavalla. I once took the ferry from there to the beautiful, wooded island of Thassos. My brother was working in Thessaloniki and, from a nearby beach, we could see the great monastery on Mount Athos (females strictly prohibited, even four-legged ones!) Mount Olympus is quite close and I actually climbed it (except for the last bit, which was too scary!) Suddenly, Paul's journey seems more real to me.

'And you also testify,
because you have been
with me from the beginning.'

This reminds me of the basis on which a replacement for Judas Iscariot was chosen - he had to have been a disciple from the beginning. I suppose this must mean from the time of Jesus' baptism by John, the beginning of His public life. The whole story is needed for effective evangelization.

Our Lady, of course, was with Jesus from an even earlier beginning. What would the rosary be without those joyful mysteries?

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

How fortunate are you, Sarah, to have walked in the footsteps of Paul, and the other apostles, and, in particular, those of Jesus. As you say, these experiences make our own journey more real.

The words of Jesus in this gospel are spoken to the disciples who are with him at the Last Supper. After He leaves this world to return to the Father, He will send the Holy Spirit to them, who will be sent forth to continue his mission. The "second generation" of Apostles begins with Mathias, and is soon followed by Stephen, as the community of Christians grows in number.

Two thousand years later, the ministers of the word, of the sacraments, and of the works of charity in the church are no longer filled by those who have been with Jesus in the flesh. Now, they are those who have been chosen by the Paraclete, who has been with them from the first moment of their existence.