Today’s readings bring us to the cusp of Pentecost – the feast celebrating God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. They also mark conclusions – the conclusion of the Acts of the Apostles in our first reading, and the end of the Gospel of John. And they are reminders to us to always remember the fact that God is always at work in our lives and the lives of others, even if we don’t always see it or understand it.
In the first reading, Paul has been brought to Rome as a prisoner after he was accused by some of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem of inciting problems. He was brought before the local Roman authority and interrogated. If that sounds familiar, it should; it is the same way in which Jesus was treated in his passion. Paul however, having the benefit of Roman Empire citizenship – is able to appeal his case to the emperor himself, and so is brought to Rome to appear.
We know that it is on account of his preaching about Jesus that he is imprisoned – a fact which he himself recounts in this reading. The reading concludes with Paul, under house arrest, remaining in Rome for two years and continuing his work of preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus.
We know from tradition that these were the last years of Paul’s life. Tradition says he was beheaded in Rome – the more ‘merciful’ form of capital punishment – instead of the crucifixion which Jesus endured – and which later St. Peter experienced, also in Rome.
Paul’s story – like that of Jesus – doesn’t end with death; Luke, who wrote the Gospel and also the Acts reminds us that Paul’s mission continues by leaving us with the image of Paul doing what he did since his experience on the Damascus road and his conversion to the way of Christ – teaching and proclaiming Christ and the Reign of God which Jesus also preached.
It is a powerful image, as is the one from the Gospel, in which the ‘beloved disciple’ who is believed to be John – the author of the Gospel – writes himself into the future of the story. The exchange between Peter and Jesus about the beloved disciple is a reminder that God has a plan for each of us, and that all those plans fit together in the work that God calls each of us to do in service to the church and the world. Our task is often to humbly recognize that we have a very important role to play in God’s plan for our world – no matter big or small – and that others do as well. God calls everyone in different ways and offers different gifts for building up the church and seeking the liberation and salvation of the whole world.
It is a message which Paul himself often shared and lived – working as he did with may “co-workers” in his missionary travels.
Today, on the eve of Pentecost, which celebrates the outpouring of the gifts of God’s spirit in abundance on the whole church, let us be thankful for the gifts we are given to share, and those of others who bring different experiences and gifts. Together, we are the church of God – God’s ‘beloved community.’
God give you peace!
+ + +
As Director of Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I have the opportunity to record video reflections on the readings of the Scriptures proclaimed at daily Mass. I do so as part of larger group of colleagues at the Conference, along with lay and ordained leaders from around the country. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the readings for the life of faith today and to share them here, along with the written text of the reflections. To view these video reflections for past and upcoming celebrations of the Eucharist, visit the USCCB website.