Pope Benedict's Request

User's Guide to Sunday, May 22.

Sunday, May 22, 2011, is the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year A, Cycle I).


Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12

Our Take

Actually, not our take this time, but the Pope’s take. It was the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A, when Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass at Yankee Stadium in 2008. We, therefore, have the words that the Holy Father wished to tell Americans about today’s readings.

He focused on the necessary conditions for unity.

“Today’s first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles,” he began, “speaks of linguistic and cultural tensions already present within the earliest Church community. At the same time, it shows the power of the word of God, authoritatively proclaimed by the apostles and received in faith, to create a unity which transcends the divisions arising from human limitations and weakness.”

Our unity isn’t just a superficial unity, he said.

“The first reading also makes clear, as we see from the imposition of hands on the first deacons, that the Church’s unity is ‘apostolic,’” he said. “It is a visible unity, grounded in the apostles whom Christ chose and appointed as witnesses to his resurrection, and it is born of what the Scriptures call ‘the obedience of faith’” (Romans 1:5; Acts 6:7).

He points out how hard the conditions for this unity are. “‘Authority’ … ‘obedience’. To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays,” he said. “Words like these represent a ‘stumbling stone’ for many of our contemporaries, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom. Yet, in the light of our faith in Jesus Christ — ‘the Way and the Truth and the Life’ — we come to see the fullest meaning, value and, indeed, beauty, of those words.”

That deeper meaning, ironically, is freedom. “The Gospel teaches us that true freedom, the freedom of the children of God, is found only in the self-surrender which is part of the mystery of love,” he said. “Only by losing ourselves, the Lord tells us, do we truly find ourselves (Luke 17:33). True freedom blossoms when we turn away from the burden of sin, which clouds our perceptions and weakens our resolve, and find the source of our ultimate happiness in him who is infinite love, infinite freedom, infinite life.”

He connected this life of freedom in Christ with the Lord’s Prayer: “Each day, throughout this land, you and so many of your neighbors pray to the Father in the Lord’s own words: ‘Thy Kingdom come.’ This prayer needs to shape the mind and heart of every Christian in this nation. It needs to bear fruit in the way you lead your lives and in the way you build up your families and your communities. It needs to create new ‘settings of hope’ (Spe Salvi) where God’s Kingdom becomes present in all its saving power.”

There follows a list of requests from Pope Benedict for American Catholics:

“Praying fervently for the coming of the Kingdom also means being constantly alert for the signs of its presence, and working for its growth in every sector of society. It means facing the challenges of present and future with confidence in Christ’s victory and a commitment to extending his reign. It means not losing heart in the face of resistance, adversity and scandal. It means overcoming every separation between faith and life and countering false gospels of freedom and happiness. It also means rejecting a false dichotomy between faith and political life, since, as the Second Vatican Council put it, ‘There is no human activity — even in secular affairs — which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion’ (Lumen Gentium 36). It means working to enrich American society and culture with the beauty and truth of the Gospel and never losing sight of that great hope which gives meaning and value to all the other hopes which inspire our lives.”

He practically commanded us to take up his call: “And this, dear friends, is the particular challenge which the Successor of St. Peter sets before you today. Follow faithfully in the footsteps of those who have gone before you! Hasten the coming of God’s Kingdom in this land! Past generations have left you an impressive legacy. In our day, too, the Catholic community in this nation has been outstanding in its prophetic witness in the defense of life, in the education of the young, in care for the poor, the sick and the stranger in your midst. On these solid foundations, the future of the Church in America must even now begin to rise!”

Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas.

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