Acts 19:1-8; Ps 68:2,3ab,4,5acd,6,7ab; Jn 16:29-33
One of 22 Ugandan martyrs, Charles Lwanga is the patron of youth and Catholic action tropical Africa. He defended his fellow pages, aged 13 to 30, from the homosexual demands of the Bagandan ruler, Mwanga, and encouraged them to be faithful to the Lord Jesus and his church, but they were imprisoned for refusing to submit to the the ruler’s lust. For his own unwillingness to submit to the immoral acts and his efforts to safeguard the virtue of his friends, Charles was burned to death at Namugongo on June 3, 1886, by Mwanga’s order. When Pope Paul VI canonized these 22 martyrs on October 18, 1964, he also made reference to the Anglican pages martyred for the same reason. Today, we rejoice in the faithfulness and courage of these our brothers who are alive in the Risen Christ even now!
Just before we read the High Priestly Prayer of the Lord Jesus in Saint John’s Gospel, we hear the Lord giving an absolute assurance to his disciples, “but take courage! I have overcome the world.” These words of comfort from the Lord Jesus echo the triumph of our responsorial psalm, “God arises; his enemies are scattered, and those who hate him flee before him.” Saint Paul has the same kind of triumph in the synagogue in Ephesus as he had among the early believers in that city. For three months the Apostle debated fearlessly, with persuasive arguments, abut the kingdom of God. Jesus encourages; the Psalm celebrates; Saint Paul persuades. In faithful prayer we await the Holy Spirit who alone can empower our jubilant celebrations and our persuasive arguments.
Saint Paul continues his successful ministry in Ephesus with arguments in the synagogue. Before his fearless debates and persuasive arguments within the assembly of the Jews in Ephesus, Saint Paul works with a group of believers who had not yet heard of the Holy Spirit. Like the preacher Apollos these new believers had only celebrated the baptism of Saint John the Baptist. Their faith was not yet complete. They needed more than repentance from sin; they needed the Holy Spirit. “As Paul laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came down on them and they began to speak in tongues and to utter prophecies.” The Holy Spirit completes the work begun by the Lord Jesus, the First Paraclete. These Gentiles received the Second Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, just as the Jewish converts had with the manifestation of signs and wonders—the gift of tongues and the gift of prophecy. This heavenly outpouring makes these believers one with the whole church; apostolic unity is preserved. Such a victory among those of incomplete faith gives Saint Paul the energy to preach for three months among those who gather in the synagogue.
The Lord Jesus has been with his disciples for longer than three months, and only this late in Saint John do they announce, “at last you are speaking plainly without talking in veiled language!” They go on to boast that they finally believe that the Lord Jesus comes from the Father. However, the Lord is not so sure of their quick and easy faith; so the Lord Jesus asks, “do you really believe?” Their sudden burst of faith enables them to believe that the Lord Jesus comes from God, but it is an incomplete faith. They do not yet believe that he will also return to the Father. Not until the Lord is “lifted up” on the cross and in the glory do they begin to have a more complete faith. If these disciples continue to grow into faith, they will share in his being “lifted up,” and they will also have to suffer in the world. This suffering will not however, take away the peace or the Holy Spirit. The peace of the Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit given by the Ascended Christ are all we need to have courage and overcome the world. With Easter Peace and power from on high, we too will scatter our enemies. “As smoke is driven away, so are they driven; as wax melts before the fire.” The peace drives away “the smoke and mirrors” of our world. The Spirit melts the wax that seals the hearts of those in the world. With such power and presence in the midst of Christ’s absence we too overcome the world. With such power and presence in the midst of Christ’s absence, we too, overcome the world. At every Eucharist we share the peace, and the Spirit comes upon us and upon our gifts so that we might become what we eat—the body and blood of Christ.