During the season of Easter, the Church presents select excerpts from the New Testament book entitled “Acts of the Apostles” as the first reading for daily Mass.
The book of Acts of the Apostles is a companion volume to the Gospel of Luke and it continues the great story arc of Luke’s Gospel. Remember, the story of Luke’s Gospel is a compilation of eyewitness testimony, testimony that insists that the one, true God has done something quite extraordinary- God has accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life. This is what the revelation of the Lord Jesus is all about- God has accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.
This revelation doesn’t end- the Lord Jesus is present even now in the Church- and this is what the book called Acts of the Apostles is all about, how the divine life and presence of Jesus Christ, once revealed in his body of his human nature is now revealed in the Church.
Our readings from Acts of the Apostles have, since Monday, told us the story of the Church’s first martyr- a young man by the name of Stephen.
Stephen was killed much in the same way as Christ was and died as Christ did, offering forgiveness to the very people who had tormented and murdered him. Sad as his death is, God’s providence worked through it.
The death of Stephen will eventually lead to the conversion of the Church’s greatest enemy to Christ- Saul, who after his conversion will be known as Paul.
And more than this, as the apostles and first Christians are forced to flee because of the threats of their persecutors, they use the opportunity to give witness to Christ in new places and new people. Many more people accept the invitation to know Christ and share a relationship with him in the Church.
The persecutors of the Church thought that their actions would destroy the Church, but God has other plans, and unbeknownst to the persecutors, their actions actually result in the Church growing.
From the sorrows of Stephen’s death arise great joy. This is not just a mystery, it is the Paschal Mystery- the creative potential of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection is happening even now! The great Paschal Mystery of Christ is happening in the Church.
The Church is perfected in suffering. The suffering we face as Christians may not be persecutions, but we will be asked to make sacrifices and endure trials. The Paschal Mystery is happening to all of us. Through these sufferings we can become ever more like Christ- our sorrows, can, in the uncanny providence of God, lead to our transformation- it can make us more like Christ.
Christ will speak to us in his Gospel this week about his identity as the “bread of life”. This refers to the Eucharist, and how Christ gives his divine life and presence to us in the great mystery of the Blessed Sacrament.
The reason the Lord Jesus gives us the Eucharistic Miracle is not simply to edify us or provide us with emotional consolation. What the Lord wills to accomplish is our transformation- that partaking of his divine life and presence, we might have the opportunity to become ever more like him. Holiness happens when we are Christ-like.
Becoming like Christ is what our reception of the Blessed Sacrament is supposed to be about. Christ gives to us what is necessary for this to happen, but we must cooperate with him, allow him to change us. There is nothing insufficient in the Blessed Sacrament, but there can be an insufficiency in ourselves. Do we want to be like Christ? He will not coerce us. We must decide for Christ. We must want to be holy.
The only thing that keeps us from becoming ever more like Christ is our own resistance.