October 30, 2014 - Thursday of 30th Week:

Ephesians : 10-20 ; Luke 13:31-35

Saint Paul in today's first reading writes as a prisoner in Rome where he was eventually beheaded.  He asks for prayers, for, he states "I am an ambassador in chains." Yet he remained strong in hope.  No difficulties proved strong enough to discourage him. He not only held his own when confronted by opposition even though the threat of execution was hanging about him.  He remained confidently aggressive in asserting the truth of the Gospel message.  Today's first reading presents us with further evidence of the apostle's invincible determination to witness to the teachings of Jesus in all circumstances and at every opportunity.  He writes to the Ephesians from prison, yet continues to display the same unsubdued and ardent spirit, as he urges his readers to fidelity to "the Mystery of the Gospel", to use the term he employs to sum up his preaching.

His example and the circumstances in which Paul writes to the Catholic community at Ephesus speaks with timely suitability once again to the Church today.  At present a number of Churches find themselves under aggressive attack in the Middle East and in Africa where Christians in the Sudan and in Nigeria that has been disrupting their lives. Increasing numbers have met death from violence from Muslim extremists.  Moreover, only a week ago we are confronted with a disturbingly strong group of Bishops who have publicly taken positions that cause numbers of our fellow Catholics in this country to express strongly worded objections to policies being put forth that tend to weaken traditional moral teachings.

One advantage of studying Catholic Church history is awareness of how often in the course of the centuries the faithful community has been confronted with such threatening pressures.  Even during the lifetime of Jesus, those closest to him encountered opposition from authorities, as our Lord had predicted they would.  Those whom he made his friends soon experienced the world's hatred and many suffered persecution and death. Early on it became a feature of discipleship to Christ and his message to expect not gratitude but rejection and suffering.  If we follow the fate of the faithful in places like Bagdad in the last few months, we encounter stories that echo those we read in the acts of the early martyrs of the Patristic period.  In fidelity to our Lord's teaching, our monastic fathers left the cities of the Empire to love out into the quiet countryside as St. Basil and his close relatives did, or fell into disfavor with high Church authority and went into exile as happened with Athanasius of Egypt. The same kind of struggle and disconcerting disruptions of life have been the lot of faithful Catholics ever since and in many parts of the world.  We must not be surprised to discover that even now in our own country, there are twenty-six bishops who are suing our government for imposing policies that are so oppressive to faith as to constitute persecution and in clear violation of the Constitution. Our own Cardinal of the Diocese of New York is one of these.

The Gospel we have just heard depicts certain of the Pharisees as not only friendly to Jesus, but serious concerned for his safety. "Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you", they urge him.  As we know, however, Jesus remains undaunted and faithful to his mission of witnessing to the Jewish people the message entrusted to him by the Father.  He makes it clear that he expects to be treated by the authorities as were earlier prophets: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you." To be associated with the one sent by God for our salvation is to share in some measure in the rejection and suffering that he experienced to the full, even by his death on the cross of shame.  This is the mystery of the Gospel that Paul speaks of in his letter to the Ephesians that we commemorate in this Eucharist this evening.   May our communion in this sacrifice keep us faithful to the end, confident in the strength of God's loving mercy.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger