Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Companion-Servants of Our Messiah
The tradition of welcoming people into the church is one of its oldest. It received elaborate attention in the 4th & 5th centuries east of Jerusalem and westward along a line from Milan through Rome into North Africa.
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is “conversion therapy,”/1/ a liturgical process of formation not education. Because you participated in its liturgies, you stand in its venerable tradition. This Rite didn’t end with your Easter initiation; it continues so you might continue to plunge yourselves deeper into the mystery of our crucified and risen Messiah Jesus. It obliges Gesu “to lead [you] to obey the Holy Spirit more generously” [RCIA, para. 4.]
I want to begin my reflection with you with St. Paul’s words we heard moments ago:
I, [Paul], a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.The entire chapter 4 of the Letter to the Ephesians is about our experience of Jesus’ Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the divine energy of unity and love, and all who are kissed by Jesus’ Spirit are called and empowered to forbear with one another lovingly and to preserve the unity of the spirit peacefully. To do otherwise is to insult Holy Spirit, who called you and all who have been baptized and confirmed, whose baptisms and confirmations Jesus nourishes and sustains daily with his Body and Blood.
The translation of how we do this is shallow: striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. The Greek word we translate as to strive literally means to hasten, but it isn’t of the “haste makes waste” variety. It is the same word describing Mary visiting her kinswoman Elizabeth, after Mary learned God had chosen Mary to be the Mother of the Son of God: Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste./2/ In the New Testament hasten has a focused meaning, a purpose, a personal intent. Not only was Mary focused, she was, Luke reminded us, overshadowed by Holy Spirit./3/ Holy Spirit confirms us.
Holy Spirit multiplies our desire and intensifies our sense of purpose so that striving means “to interest one’s self most earnestly.” A good example may be found in the Letter of Jude. He used the same Greek word to communicate, I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation./4/ So make every effort to incarnate peace and unity, to complement Holy Spirit with your lives. Remember that Jesus abides with you by his Holy Spirit.
The reading from Isaiah no doubt sounded familiar. That’s because Jesus chose that very text when he preached one day in a synagogue, and we hear his choice at mass. Jesus made every effort to reveal and fulfill God’s desire. Because we share Jesus’ spirit we have power to continue his work. In fact, you are called to it with the rest of us and the whole church.
The first reading ended with words that were not familiar but are very important. The reason the final sentence, [those sealed with the oil of gladness and clothed with a glorious mantle] will be called oaks of justice, planted by the LORD to show his glory, is unfamiliar is because it is not included in the lectionary selections read at masses throughout the year.
The reason that last verse is important is because it describes both you and your Christian vocation. Jesus’ Holy Spirit strengthens you and emboldens you to stand tall and to choose each day to show [the] glory of our risen Lord by how you live.
Trees are metaphors in scripture for the Lord’s companion-servants. The prophet Zechariah beheld a vision of two olive trees. When he asked what they were, he received this answer, “These are the two anointed who stand by the LORD of the whole earth.” Zechariah realized that Prince Zerubbabel and high-priest Joshua were the two who were making every effort to fulfill and reveal God’s presence in the world as they rebuilt the temple and preserved its liturgies./5/
The visionary in the Book of Revelation also saw two olive trees. The vision of the last book of the bible is the revelation of risen Jesus. Risen Jesus personally commissioned the two olive trees to prophesy, that is, to bear witness to Jesus by their lives./6/ All of us are the two olive trees.
You have been sealed by the oil of gladness, named for Jesus’ Holy Spirit. We, who have been sealed with you, join you as prophetic witnesses to bear the promised blessing of God, Jesus, to our world. Risen Jesus is our inheritance. Risen Jesus nourishes us with himself personally in the sacrament of his body and blood. Never, however, does Jesus give us himself to hoard but to share with the world, as he said, “Go...and make disciples of all nations.”
Like your experience of ritual formation, which surpasses education, you and we are commissioned to pass on our inheritance:
the vision of God, the gift of ultimate mercy, comfort for sorrow, life as children of God in the family of God’s Servant-Son, the healing of infirmities, freedom from fear, the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, treasures of heaven for those who store them there, courage to save life by losing it,/7/and ultimately, Jesus, our promise, who asks us always remember, “I am with you always.”
Let the oil of gladness, which united you to the Roman Catholic Church, shine in your lives each day. Be strong, confident, prophetic witnesses of Jesus, who called you and commissioned you to be his disciples by “the strength and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.” Make every effort to make more disciples for the sake of our world! Do so with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.
/1/ My teacher, Benedictine Fr. Aidan Kavanagh’s phrase. Fr. Kavanagh was one of the earliest promoters of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in the United States. Fr. Kavanagh used this phrase class. It appears in his The Shape of Baptism: The Rite of Christian Initiation: Studies in the Reformed Rites of the Catholic Church, Volume I, Pueblo Publishing Co., New York, 1978, pp. 128, 186.
/2/ Luke 1.39.
/3/ Luke 1.35.
/4/ Jude 3 (this letter has only 25 verses).
/5/ Zechariah 4. 1-14
/6/ Revelation 11.3-4.
/7/ Paul S. Minear’s summary of the “many closely related expressions for [our Christian] inheritance and rescue,” which the Gospel of Matthew contains. His The Bible and the Historian: Breaking the Silence About God in Biblical Studies. Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 2002, p. 103.
The Wiki-images of: the Croix Constantinien is used the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; the Book of the Prophet Isaiah is used under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License; Jesus and the Apostles is in the public domain.