5th June. Thursday in the 7th Week of Easter
Saint Boniface, bishop and martyr.
Boniface (673-754) from Devon in England, went as a missionary monk to preach the gospel in Holland and Germany where he had a long and successful ministry, commissioned and encouraged by Pope Gregory II, who also latinised his Saxon name, Winfrid, to Boniface. He was martyred in Friesland (Holland) and is buried in Fulda (Germany).
First Reading: Acts 22:30; 23:6-11
(Paul is cross-examined by the Jewish Council, in Jerusalem.)
Since he wanted to find out what Paul was being accused of by the Jews, the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and the entire council to meet. He brought Paul down and had him stand before them.
When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.) Then a great clamor arose, and certain scribes of the Pharisees” group stood up and contended, “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” When the dissension became violent, the tribune, fearing that they would tear Paul to pieces, ordered the soldiers to go down, take him by force, and bring him into the barracks. That night the Lord stood near him and said, “Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.”
Gospel: John 17:20-26
(The final part of Jesus’ high-priestly prayer, on behalf of his followers.)
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Not giving up on church unity
Jesus calls unity the most characteristic mark of his disciples, a vital goal of true faith, when he prayed: “that they may be one in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me.”
In our reading from Acts, Saint Paul defends himself by deliberately stirring up debate, pitting the Sadducees pitted against the Pharisees on the subject of resurrection from the dead. Paul aligned himself with the Pharisees (23:6). But Paul was not always stirring up trouble. He wrote eloquently about peace and unity in 1 Corinthians 11-13 and in Ephesians 4.
For his part Jesus was not always a messenger of peace. He had put this question: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? … I have come for division. From now on, a household of five will be divided three against two and two against three; father will be split against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother” (Luke 12:51-53). His disciples were not united around the weak principle that nobody should ever dare hurt the feelings of anyone else, but rather around an intense desire to enable one another to seek and share the best.
Jesus urged his followers towards a shared vision of goodness, kindness, peace and justice. More than anything else, according to the gospel for today, this unity was to be modelled upon that of the Holy Trinity. Jesus in turn will share with his disciples the glory given to him by the Father before the world began, “so that your love for me may live in them, and I may live in them.”
Looking at some of the procedures and strictures of our Church leadership, one has to wonder if they remember that unity is to be generously striven for, not imposed in an authoritarian tone. Jesus puts before us a vision that leads us beyond what we consider possible. He states that desire as something that he personally holds dear, “with I in them, and you Father in me, may their unity be complete.” If we love him, we must try to make that vision a reality.