Today’s readings remind us of the reason for hardship in our pursuit of the Kingdom of God. Through that hardship we’ll be united with Our Lord one day in love and never experience hardship again.
Today’s First Reading recalls the end of Paul’s first missionary voyage. In his lifetime he made three missionary voyages, and just like when he was knocked to the ground and blinded, he had no idea where his missionary voyages would lead him. Today he arrives back in Antioch, the Christian community who had sent him out at the Holy Spirit’s instruction, and he tells them something none of them expected: the Gentiles, the non-Jews, were welcoming the Gospel too. He encourages them to keep the faith, since, as he says “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” Paul is saying that from experience. On the mission he just finished he had almost been stoned in one town, mistaken for the god Zeus in another, and in a third was dragged outside the city, stoned, and left for dead. The path to the Kingdom of God is not easy, but worth the hardship.
In today’s Second Reading John tries to describe what the Kingdom of God will look like one day when all the hardship is over: the Church, as splendid as a bride on her wedding day, with Christ as her spouse. In every celebration of the Eucharist we try to imitate what the Church will be like to Christ on that day. The Baldachin (in Italian Baldacchino) built over the main altar in many classic church designs is a symbol evoking the canopy used in Jewish weddings. During the liturgy we wear nice clothes and fine vestments, sing beautiful music, and use items made of gold, silver, and other precious materials to celebrate Jesus coming down to be with us and come down into our hearts. Some day we will all be united, just like those people listening to St. Paul in Antioch, just as when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, rejoicing forever with God among us and all the pain and sorrow wiped away.
St. Paul describes the path to Heaven as hardship, but Our Lord in today’s Gospel calls it the moment of his glorification. When John in his gospel talks about glorification, he is referring to Jesus being crucified. As Judas goes out to betray Our Lord, the Lord says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.” He knows that the suffering and hardship that he is about to undergo will make what John sees in the Second Reading come true: all of us, united with him in joy forever. “The One on the throne” in the Second Reading today is Jesus Himself, and he says, “Behold, I make all things new.” Death, sickness, tiredness, and effort are a part of life, but Jesus will re-new everything again: not just spruced up, new again. He is always coming into our hearts to renew us with his love, and, one day, things will be as if they were brand new, forever, like a flower in the fullness of bloom that never wilts again. If we continue to love one another as he has loved us, he can continue to make all things new.
Paul taught the Corinthians, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24). The author of the Letter to the Hebrews had similar thought: “let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Are you racing to win in your Christian and spiritual life, or just making the occasional jog and walk? We not only have a finish line in life, but a time limit. No one knows how much time they have to complete the race, but ever race devised involves running and the risk of not reaching the finish line in time. The Christian life is no different: “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:25).
Readings: Acts 14:21–27; Psalm 145:8–13; Revelation 21:1–5a; John 13:31–33a, 34–35.