In a few days we will be celebrating the feast of Pentecost. As he finishes his final missionary journey to Greece and Asia Minor Paul himself was on his way to Jerusalem eager to get there by the feast of Pentecost if at all possible (Acts 20:16). Of course he was very much aware of the power of the Spirit in his own life and ministry (Acts 20: 22-23). On his way to Jerusalem Paul decides to avoid Ephesus, a place where he had spent three years teaching, setting in rather to the port of Miletus, about thirty miles from Ephesus. He summons the presbyters of Ephesus to Miletus for a farewell discourse and instruction. Luke summarizes it by first emphasizing how selflessly Paul lived among them and preached the kingdom to them. Then we have the words we read today.
Paul begins by reminding them of their responsibility to "watch over themselves and the whole flock". You have the Holy Spirit to help you he says. What you always have to remember that the Church of God is the Spirit’s work! This is something we have to remember today. Paul speaks of savage wolves that will come from your own group to pervert the truth. Be vigilant, Paul says. We ourselves have experienced the devastating effects of the clergy abuse scandal. What has made it so difficult for the ordinary Catholic is the failure for many years of our leaders to deal effectively with this scourge. As Paul finishes he has tears in his eyes and commends presbyters of Ephesus to God. His final wish is that they would "help the weak". He quotes a saying of Jesus that is not in the gospels: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Doesn’t that say it all? Isn’t this the simple Way of Jesus? Isn’t this the path that St. Francis of Assisi found?
In our gospel Jesus prays to his Father for his disciples: "Consecrate them in truth. Your word is truth". May we take the simple words of Jesus into our hearts and ask the Holy Spirit to set our hearts on fire to live as Jesus lived.
Fr. Michael Hoolahan, C.P. is on the staff of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.