The First Reading: The first reading takes us back into the early days of the Church when a problem seems to have arisen. Needless to say, back in those days the Government did not look out for widows and orphans or other needy people. It seems already some provision had been made to take care of widows, but in this case it was only for those who were of Jewish descent.
Converts from Greek speaking peoples were being neglected. This caused a problem and was brought to the attention of the Apostles. Certainly under Divine inspiration they instituted the order of the Diaconate to help in this matter. Admittedly, not a whole lot is said here, but the Church has always referred to this passage as a Scriptural basis and proof of the establishment of the diaconate as part of Sacred Orders.
Sacred Orders, as we know is one of the seven sacraments and is divided into three sections: the diaconate, the priesthood, and the episcopacy. The powers of the deacon are rather restricted: he can proclaim the Gospel and preach at Mass; He can baptize, distribute Communion, and assist at weddings if duly delegated. The priesthood is the next degree. He can confer all the Sacraments except Ordinations. His power to confirm is somewhat restricted, and is considered only an extraordinarily minister of that sacrament. Finally the Bishop has the fullness of Holy Orders, and he is able to perform all the Sacraments with no restrictions. Now a lot of this we know from what we may read in the Bible and the rest from what we learn from Sacred Tradition. Both are equally God’s way of revealing His truth to us. Christ instituted the Priesthood for us at the Last Supper when He told His Apostles “Do this in memory of me.” In telling them to “do this” He must have given them the power to do so.
RETURNING NOW TO THE ORIGINAL POINT about Hebrew and Hellenistic widows: The problem was that the widows who spoke Greek, rather than Hebrew or Aramaic, were being overlooked in the daily alms and provisions being given out. Therefore the Apostles chose seven Greek speaking Deacons to look after their needs. The Church in its missionary efforts has always looked out also for the temporal well being of individuals. There is a very simple mission principal which says: “You can’t preach the Gospel to a hungry stomach.” From my own experience in the missions, I know we spent much time and effort in trying to alleviate the material wants and needs of the poor people whom we were serving.
The Gospel: The Gospel is still part of Jesus’ talk to his Apostles after the Last Supper. He is telling them that He is going to have to leave them, but that He is going to prepare a place for them in heaven. Now much of this just doesn’t seem to sink in. They maybe hear, but don’t want to understand. It’s hard to say. Jesus doesn’t seem to want to push the fact. Jesus is very patient and tolerant. Sometimes that is how we have to be with others, just as they have to be with us. Jesus even reminds his Apostles that if they have a hard time believing some of the things He says, then they should believe because of the miracles He has worked. After all they were present probably at several of the miracles that Jesus worked. They had good reason to believe that Jesus must be Divine because of the miracles He worked.
Conclusion: In the Communion verse for today we will be repeating the words of Jesus, I am the vine, you are the branches, whoever remains in me will bear much fruit. Hopefully we all intend to stay with Jesus regardless of what happens. The Apostles seemed to falter during Jesus’ sufferings and death, but made up for it afterwards by their preaching and subsequent sufferings, and by living for Jesus. We too in our own way will remain faithful to Jesus to the end, and hopefully will bear much fruit until God calls us to one of the mansions that He has prepared for us in heaven.
We hope you enjoyed this homily by Fr. Valentine Young, OFM.