Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, June 2, 2019.)

Music filled the royal court. The king was always moved by the performance. The court composer was brilliant and the king knew it, even if the composer was not always aware.

One day, the king called the musician for an audience, seeking to present him a gift. The musician arrived and bowed before the king, who then handed him a small package.

The composer opened it. Inside was a beautiful gold watch. The king said: “You have used your gifts well for the good of all, so I want to give you a gift. The outside is truly beautiful; the work of one of our great artisans. Yet the true beauty lies within. You just have to see it to believe.”

The musician left with great appreciation, but he was a bit puzzled by the last words of the king and thought to himself, “What does the king mean by saying that the beauty lies within?”

After some time, he concluded that the king was referring to the mechanics of the watch, the small gears so carefully designed and constructed that run the watch unseen. Satisfied with that conclusion, the musician did not give the matter any further thought. He cherished the watch and kept it with him always, pleased that it never seemed to lose time.

While looking at the watch several years later, he noticed a very small indentation, like a tiny button, on the back of the casing. Curious, he pressed a fine pencil point against the button. To his surprise, the casing opened to reveal a beautiful painting of himself in enamel.

As he looked at the image, the words of the king came back to him: “The true beauty lies within. You just have to see it to believe.”

True beauty lies within – it just has to be discovered.

The Gospel account for this Sunday comes from Jesus’ prayer to the Father just before the Passion. In this prayer, he prays for us, his disciples, that we may be one – “as you Father, are in me and I in you.” He then speaks of the glory that he has given us, a glory that dwells within. This glory, though not always visible, is always present.

The glory is the divine life which Jesus confers through his passion, death and resurrection. He prays that this glory might be made visible in his disciples so that all might know the love God has for us. He says: “And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”

God’s love lies within us. That love is always present. Jesus sees that love in each one of us. In fact, it is so visible to him that as he prays to the Father, he refers to his disciples — that is us — as a “gift” to him from the Father. He sees a beauty in each one of us that goes deep into the core of our humanity and personhood. Each person is a gift with a beauty waiting to be discovered.

The reading from Acts is the account of the death of the first martyr, St. Stephen. Earlier in the account, we are told that Stephen was so filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit that when he spoke, people were captivated by the message. That glory of which Jesus spoke shines through in Stephen’s words.

They also shine through in his faithfulness. We hear of that today as the crowds move in upon him to stone him to death. He speaks of a vision where he sees Jesus, the Son of Man, standing at the right hand of God waiting to welcome him home. As the crowd comes upon him Stephen cries out: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Stephen gives back with interest the gift he was given, and speaks his final words: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Love and mercy triumph, and the glory of God shines forth.

In the story above, the king said to the musician: “The true beauty lies within. You just have to see it to believe.” Jesus sees that beauty in us and prays that we might see it as well.

Perhaps sometime this week we might take a good look inside ourselves to see that beauty, to see in ourselves the presence of divine love, and to thank God for the gift.

Jesus’ prayer today includes his hope that others may come to know his glory through us. If we think of it as a “task,” it will seem impossible, and maybe it would be. Yet if we allow the Spirit to shine forth in us, if God is one working in us, if it is his love in and for us that motivates and inspires, then nothing is impossible, for “the true beauty lies within. You just have to see it to believe.”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.