Homily for Sunday, 22 May 2011
5th Sunday of Easter: Acts 6:1-7. 1 Pt 2:4-9. Jn 14:1-12.
This Sunday Christ asks us to let Him enlighten our darkness and to build up his Church, so that the light of his love will be spread around to many.
The Jews have strong faith in God (Yahweh… our God also), so it was obviously very challenging for them to accept that Jesus was God incarnate.
It's great to know that Jesus has overcome death, but we're all going to need to overcome it too! The Good News (Gospel) today, is telling us that we can! But how? Jesus says "I am the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6). The path has been set out for us in Christ and we're not the first to follow. But do we?
It may seem that my MS has very much diminished my life, and that’s true physically, but it’s helping me to mature in mind and heart, and that’s augmenting my spiritual life which is actually much more important!
The first reading talks of how the first Christian community was like a new birth. There's a lot to be done - like 'serving at the table', but some devote themselves to 'prayer and ministry of the Word' (Acts 6:4). That's actually the official 'carism' (job) of every Bishop - it also happens to be the carism of our community (Verbum Dei) - and in a way, it's the job of every single Christian. Some of the more 'mundane' tasks of the time were entrusted to Stephen and Philip, but it's interesting that those two actually ended up preaching the Good News also! (Stephen in Acts 7 and Philip to the Ethiopian in Acts 8).
Evangelization may sound like a technical task confined to official priests and nuns, but that's not true. We're all called to participate in many different ways... from the pulpits to the coffee shops! Some may think that it sounds like a boring thing to do, but it actually ends up stimulating good ideas and prayer and conversations. Everyone loves talking about love! So Love with a capital L scores great goals! It even rises from the dead! If Ireland ever won the world cup football, and I met an Irishman that hadn't heard the news, I wouldn't be slow to tell him! But are we slow to tell the modern world about the love of Christ which is stronger than death? Maybe we haven't taken 'Easter' to heart enough yet. The world is very profuse and ingenious in describing the faults in our Church (and in our missionary priests!), but we are all called to be 'living stones' today - to help build rather than just criticise. There are fancy Churches and Cathedrals, but the nicest of all is one's own heart. That's a house where Christ longs to live. He himself will be the 'corner-stone' - and then it won't be just a house, but a home!
The love we manage to engender in our short years here on earth, can be like the front garden path leading to the home that Jesus is preparing for us. We know the way. But we need to travel it together - like the first Christian community did. Come back to us again, Lord! Jesus says "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be" (Jn 14:3).
God tried to build up a people of faith (the Jews) over many centuries, although those poor people ended up crucifying Jesus. However, the Trinity will keep building with love. Christ is like an immovable foundation. 'The stone rejected by the builders has become the precious cornerstone' (second reading 1 Pt 2:7). Christ put the Jews to the test, and they condemned him, and in that sense He's a stone over which they stumbled and fell, but the Trinity will keep building. God tells us this through Isaiah): 'With heaven my throne and earth my footstool, it's not up to you to build a house for me!' (Is 66:1-2).
Jesus says that his going back is in order to prepare a dwelling for us. Are you keen to follow him and reach that dwelling? One clear way to do so, is in helping to build a dwelling for Him here in our world... his Church on earth. That's relevant for Pope Benedict XVI and we should support him. The second reading asks us all to become like 'living stones' (1 Pt 2:5). Of course, the building of the Church isn't simply a matter of bricks and mortar, and the first reading today tells of the way the first Christian community managed to get different groups to do different jobs. It sounds like an ideal communist revolution! But will we give ourselves as material for the construction of Christ? Some may be big and strong for pillars (The name Peter and Kephas actually mean 'rock' in Latin and Hebrew). Some may be cute for decoration (like me! Ha! Ha!). Some may be musical (the ancient Jews didn't actually recite psalms, but rather they sang them). Some may simply be like planks of wood for seats (that's more like me!).
The patroness of all missionaries (St Therése of Lisieux) is actually like a very humble little decoration on the wall, but she inspires many. She makes me think of the little church made of planks when I was in Zambia. But I think the singing within was better than in the Royal Albert Hall! The Basilica of St Peters in Rome actually has the statue outside of a humble St Francis of Assisi leaning on the wall as if holding the Church up!
Of course, the one really holding up the Church isn't the Pope on his own, but it's Christ himself. But you could say that Christ works through his many messengers. The Verbum Dei missionary (keen on 'prayer and preaching') who first inspired my conversion as a young medic, was actually a qualified architect Dário Marote. So I'm glad that the spiritual building took precedence over the physical!
Rather than setting ourselves up as fantastic builders of his Church, Christ longs for us to just clear out any faults and to humbly allow Him himself to do the building. He tells us this through a well-known Jew (Isaiah): 'With heaven my throne and earth my footstool, what house could you build for me? All of this was created by me! But my eyes are drawn to the person of humble and contrite spirit who trembles at my word.' (Is 66:1-2). In that sense, I don't want to become some amazing author, but rather to become like a simple finger pointing to Jesus.
So let’s help Christ to build up his Church, like a home, so that the light of his love will be spread around to many. We can be 'living stones'. I like the way the first reading ends today: 'Even the 'priests' became obedient'!