3rd Sunday of Easter
A Homily - B Cycle - 2005-2006
First Reading - Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9
Second Reading - 1 John 2:1-5a
Gospel - Luke 24:35-48
Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have." And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.
He said to them, "These are my words and that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said to them, "Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."
This morning we are presented with another resurrection account in St. Luke's Gospel. The resurrection account that you just heard is very similar to the one that you would hear on Easter Sunday evening. So, rather than spending time discussing the state of the resurrected body, I want to focus our attention to the last section of the gospel and how it relates to the first reading and you and I, very practically in 2006. Just to recap the first part of the gospel, Jesus appeared to the twelve, having come through locked doors and He wants to impress upon them the reality that the body in a resurrected state, not risen from the dead - a raised body like the body of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, or the body of daughter of Jairus, or the body of the son of the widow of Nain - these were all bodies that were raised from the dead, but they would all die again.
The resurrected body, however, has already passed death. It has come back from death to life, but in a way that it will never die again; in a Glorified state. So, the reason, you might wonder, why St. Luke records that the disciples gave Him a piece of baked fish to eat is because Jesus wanted to show the apostles that He had a true body. He put fish in His mouth and then it was gone, just like you and I do; but in a different state of existence - a glorified state. So, enough of that, we will spend more time on that perhaps in the weeks to come to remind ourselves of the glorified state of the body.
It is this last line of St. Luke's gospel and how it relates to our first reading that I want to spend some time on this morning. Our Lord then goes on to explain to the apostles how all of the scriptures, the Old Testament He's referring to because the New Testament had not been written yet, referred to Him. Every single fulfillment to the last detail in the Old Testament had perfect reference to him. He says at the end here, "You are witnesses of these things". You, the apostles, are witnesses. It is going to be based on your witness that the faith will be spread throughout the world, and we can say that they did a fairly outstanding job, not by their own merits but empowered by the holy Spirit. So, the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles that you heard earlier on this morning is, of course, part of St. Peter's discourse to all those gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost following the death of our Lord; this is fifty days after Easter, and look how emboldened he is to preach the Word of God. And, he says here that we ourselves are witnesses to all of the events that occurred in this city fifty days earlier. We are witnesses. So, the overlying question for the modern person in 2006, the Catholic living in our own day is that without the witness of the apostles, we would not have the faith. If they decided in the upper room at Pentecost or on Easter, "Hey guys, lets just keep this between us. Isn't this great? We're going to go to Heaven!" Now, that would void our Lord's mandate at the Ascension when He was ascending to the Father's right hand to go and baptize all nations, it would render it devoid of all its meaning. Our Lord gave them a specific mandate, "Go to the ends of the Earth and baptize In the name of the Trinity and know that I am with you always until the end of the age." So, the person in 2006 has to ask, "OK, the apostles were told to witness. What do I do? Do I witness?" I'm sure each of us here witness to some degree, but this particular gospel gives us a good opportunity to do a good examination of conscience as to how well we all witness.
We all know that witness takes various forms. Yes, in our words, more potently in our deeds, but it's not either-or. It's both-and. We have those who are very strong in word. There are those people who would chase people around with their Bible in Food Lion or the Dollar Store shouting "Repent or you'll go to Hell!" This kind of approach generally tends to turn people off because the person who is trying to receive the message just feels annoyed. They feel like every time they go to the Food Lion that they are going to be tracked down by an over zealous Bible-beater. That's one extreme. The other extreme is the person who says, "Well, I will witness very quietly. So quietly that no one will even know that I am a Christian or a Catholic. They will see, by the way I live my life that my life is very attractive and they will be automatically curious as to why I live like I do." Very presumptuous of this person because it assumes that people on the outside think that your life is attractive. I was convicted of this in my own life, I remember so well, I told one of my very good friends who converted to the faith and who is now the beaming mother of three beautiful children, when I told her that I was going into seminary, we had gone to college together, she said, "Oh, really? A Catholic seminary?" I nodded and she said, "I hope you don't take this in the wrong way, but I spent four years with you at the University of Virginia and I didn't even know you were Catholic." Oh . . How that hurt! I was so convicted of that. I said, "Oh my goodness, really?" She said, "Yeah, I didn't know you were Catholic." I said, "Heather, I go to Mass every Sunday." "Well, OK I guess. See you Saturday night!"
There was this dualism going on. A lot of people are stuck in this. They think they can live their lives quietly because people will automatically be curious because they see how attractive their lives are. Quite presumptuous. I often tell people that the best way is the middle way - virtuous in the middle; virtus stat in medio, in Latin. I'd like to call this the witness via surgical stripes. You bob and weave. You pick your spots. You make your punches count. You're not chasing people around the Food Lion but you're not so passive that no one knows you're Catholic. When the opportune time arises, you bring it up without fear. It's good news isn't it? We still call it good news and believe it, don't we? We don't hide from persons who contradict the faith. We might not do it publicly but we take them aside and say, "I was really offended by what you said today at the lunch table at work. I take exception to that because I'm Catholic, and let me tell you why your viewpoint is inaccurate, and your conclusions wrong because you misrepresent my faith, claiming to be an authority on it." When was the last time you did that when the faith was contradicted in public and that opinion of error was allowed to perdure? It is a spiritual work of mercy to instruct the ignorant and to admonish the sinner. These are not optional. These are a part of what helps save us. So, this middle ground is helpful but then you might ask yourself, "OK Father, I understand the different ways and methods, why is it then, that so many more people fall into the category that others don't even know I'm Catholic?" Well, there are reasons and I've listed them down and I did this in the confessional yesterday as I heard confessions, not because of the confessions I was hearing, but simply because of the meditation I was doing on my own waiting for penitents to come. Here are some of the reasons why:
The first one is that a person will say, "I don't want to witness publicly because by doing so I would be a hypocrite. I sin too. I wasn't conceived without original sin. I have problems. I struggle with the faith. I find some of the teachings difficult to accept. So, for me to say anything would be hypocritical at best." My friends, if St. Paul thought that after he got knocked off his horse on the way to Damascus and said, "you know, God gave me this revelation to preach to the nations, but I've actually approved, in my own presence, the killing of Christians. It would be hypocritical for me to start preaching to the nations." Thank God St. Paul didn't think that! You wouldn't have fourteen letters in the new Testament to thank him for if he thought preaching the gospel, because he was a sinner, excused him from the obligation of the task. This is no excuse for why you cannot be evangelical, apostolic, and vocal about the faith, simply because you think that by doing so you would be a hypocrite is a wonderful invitation for you to get your life back in order so that no one could excuse you of that in the first place. But no, we are resigned to labeling ourselves to being hypocritical. Again, fallacious.
Another excuse would be not wanting to seem too religious. "I don't want people at work to know I go to church. I don't want them to know that I pray. I don't want them to know that I'm a believer." I would question your belief that you so claim. If you are not willing to spread the good news and share your experience with Jesus Christ with other persons, then what are you doing? You are doing nothing! This is lukewarmness - spiritual laziness - acadeia in Latin. It's this sense that the path of least resistance is not to say anything. The path of least resistance is the easiest way. So I'm going to take the easy out. The easy out leads to very bad places, my friends. The Cross is never the easy out. That's the doorway to glory. And yet, we get so comfortable saying we don't have to witness. I'm not saying you have to stand on the street corner here, or in front of the Food lion, or in front of the post office handing out pamphlets. You don't have to do that! What we have to do is touch people in our different spheres of influence - in our office, in our schools, in our circle of friends, and in our nursing homes. This is not optional! This is a condition for discipleship. Our Lord made it so for the apostles.
This leads to another excuse, "The work of evangelization is not the work of the laity." The excuse is that evangelization is up to the priests and the nuns; they committed their lives to this after all. Laymen just pay, pray, and obey. That's what laymen do. Pay the collection money, pray and obey. If you are a person who has ever heard of the Second Vatican Council and you think this way, I guarantee you don't know the Second Vatican Council. You're stuck pre-Vatican II. Wasn't the call of Vatican II the universal call to holiness? We are supposed to sanctify the world, not as priests and nuns, but laypersons because they are baptized into Christ. Is the United States a holier place since 1965 when the Council closed? I doubt it! Don't we say now to our children who are of adult age that it is harder to raise children now more than ever and that you fear how they will get through because they face challenges as parents that you never did? Don't you worry about that? I do because I'm preparing them for marriage. Ninety percent of them don't even have a clue about what it means to be Catholic let alone having children and raising them in that very faith. If you think that paying, praying, and obeying, coming to the church every Sunday, going through the motions, doing your ritual, and going to confession once a year is going to make you see the Kingdom of heaven, think again. I was there once upon a time. I was stuck in that rut, but praise God that He pulled me out of it, not by my own merits but by His Divine Mercy. I finally, by his grace, confronted the truth about my own lukewarmness. Now look what happened to me. You can't shut me up! Like all of you, I was a sinner and am still a sinner. St. Paul says the same, "I am the greatest of sinners." St. Paul says this. My friends, what underlies the antidote to these excuses, and there are a few that I will mention, is a deep interior life - a prayer life. You can have all the knowledge in the world. You can argue to kingdom come about the truths of the faith, but if it's not under-girded by prayer; a real relationship with our Lord and our Lady, then you will just be words. You will be unconvincing. A clanging gong, says St. Paul, because you lack the charity that can only come through prayer. But, at the same time, if you make excuses that this work of evangelization is not for you, then I will feel very badly for you on judgment day and also very badly for myself because it is my vocation to empower your vocation to actualize its potential in the world as evangelizers. I cannot do this work alone. Father Vander Woude cannot do this work alone. The one hundred and forty priests who faithfully serve our diocese cannot do this work alone. There is no way.
And so, you see encouraging signs of where the laity has come forward to take up the charge. Look at EWTN, now no longer run by Mother Angelica. It's run by lay people, she's handed it on. Look at movements of communion and liberation, Opus Dei, for example which is lay based, responding the call of Vatican II. I'm not saying you have to join any of these groups, but where you are you must do what you can do! If you write yourself off as a person unable to do this, for example a person who says, "I don't have a degree in theology, I wouldn't even know what to say." Hey! Pick up the Book and read! It's all there in black and white! I know kids who write computer code for summer internships. I'm sure they can pick up a catechism and figure it out. They can write computer code but they won't touch their Catholic faith! That's just we do on Sunday. Monday through Saturday is my time. Sunday is a holy day and that's God's day, fine. God sanctifies and is present at all times. All times belong to the Lord, Jesus. Yesterday, today, and forever - always.
My friends, if this is just your religion, right now, the one hour, you're missing the boat! It's almost as if we have to think of it in language we can understand. You may think of it like I do, in the mail you get these offers to help people join the credit card that you have and you get a discount. Yesterday, I got a discount in the mail that if I get several friends together and get them to sign up for dish network, I get a twenty-five percent discount, and so you try to build up this referral list. If God took you home tonight, and you were to stand in front of judgment tonight, what would your referral list look like, how long would it be? How many people could you say you had a hand in that person's conversion? And not only talking about people who are not Catholic, but also the people who are Catholic who don't even come to Mass! Why don't we start there? When we get that group done, lets move on to the other groups. We don't even have our own house in order! This is infuriation to me! The overwhelming majority of persons registered in this parish are in the area at eight in the morning Monday through Saturday. But, only eight or nine or ten of them come here for Mass. I know they are around because I see them. If I don't have the morning Mass and I'm out running errands or I'm headed somewhere else, I see them. They are everywhere but here. Is this how the new evangelization is going to take root in our new day, when those who have the opportunity to attend daily Mass, receive the Blessed Sacrament, be nourished by God's word and his very Body and Blood, and then turn right around and make it happen in the world don't take advantage of it?
The word "Mass" means "sending forth." The very dynamic of the Mass is not internal. It is external. Go out to the entire world and get this done. But no, we are content where we are. Very self-satisfied. We have judged ourselves and said, "Yes I will go to Heaven because I have paid, prayed, and obeyed. That's all I need to do. My friends, it's like two people sitting on a plane at Dulles airport and the plane is going to Seattle, but one of the two thinks the plane is going to Los Angeles. they're excited because they think that they can sleep for five hours and wake up on the west coast where it will be sunny and seventy five degrees and I'll go to Malibu and have a nice day at the beach. But, the plane is really going to Seattle where it rains and rains. Five hours later, even though the person thinks he is going to LA, it's really going to Seattle. When he gets there and looks out the window and sees that it's a really dreary day he is going to be just a little disappointed. That is a good analogy for thinking about how we are if we don't engage the reality of what awaits us at the end. It is what it is. Even if you don't think that its there, that judgment awaits, it does. Sorry! Wish I could paint a nicer picture but guess what folks, we're all going to die and we're all going to have to stand in front of Jesus Christ. What's He going to say? What's your reference list going to look like?
The last excuse I will touch today, and there are many others, is what I like to call religious indifferentism. It's a fancy term that means simply this; it doesn't matter what religion you belong to. it's all good. As long as you're a nice person and don't kill anybody, you'll probably go to Heaven. it doesn't matter if you're Catholic. You can go here, you can go to Saint Mary's, you can go across the street to the Baptist church, you can go anywhere you like. It's all God, it's all good, it's all the same, what's the difference? This is America, we have freedom of choice. Really? It's not all the same. Ask a veteran of a war who has lost comrades, body parts, almost their own life because America is almost like any other country. They'd slap you, and rightfully so. Tell them it doesn't matter to have risked your life for the country because we're just like France. You'd dishonor the memory of our veterans if you were to say that, don't we agree? It would be a slap in their face. And yet, that's what we do, we slap the face of the martyrs, the ultimate witnesses of these things who died because the Catholic faith is the one true faith. St. Thomas More, one of the patron saints of our diocese, and St. John Fisher, the only bishops in the entire realm of England who stood up to king Henry VIII in the sixteenth century because they would not go along with the king who was forming what is now the Church of England, Anglicanism.
They decided that the Catholic faith is the one true faith because it was founded by Christ. Perhaps, while others may be able to get to Heaven outside of the faith, even though they are not members of the institutional church, we know the Catholic faith is the sure way to Heaven. Why? Because our Lord founded it Himself, and He gave the apostles the mandate to do what we do. We are all partakers of this. Tell Thomas More, who lost his head, rather than become an Anglican, that all religions are the same. Tell the Jesuit Japanese martyrs in Nagasaki who were crucified and then burnt on the cross that all religions are the same. Tell any convert to the Catholic faith who has paid the price by being disowned by their own families that all religions are the same. Really now? Is that so? You'd dishonor their conversion; you'd dishonor the witness of those martyrs who died to perpetuate the faith in their country if you say they are all the same. they are not all the same! there is a big difference in receiving the Eucharist, and not receiving the Eucharist. Ask daily communicants who go without communion for a couple of days, they know the difference. There is a big difference between what goes on on this altar, and what goes on across the street. A BIG difference. The difference between the reality of Flesh and Blood, Soul and Divinity and not. Do you know what a difference that is? It is so much of a difference that men and women throughout Catholic history have to make sure that this was still possible. When you say that its all the same, shame on you because you dishonor their memory! It is the height of arrogance and indifferentism to make such a claim. "As long as you love God it's all the same." Unreal! I couldn't even begin to present that theses in front of a martyr's grace. This is the attitude of a people whose church in their country has mot suffered recently. They don't know the price that needs to be paid to uphold the sacraments.
My friends, these attitudes that I have presented this morning are nothing new. They have been with us for many years and unfortunately, I suspect, that without courageous individuals like yourselves willing to take on this new task of evangelization that will continue to prevail. They will because everything is just the same, it's all good. No it's not! I bet my life on it! It's not! I laid my life down on the cathedral floor in 2002, almost four years ago because it's not! If you are telling me it's all the same, I gave up wife, family, and children because it's all the same? Wow, thanks! If it is, I'm the biggest fool in the room! it means that anything I do up there on the altar doesn't really mean anything does it? It can't because it's all smoking mirrors and lies.
Let us commit ourselves today, make a good examination of conscience; I myself am guilty of this quite often, not witnessing enough. Not doing enough. It's not sins of commission, it's not the bad we do, but the good we fail to do. Don't we pray this in the Confiteor? "I confess to almighty God . . ." There are things that I have failed to do. sins of omission which we need to be looking at. Most of you guys that come here every Sunday, I know you guys. You're good folks. You want to live the faith. you love the Lord. Good start. Not enough, but a good start. Jesus will take us where we need to go. He's already paid the way. We already know the end of the story, the resurrection. We won't get there unless we take up our cross and for us, that means witnessing. It's pretty simple. Yes, we need to work on our own self too but we have to be evangelical. Let us pray for this grace, Our Lady certainly desires it for us. Let us pray that our zeal for it matches her desire to see us with her Son, the Father, and the holy Spirit in eternal glory forever.
Praised be Jesus Christ. Now and forever!
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