Sixth Sunday of Easter – A – May 21, 2017

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 8:5-8, 14-17
A reading from the first Letter of Saint Peter 3:15-18
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 14:15-21

In the Book of Revelation, God withers the people saying, I would you were hot or cold; but because you are lukewarm I will begin to spit you out of my mouth.  I am sure you have heard the saying.  You might wonder what the Lord means.  To whom do the words apply?  Surely not us!  In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s of the last century a question seemed to be posted nearly everywhere.  If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  The two statements are closely related.  We might add a third for flavoring: Actions speak louder than words!

It would not take a careful reading of the Church’s history to reveal eras during which the love Christ commanded us to live was absent.  Do you think the Gospel called for the burning of heretics?  Are Christians supposed to shun?  How often has the message gone forth regarding those who should not present themselves for Holy Communion?  First and foremost remember, to live as disciples of Christ, the first order of our lives must be to love as Christ loves and as we are loved.  Pope Francis proclaimed that message loudly and clearly during his recent visit to Egypt, adapting it so that it could resonate with those who are not Christian as well.

We are near the conclusion of the Easter Season and are closing in on Pentecost.  Our Neophytes have had these weeks to experience the reality of their new life in Christ.  The rest of the Church has had the time to see the fruits of their period of penance during Lent, and the renewal of their baptismal promises around the Font in the celebration of Easter.  For both groups, enough time has gone by to begin to experience the humdrumness of the routine of daily living the faith.  How are the lives lived now different from the lives lived before the encounter at the Font?

Peter, in this week’s second reading, speaks words of comfort and support to Christians under siege.  They are on trial and facing death for being Christian.  Their witness and their mode of living have been deemed unacceptable by the civic authorities.  The Christians no longer hope in Caesar.  Their hope is in Christ’s Resurrection.  The jaws of the lions loom.  Peter urges them to act with gentleness and reverence so that when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.  Apparently these Christians were not lukewarm in their faith response.  They are on fire with the Spirit living in them.  Their actions speak loudly.  The risen Body of Christ living in the hearts of the Baptized continues to scandalize.  What we must not forget is that we are listening to the Living Word.  Peter is speaking to us now.  May we accept the challenge and seek so to live that the lavish works of charity seen to be ordinary in our lives scandalizes people.

We might be tempted to forget that Jesus gave scandal.  We might be tempted to soft pedal the charges related in the Gospels.  This man welcomes sinners and shares table with them.  In our minds’ eyes those sinners can become sanitized and not really be sinners.  We see them as plaster-of-Paris saints fit for depiction on Barkley Street holy cards.  Surely they are not really prostitutes, tax collectors and other generic sinners.  We can accept that Jesus was comfortable among the poor.  We are consoled that he approached lepers and touched them.  Surely that’s what the Gospel text means by sinners.  Do you think so?  I don’t.

Sinners are sinners.  They were in Jesus’ day, too.  Some were prostitutes.  Some of them were tax collectors – which translates into being in cahoots with Roman suppression and being extorters of their neighbors.  Some of them were thieves.  You name the vice that repels you and more than likely you could find a representative in Jesus’ company.  He was comfortable with them.  Then add the off scouring of society and you will have a digest of Jesus’ table fellows.  Jesus ministers to them unconditionally.  He loves them for who they are.  There is no indication that all of them changed their ways and became disciples.

What is my point?  The danger I see in our times is Catholics being too antiseptic in the practice of the faith.  Our Assemblies can be too homogenous.  It is fine to be in choir stalls and to have splendidly florid liturgies.  That makes no one uncomfortable.  In the Assembly, what evidence of diversity is there?  Are disabled people able to make their way through the Worship Space?  Are they welcomed to serve as Lectors, and Greeters, and Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers?  Would sinners feel welcome?  Would minorities feel welcome?  What about gays and transgenders?  Does the Liturgy evoke the full, active, and conscious participation of the Assembly?  Does the Assembly rush forth, renewed by the Meal they have shared, to be themselves broken and shared until all have been fed.  Are they on fire?

This December will mark the 52nd anniversary of the closing of Vatican Council II.  Some of us can remember the days of excitement that followed the closing as the renewal began to be felt.  There was upheaval as always happens amidst birth pangs.  Something new and wonderful was being brought forth.  The new Church was being born.  Think of Archbishop Oscar Romero who left the serenity of the Bishop’s manor to go into the streets to stand as shepherd in the midst of the poor and call for justice for the people of El Salvador.  Call to mind Dom Helder Camara whose witness to absolute solidarity with the poor became a precursor to the controversial Liberation Theology linked to Archbishop Romero.  Even though he was an Archbishop, he lived in poverty among the poor.  Camara said: When I give food to the poor they call me a saint.  When I ask why the poor have to food they call me a Communist.  At the time of the Viet Nam War he wrote The Cycle of Violence in which he challenged the young people to break the cycle of violence to which previous generations have become addicted.  Archbishop Romero and Com Camara are the spiritual ancestors of the present Bishop of Rome.  You recognize their themes in Pope Francis’s preaching and service to the poor.

In those tumultuous years following the Council there were sit-ins and demonstrations on college campuses.  Students were shot to death at Kent State.  There were demonstrations in the streets of Chicago during a Democratic Convention.  Have you heard of the Berrigan brothers?  Look them up and be inspired even as some were scandalized by their actions.  They spent time in prison because of their protests against the war.

No one would want to relive the years that spawned the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and of John and Robert Kennedy.  But the violence of those times should not lull us into complacency in our own time.  There are still the poor who are hungry.  There are still homeless people, refugees among them, who live without shelter.  There is no shortage of injustices that cry out to heaven for vengeance.  Will a more obviously shepherding episcopacy emerge in these times?  Will the faithful scandalize by their outpouring of self in service of even the undesirables?

If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  That is what the Neophytes must ask themselves.  That is what we seasoned Catholics must ask ourselves.  Jesus says to us in this Sunday’s Gospel: If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  Which ones?  There are only two, really.  Love God with your whole being.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Stated in another way: Love one another as I have loved you.  Add to that: Love your enemy.  Do good to those who hate you.  That love must be practical.  It is in the act of loving that we come to love Jesus and in turn come to know that we are loved by the Father and loved by Jesus who lives in us.

Let’s see what happens on Pentecost.  Imagine the wind that could blow then, and the fire.

Sincerely,

Didymus

2 comments so far

  1. Donna Authelet on

    Amen, Amen…..YES!..
    Donna

  2. Norma on

    I remember the 60’s well. Many many of us did not step forward when seeing the injustices all around us. (I think it was easier for me to boycott table grapes at the store then to step forward.) I remember a certain young priest who did step forward on his thoughts about war and injustice and “took it on the chin” from a VIP. Now I know what he was saying were truths. We did not want to stand up to our government over the many
    wrongs we were witnessing. Can I have another chance to right my wrongs? I think I can!


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