SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER – A – May 17, 2020

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

Dear Friends in Christ,

In the Book of Revelation, God has harsh words for the people.  I would you were hot or cold; but because you are lukewarm I will begin to spit you out of my mouth.  You may be familiar with the words, but perhaps you wonder what the Lord means.  If we apply the words to the present age, we might get the point.  Many moons ago there was a question inscribed on bumper stickers and posters: If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  The Revelation text and this statement are closely linked.  Faith is supposed to be lived.  Do our decisions and actions betray us as Christ’s disciples?  Do we love as Jesus loves us?  It is, after all, as we have said before, supposed to be all about love.

We are near the conclusion of the Easter Season.  In normal years our Neophytes would have had these weeks to experience the reality of their new life in Christ, following their Baptism, in the midst of the Assembly gathered to celebrate Eucharist.  This year in most parishes, the Elect still wait and long for their Baptism.  The rest of the church, seasoned believers, has had time to reflect on Lent and their time of prayer and penance and yearn for the Liturgical celebration of Easter and the renewal of their Baptismal Promises around the Font.  We have been living in the shadow of COVIG-19.  Sheltering in place with no gatherings in excess of 20, this has become a prolonged stay in the desert, or a winter of discontent.  Will we reach the oasis?  Will there be a spring? 

Peter, in this week’s second reading, speaks words of comfort and support to Christians under siege.  They are on trial and could face death for being followers of Christ.  Their witness and their mode of living have been determined to be unacceptable by the civil authorities.  It has become evident that Christians no longer hope in Caesar.  Their hope is in Christ and Christ’s cross and Resurrection.  The jaws of 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 the people Peter is addressing are not lukewarm in their faith response.  They are on fire with the Spirit in them.  Their actions speak loudly.  Christ lives in the hearts of the baptized.  Their actions, influenced by the Spirit, flow out and continue to scandalize.

Scandalize?  We might forget that Jesus gave scandal.  We might be tempted to soft-pedal those charges related in the Gospels.  Hear them clearly.  This man welcomes sinners and shares table with them.  In our hearing, those sinners may well become sanitized.  Surely Jesus would not have broken bread with real sinners.  Surely they weren’t really prostitutes, tax collectors, and others judged by the community to be reprobates.  It is fine to see Jesus comfortable among the poor.  We are consoled that he approached lepers.  That must be what the Gospel text means by sinners.

Then again, maybe not.  Sinners are sinners.  They were in Jesus’ day.  They are in ours.  Some were prostitutes.  Think of the woman who shocked and scandalized when she washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  Some of them were tax collectors.  That translates as cohorts with Roman suppression.  They extorted from their neighbors by adding to their tax bills.  Think of Matthew here.  You name the vice and representatives could be found in Jesus’ company.  He was comfortable with them.  Then add the poor and any other off scouring of society and you will have a digest of Jesus’ table fellows.  Jesus ministers to them unconditionally.  He loves them as they are for who they are.  There is no indication that all of them changed their ways and became disciples.  Jesus is living the reality that God loves unconditionally and eternally.

What is my point?  Prior to the shutting down of the churches because of the pandemic, Sunday Mass attendance across the country was in decline.  The same can be said for attendance around the world.  Ireland is no longer considered a Catholic country.  Yes, the clergy sexual abuse scandal has something to do with it.  But that is not the only reason.  Some people call themselves Recovering Catholics.  The second largest denomination in this country is Former Catholics.  I have listened to many and have heard a recurring story.  In a nutshell, they left because they were not hearing the Gospel preached in the homilies.  They did not hear an invitation to full, active, and conscious participation in the Liturgy.  Rather, they felt reduced to being passive spectators. They experienced the Church as too elite and antiseptic in the practice of the faith; our Assemblies, too homogenous.  

Now we hear the Spirit rushing through the church calling for reform.  The Spirit speaks through the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis as he calls for the church to be a poorer church, serving the needs of the poor.  Some judge him harshly for the company he keeps, for those with whom he breaks bread.  Prison inmates.  Atheists.  He is comfortable with them.  He invites street people to share breakfast with him.  It is clear that he welcomes all.  And that he proclaims God’s love for them all.

During this time of the pandemic, churches are closed.  We must fast from the Eucharist, as it were.  We reflect on who and what we are as church.  What will we be like when we re-emerge?

I betray my age when I say I can remember the days of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I remember the announcement of his assassination.  One could see the Spirit empowering those marchers in the streets of Alabama.  Numbers of people, vulnerable to batons and fire hoses and dogs’ teeth, witnesses to the need for change.  They were willing to lay down their lives for justice.  No wonder some thought Dr. King had to die.  What if society changed?  Some followed King’s example in Alabama and Mississippi and elsewhere.  They demonstrated and sought to get Black sisters and brothers registered to vote.  Some died in those trenches.  Some demonstrations turned riotous.  Think of Watts and Chicago and Detroit and the fires that raged there.  Witnessing sometimes gets messy.

Those were heady times that coincided with the close of Vatican Council II.  There was upheaval as always as happens amidst birth pangs.  Something new and wonderful was being brought forth.  The renewed Church was being born.  Think of Archbishop, now St. Oscar Romero as he left the serenity of the Bishop’s manor to go out into the streets to stand as shepherd in the midst of the poor.  He called for justice for the people in El Salvador.

Dom Helder Camara was another bright light.  He witnessed to absolute solidarity with the poor and 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 no 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.

Romero and Camara were precursors to Pope Francis’s calling the faithful to these same values.  He comes out of the same South America that produced Romero and Camara.  The three seem to be of the same mind.  The violence of those times, now distant, should not lull us into complacency in our own time.  Pope Francis speaks out for the poor and calls for a fairer distribution of wealth because poverty remains rampant.  There are homeless people living on the streets now.  We have all seen the long lines of cars waiting at food banks, the drivers hungry and unable to provide food for their families.  Millions of people are unemployed.  People are still discriminated because of their sexual orientation.  There is human trafficking and other abuses of humankind.  And we watch and pray as people suffer and die in the pandemic. 

How will the church respond to Pope Francis’s call for a poor church serving the poor.  Some in the clergy and hierarchy reject him – but not the poor, not the disenfranchised, and not the little ones.  So, will shepherds be found who will shepherd in the midst of the sheep and smell the same as the sheep?

I believe that were these values to become evident in the church as we emerge from the pandemic and are able to assemble again and celebrate Eucharist, some of those who have wandered away will return.  When they feel welcomed, when they feel encouraged to exercise their Priesthood of the Baptized the church will, like the Phoenix, rise from the ashes.  It will happen when they hearth call to live the Gospel, to be the continuation of Christ’s presence in the world.

If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  That is what our elect waiting to be baptized must ask themselves.  That is what we seasoned Catholics must ask ourselves.  Jesus says to us in the Gospel this Sunday: If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  Which ones?  There are really only two.  Love God with your entire being.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Stated another way: Love one another as I have loved you.  That love must be practical.  It is in the act of loving that we come to know Jesus and to love him and in turn come to know that we are loved by the Father and loved by Jesus.  Most wonderful of all, Jesus will reveal himself to those who so love.

Imagine what could happen on Pentecost.  Just hear the wind that could blow then, and see the fire.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus  

1 comment so far

  1. Connie McNaughton on

    Oh Father, what a beautiful homily. I remember the bumper sticker well and ask myself that question often. Thank you.


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