26 May 20196 Easter

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
6 Easter
Sixth Sunday of Easter - Cycle C
John 14:23-29

Francis of Assisi, Arthur Tonne tells us, chanced upon a woman who told him she did not love God. She had no intention of ever obeying Him. As he and she walked along together, they passed a man who was both blind and crippled. Francis asked him, "Were I to give you sight and enable you to walk, what would your response be?" As you might imagine, the man said eagerly, "I would both love you and be your servant forever." Il Poverello turned to the woman and quietly queried, "You just heard him. He would both love me and obey me. Why then do you not cherish and obey the Almighty who has generously allowed you to both see as well as run if you choose?"

But the fact of the matter is God does ask us the same question every day. "Why do you not both love and obey me? Consider all I have given you all your life." On the face of it, there is no one of us who can take umbrage at the question. In the best possible scenario, we should bolt out of bed in the morning, crash down on the floor at risk of water on the knee, and pray with absolute conviction. What should we say? How about this for openers? "Dear God, once again my name is not in the Irish funny pages aka the obituary column. In gratitude, I will expend myself for you all day." As Robert Frost puts it, earth's the right place for love. The Swedes would remind us that those who wish to sing always find a song.

In today's Gospel, Jesus is clearly on the record saying, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments... Those who do not love me do not keep my words." Why should anyone of us be in a state of shock at this pronouncement? The Christ has been called many names by His enemies down the centuries, but no one ever called Him dumb.

And the sublime wordsmith Mr Shakespeare might well have had John 14 in mind when he wrote, "They do not truly love who do not show their love."

After all, every mother's child of us is, as someone has pointed out, a forgiven sinner. Much love and likewise obedience then should be justly expected from those to whom much love has been shown. Love then in this context is, in James Tahaney's incisive language, a four word synonym for grow.

Happily for us what the Teacher wants from us is written in black and white in the Ten Commandments. No matter from what angle one approaches these commandments, no matter how one shakes them, the color gray is never seen. One does get the distinct feeling that gray was the least favorite color of the Master.

There are some of us who think if we attend the Eucharist, we can be totally cavalier about the law of God. But such an approach will simply not wash. Even the curmudgeon who was George Bernard Shaw saw the fallacy in such an approach. He penned, "Beware of the man whose God is in the skies." Shaw would applaud the aphorism that teaches a hypocrite is a person who is not himself on Sunday.

We must establish our love by doing what God desires and fleeing, like a case of the swine flu, what He says is a forbidden. To profess love for God and forget His commands may be our idea of bliss, but it is not Christianity. Rather, it is the Gospel according to you and me. It is, in one man's terms, decaffinated Christianity. And one comes up with a faux Jesus.

Too many of us have developed the nasty habit of keeping the New Testament buried on our shelves instead of in our minds and hearts. Today's Gospel advises us not to be in that company. "Be smart enough," St John is saying to us today, "to learn from the mistakes of others. You may not live long enough to make them all yourself."

My Irish ancestors a long time ago wrapped today's Gospel up in a clever lyric. "Paddy Murphy went to Mass, never missed a Sunday. But Paddy Murphy went to hell, for what he did on Monday."

But do not lose heart. "God," said the pundit, "can make a great finish out of a slow start."

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
6 Easter
Sixth Sunday of Easter: Three Cultures

Today's first reading presents the solution to the great internal struggle of the Primitive or Earliest Church. Externally, it was the question of whether or not gentile Christians had to practice Jewish customs. It was a lot deeper than that, though. The real question was: "What is Christian culture?"

The original problem as presented in the first reading resulted from the Early Church's view of itself as the proper development of Judaism. Up until the last decade of the first century, the Christians were seen by many to be nothing more than a form of Judaism. This really makes sense. The New Testament was the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Moses and the prophets pointed to Jesus. Jesus himself was born of a Jewish maiden and was of the line of King David. The earliest Christians did not reject Judaism. They believed that they were good Jews, true Jews, the real chosen people. That's why the Book of Revelation will often refer to the Jewish persecutors of the Church as "Jews who are not Jews." They are not being faithful to their choice as God's people because they were rejecting His Son.

The Jewish religion of the ancient times had more to do with laws than beliefs. A Jew did not have to believe in the afterlife, in heaven and in hell, as we see in the dispute between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. A Jew had to keep the law strictly. If he didn't keep the Sabbath, have his sons circumcised, and follow every law, he was a heretic.

The ancient Jews had a particular culture that the first Christians realized was not their culture. Christians were more concerned with faith than law. The Gospel of John was written for the purpose that "all may believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God and in so believing might have eternal life." Life came from faith, not rules. Jewish Christians broke away from Jewish laws. They celebrated the Sabbath on Sunday instead of Saturday, because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday. They reasoned that God had given them all life to care for and to use; dietary rules were eliminated. They no longer offered sacrifice in the Temple. The One Sacrifice was that of Jesus Christ. No other sacrifice was necessary. The center of their lives was not the laws, it was spirituality, the nourishment of the spiritual in their midst, the Holy Spirit. The earliest Christians of the Jewish background were non conformists with their own Jewish society. They no longer shared in Jewish culture. They formed, or through the Holy Spirit were formed, into a Christian culture.

But how about the Christians who came from a gentile background? Did they first need to become Jewish following Jewish laws and then become Christian. It seems easy for us to say, "Of course not," but to the ancient Christians, this was a conundrum. After all, Hebrews commonly referred to the gentiles as "the dogs". The gentiles were to be avoided. There were many in the primitive Church who thought that the gentiles needed to follow the progression the Jewish Christians had followed: they needed to embrace the Jewish culture before they could be admitted into the Christian culture. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Church realized that the gentiles didn't need to be Jewish. But they could no longer be pagan. All Christians had to avoid pagan culture. Pagans cloak immorality under the feasts of various gods. Gentile Christians could not join these celebrations, live immorally or participate in any aspect of pagan culture. The Gentile Christians were told that they could not conform to paganism.

Nor can we.

Consider the pagan culture. The pagan deifies nature. This is more than just worshiping water goddesses, tree gnomes, etc. The pagan places the highest value on the material world. To the pagan anything physical and any physical action is not just acceptable, but is seen as good, even if the action is morally reprehensible. Therefore the pagan has no problems with unnatural relations between people, with destroying life to make his or her own life easier, with gaining wealth at the expense of others, etc.

This sounds as much like our world as it does the ancient world. We exist in a world where many elements of society say that if it feels good, it is acceptable, even if an action in innately wrong. For example, the destruction of human life is innately wrong. It is not up to a person to choose to destroy a life, be that a life within a girl, or a life that is physically or psychologically challenged. Yet, our society has turned abortion into a right. That is just one demonstration of society's modern expression of paganism.

The problem is not that we here are pagan. The problem is that we are often tempted to straddle the issue, doing our best to be Christian but still keeping one foot in the pagan aspects of our society. So we go to Church, we pray, and then we attend a party where we know that drugs will be available. We say that we are committed Christians, but we support those who are in favor of positions that are in conflict with morality.

This brings me to one of my favorite true stories, that of Charlie Miller. Charlie was a wonderful young man, a seminarian with me way back when I was in college. On Sunday's we would all dress up in our best suits for Mass, then we would have a bit of a break, about 45 minutes, before Sunday dinner. One Sunday after Mass we all went for a walk out by the lake on the seminary property. Charlie decided to take one of the rowboats out. None of us would go with him because we didn't want to mess up our suits. That, and because we all knew that Charlie didn't know all that much about boats. So we watched him untie a rowboat, then put one foot in the boat while leaving one foot on the dock. It was a wonderful sight to behold. It happened in slow motion. The boat started moving out and Charlie, ever so slowly got stretched out and fell into the water. We cheered. Why did he fall into the water? He fell in because he didn't commit. He got soaked.

If we don't commit to Christianity, if we keep one foot in pagan society, we are going to get stretched out. We are going to get soaked. We have to commit. That means that we have to be at odds with what many are saying around us.

Where do we stand in relationship to culture? We need to be strong members of the Christian culture. We cannot be members of the pagan culture. This means that we are called to be non-conformists. We are called to be in the world but not part of the world. We are called to be citizens of the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God. We cannot allow pagan culture to have a part of our lives. We are Christians. Our culture is that of Jesus Christ. He has offered us the spiritual. We can neither conform to the pagan elements of society nor can we straddle the issue, attempting to be both Christian and pagan.

Jesus Christ brought a new culture to the world. Christian culture is neither Jewish nor pagan. Christian culture is not concerned with laws, nor does it use religion to justify immorality. Christian culture avoids all that is self-centered, all that is immoral. Christian culture is concerned with whom we are: reflections of God's love in the world. Christ is the center of the Christian's life.

That is our culture.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
6 Easter
Journey that Begins with Easter

Bottom line: We are on a great pilgrimage - a journey that begins with Easter. By his resurrection Jesus is the center of the both the universe and human history.

We think of Lent as a journey - a 40 day pilgrimage to Easter. But, you know, in a deeper sense the journey begins with Easter.

Mel Gibson's movie - The Passion of the Christ - depicts this powerfully. After his horrific suffering, they lay Jesus in a dark tomb. Mysteriously the tomb becomes light. The shroud containing Jesus' body deflates like a balloon. A few feet from the empty shroud, a young man stands up. The camera focuses only on his upper leg, then the forearm moves into view. In the hand you see a hole about the size of nickel. The young man moves decisively. History has entered a new stage.

By his resurrection Jesus transcends time and space. Thus he can relate to you and me individually - with full attention - in prayer and sacraments.

Speaking of sacraments, it's worth a trip to Granite Falls to see the new church there. It has lovely stain windows representing the seven sacraments. They make the point that Jesus is present in the sacraments and in his word. You see something similar in the stain glass above our sanctuary. The sacraments join us to Jesus in a material, physical manner.

For us Jesus stands at the center of the universe and the center of human history. We can acknowledge a Big Bang at the beginning. In fact, the Big Bang theory fits with what Genesis says about Day 1, "Let there be light and there was light" - an incredible energy that the stars and galaxies evolved from.

God creates light because he wants to send his Son Jesus - the Light of the World. So we can acknowledge the Big Bang and the gradual unfolding of evolution. For us the center and goal is the one who says today, "If you loved me you would rejoice that I am going to the Father". Jesus comes to bring us into an intimate union with the Father - as we will see, by the Holy Spirit. For that reason Jesus stands at the very center.

This Easter season I have been inviting you to embrace a two-step program: to believe Jesus and to touch his Body, to connect with Jesus spiritually and materially. As Jesus says, "Whoever loves me will keep my word. Love involves trust, faith. Keeping his word means to follow him in a concrete way by receiving the sacraments, especially Communion.

We are on a great pilgrimage - a journey that begins with Easter. By his resurrection Jesus is the center of the both the universe and human history. Can you think of greater reason for rejoicing? If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father. Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
6 Easter

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
6 Easter
Sixth Sunday of Easter

The text set before us today is part of the long speech that Jesus gave at the Last Supper after the Washing of the Feet. It is only John that gives us this speech but it is important because it includes the very heart of the teaching of Jesus.

In the section given for our consideration on this the Sixth Sunday of Easter Jesus again stresses just how important love is. He tells the Apostles that it is loving Jesus that will help us to keep his commandments. From this we understand that Jesus does not want slavish obedience from his followers; what he is interested in is motivation. What he wants of his disciples is that they love him; by loving him we adhere to his commandments because we want to be as close to him as possible.

The natural desire of someone who is in love is to please their beloved; they want to understand them better and get to know their deepest desires and then do their best to fulfil them. The motive is love not obedience. This is crucial to the teaching of Jesus. Up till that point religion was focussed on slavishly following the law; blind obedience was considered a virtue. Following God's commands without really understanding the meaning behind them was what justified a person. Jesus' teaching is revolutionary because he stripped the law down to just two commandments: love God and love our neighbour. What he is really interested in is our motivation and not so much conformity to the letter of the law.

If the Christian is to fully live out Christ's desire that we love him then we cannot be lukewarm or half-hearted about it. What he wants from us is passion. He wants us to love him intensely. He wants us to love him wholeheartedly. He wants us to love him from the very depth of our being. Understanding this is one thing, putting it into practice is quite another. It requires commitment, tenacity and determination. This may not make the Christian life very easy but it will certainly make it fulfilling.

Alluding to the fact that he will soon be gone from them Jesus promises the Apostles that the Father will send his Holy Spirit to be their advocate and guide. He promises that the Holy Spirit will remind them of his teaching. We Catholics understand that it is the Holy Spirit that keeps the Church free from fundamental error. Of course, we realise that the teaching of the Church develops over time but we know that it is the Holy Spirit who keeps us in direct continuity with the teaching of Jesus. There is no room for innovation or new doctrine; what the Church strives for is fidelity to the original teaching of Jesus even if this is uncomfortable or out of sync with what public opinion thinks is important.

The text says, 'The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you.' This indicates the closeness of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. The Father sends the Holy Spirit but he does so in the name of the Son. This gives us a glimpse of the theology of the Trinity and the dynamic at work within it. The Father, the Son and the Spirit are absolutely united and the driving force within the Trinity is love.

Understanding this, we realise just why Jesus is so interested in love. Love is the force which holds the Trinity together. The love of the Father, the Son and the Spirit overflows into the act of creation and is therefore the force that holds everything in being. Love therefore becomes the highest of all goals. Love is what should be treasured above all things.

The Eurovision Song Contest is on the TV these days. I remember when I was about ten in 1966 Kenneth McKellar was chosen to represent Great Britain. He sang a song called, 'A man without love is only half a man.' In the end he came ninth out of eighteen contestants but that is not important. The title of the song is what is relevant to us today as we think about how vital Jesus presents love as being. If we are without love then we cannot consider ourselves to be fully human creatures. Love is probably the most centrally important thing in life. Living a life of love is what makes a life truly fulfilling.

Over the years I have presided at very many funerals and often at a funeral a member of the family will stand up and give a short eulogy. Invariably the thing that they choose to speak about is the love the deceased person had for his family and friends. This tells us how important love is for us. It is not our faults but the depth of our love that will be remembered.

Jesus also bequeaths his disciples the gift of peace. This shouldn't be misunderstood as passivity. What Jesus is imparting is inner contentment. He knows very well that his followers are going to face dire persecution and he wants them to be prepared for it, he wants them to have the strength and courage to remain faithful to him in the very worst of circumstances. If his followers have their eyes on the goal of heaven they need not be unduly perturbed in the face of the worst persecutions. The gift of peace will be what carries them through any and all adversities.

On Thursday we will be celebrating the Feast of the Ascension; it is a Holyday of Obligation so it is important to attend mass on that day. The Gospel text today is a good preparation for the Feast of Ascension which celebrates the return of Jesus to the Father. The sending of the Spirit and the giving the gift of peace are the ways Jesus helps his Apostles prepare for his departure.

Here at the Last Supper we realise that the final act in the great drama of the working out of our salvation has begun. The Apostles have a lot ahead of them. They will witness the death of Jesus on the Cross. But then they will witness the resurrection and then his Ascension into heaven. The Holy Spirit will definitively come upon them at the Feast of Pentecost and they will be pushed out into the world to begin the great work of the Church as it evangelises the world. They have much to do but the Spirit is with them and is guiding and prompting them in what they have to do. Just as the Spirit was working in them so too is it working in us. The Spirit is with us as we continue the task of the Apostles and make the love of God apparent to the people who live around us.
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