Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter May 13, 2018
Today’s readings are a kind of prelude to next week’s celebration of Pentecost. In the first reading, Matthias replaces Judas Iscariot maintaining apostolic succession and magisterial authority.
The second reading demonstrates the need for this authority because, as St. John tells us, right doctrine, being able to acknowledge that the Man of Nazareth was and is the Son of God, that central doctrinal note is a sign of living in the Spirit and in the love of God.
These realities, apostolic succession, magisterial authority and right doctrine point to a more fundamental reality, which we discover in the gospel. Today we hear that Our Lord raised his eyes to heaven and prayed in earnest supplication that we might all be ONE. Unity is that more fundamental reality and it is not something we speak about often.
About the nature of this unity, this oneness, we discover that Our Lord and Savior deeply desires that we be one with Him just as He is one with the Father. Consider, for a moment, the monumental scandal of that prayer by our Lord.
While we might desire spiritual peace in union with Christ, or reuniting with a long lost loved one, or a reconciliation with an old friend that interior yearning of ours doesn’t compare to how the Trinity has labored since the Fall of man to draw us closer and closer to His interior communion. Indeed, part of the great scandal of the Christian thing is the revelation that our God is a Trinity, a single divine being that is mysteriously a communion of love at the same time. This is why St. John can say in our second reading that God is love. He doesn’t have love, or love others, He is love itself. And it is into this love the Our Lord wants us to be incorporated.
How do we do this? We know that the family best exemplifies this communion of love. And it is fitting that today we celebrate Mother’s Day. In Genesis, when the Lord announces that He will make man in his own image, he creates them man and woman, so that in communion with each other they might be fruitful and multiply and bring new life to the world. Thank you Mom. But the call to unity that Our Lord voices in the Gospel today does not end there, in the domestic church. It must exist there, in the family, yes, but it must also exist in the wider church… in our parish… in our local church of the archdiocese… indeed in the whole Catholic Church.
St. Ignatius of Antioch on his way to martyrdom in Rome wrote a letter to a small Christian community in Smyrna. He start by saying “flee from schism”, flee from disunity, and then he urges these Christians to “follow the bishop as [our Lord] did the Father.” Follow the priests as you would an apostle and “respect the deacons as you would God’s law.”
Then, St. Ignatius writes that where the bishop is there is Christ and there is the Catholic Church. He uses the word “catholic”. It is first such instance in recorded history of the phrase Catholic Church and this letter dates back to about the year 108. That word “catholic” is often translated as “universal,” and that is a perfectly fine translation, but it loses something of the complexity of the idea in the original Greek. The Greek means literally “one according to the whole” and it expresses something more akin to the oneness which we share in Christ our Lord, the very oneness to which Our Lord refers in today’s Gospel.
St Ignatius, in that same letter, warned the Christians to avoid any Eucharist that is not guaranteed by the bishop. So as we approach the sacred mysteries about to be made real on this altar, let us be grateful for our bishop and grateful for our priests who provide us with this sacrament which both demonstrates and makes real the unity for which Our Lord prayed.
I said at the beginning that we do not often talk about unity. This is perhaps because we live in a society that revels and profits from disunity, in driving us apart from each other. We live in a society where the individual, not the family, is the center. And our technologies only drive us further apart. What’s more the great American virtue is anger, and being angry at bishops, priests, deacons, each other somehow translates into virtue in our minds.
And so, I pray that as we come forward to receive our Savior we be conscious of the fact that we are communicating with our bodies what we say we believe in our hearts, namely – that we are ONE. We are one with the Lord and, by virtue of Him, one with each other… each of us… all of us. Through our reception of Holy Communion we communicate that we acknowledge and desire this twofold unity with God and with each other.
I also pray that we surrender to this reality in Christ, that we let him embrace us. Let him draw us deeper into his love so that, in it, you and I and we may be transformed into the Christians who, as Christ says today, do live in this world but who do not belong to it.
Given at St. Peter Catholic Church, May 13, 2018