Sunday, April 28, 2013

Year C Fifth Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 14:21-27; Ps. 145:8-13; Rev. 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a.34-35

There is something from our first reading today, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, which is easy to miss, but we miss it at our own peril. It is something that Paul and Barnabas, whose apostolic activities we have been following closely for the past few Sundays, said in order to strengthen and to exhort the Christian faithful in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch to help them “persevere in the faith”: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22b). After strengthening the disciples with these words, we read that Paul and Barnabas “with prayer and fasting commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith” (Acts 14:23).

Faith, in addition to being the first of the three theological virtues, is the fruit of the first Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, which mysteries are so beautifully depicted along the East side of our lovely Cathedral. Faith is the fruit of the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead.

It is important to note that while faith certainly includes belief, believing does not exhaust faith, is not synonymous with faith. The first step of faith is not necessarily to believe, but to trust and then to obey. In St. Mark’s Gospel, Jesus begins His ministry with these words: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

If we were to translate the last sentence of this verse from its original Greek in a more literal way, we would hear- “Be repenting and be believing.” There are two things that are important to note about this more literal translation. First, it is a continual call, which elicits a continual response. It is not a one-time deal. Second, the order of the words is not accidental. Stated less theologically, Jesus’ disciples are to learn by doing, discipleship is a “hands-on” proposition.

Just as faith is not synonymous with belief, repenting does not primarily mean being sorry for your sins. To repent is to have a change of mind, a change of heart, one so profound that it causes you to turn around and walk in a new direction. This is what Pope Benedict meant at the beginning of his first encyclical Deus caritas est, when he wrote, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with… a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (par. 1). To have a real encounter with the Resurrected Lord is life-changing, how could it be otherwise?

To turn your life around and follow Christ is an act of hope, which is both the second theological virtue as well as the fruit of the second Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, which is Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. Hope is the flower of faith. Acting in a hopeful way is how we verify in reality, through our many hardships, that God is more than worthy of our trust.

The fulfillment of our hope is the realization of the kingdom of God, which will be definitively ushered in at Jesus’ glorious return. As we hear in our second reading from Revelation, God’s kingdom comes “down out of heaven” (Rev. 21:2). When God’s kingdom comes, if we are numbered among those, who we heard about last Sunday, “who have survived the time of great distress” and who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Rev. 7:14),” then, as we are assured in our reading from Revelation today, God “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

Love is the third theological virtue, as well as the fruit of the third Glorious Mystery of Rosary, which is the Holy Spirit’s coming upon the Blessed Virgin Mary and the apostles at the first Christian Pentecost. Jesus’ command in today’s Gospel, “Love one another,” is a lot harder than it sounds. As most of us know from our own experience, belonging to the Church, being married, being a parent, being a child all present unique difficulties and challenges for us. These are the means the Lord uses to perfect us in love, to conform us to His likeness, to make us more like Him.

The Lord gives us to each other to perfect us in love. To be holy is nothing other than to love perfectly. When it comes to loving the way Jesus’ loves, practice, along with frequent doses of God’s grace, makes perfect. The practice that perfects us is learning to bear with one another, to forgive one another, help each other, and persevere together. This goes a long way towards answering both the why and how of Christian marriage being a sacramental representation of the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church. After all, we call the Christian home “the domestic Church.” Blessed Pope John Paul II called the family a school of love, which, connected as it is to the Church by the sacraments, is the foundation for building a civilization of love, which is the counter to the culture of death. God’s kingdom is nothing other than the full realization of the civilization of love.

I am sure that after this Mass we could all go down to coffee hour and regale each other with stories about the difficult, painful, and hurtful encounters we have had with people in the Church, or in our other relationships. If you’re like me, there would be a healthy preponderance of what others have inflicted on me, as opposed to focusing on what I have done to them. But what would that accomplish? You and I know that it would accomplish nothing at all.

In a recent homily Pope Francis said, “I think that many times when difficult things happen, including when we are visited by the cross, we run the risk of closing ourselves off in complaints.” Drawing from my own experience, this rings very true. When I focus on everything that is going wrong for me I am unable to recognize the Lord, who is walking with me, because I become closed in on myself, preoccupied my problems. This is a great spiritual danger, which is why I think Paul and Barnabas strengthened their brothers and sisters the way they did in our first reading. Complaining and obsessing over everything I perceive to be wrong dashes hope because it is a refusal to love, which, if authentic, is always about the other and not about me.

Jesus tells us plainly today, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). The word “if” makes this a conditional statement, meaning “if” we do not have love for one another, then it will not be evident to anyone that we are Jesus’ disciples, no matter what we might say. In the end, love alone is credible.

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