Accepting and Obeying God’s Trustworthy Testimony, Second Thursday of Easter, April 16, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Thursday of the Second Week of Easter
Memorial of St. Bernadette Soubirous
April 16, 2015
Acts 5:27-33, Ps 34, Jn 3:31-36


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Throughout this Second Week of Easter, to frame our whole approach to the Easter Season and help us to live the truly Christian life, the Church has been having us ponder in the Gospel Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus about the spiritual rebirth that is meant to characterize Christianity and then seeing those truths put into action by the members of the early Church in the readings from the Acts of the Apostles.
  • Today we get the concluding words of the chapter of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in which Jesus — or St. John, the text is a little ambiguous and scholars go back and forth about whether St. John is quoting Jesus or whether he is giving his own theological reflections on why Jesus said what he said — describes his own mission and the life of anyone born anew from above. St. Paul told us on Easter Sunday morning, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Today Jesus describes this difference between living with the Risen Christ or living according to the old Adam:”The one who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things,” Jesus says, “but the one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard.” Jesus testifies to what he has seen and heard and a Christian must be a witness to what he has seen and heard in his encounters with Christ in person, in prayer, in the Sacraments. Jesus describes that he came as light into the world but many preferred the darkness. “No one accepts his testimony,” Jesus says, referring in generality to the fact that most don’t seek the things that are above, most don’t leave the darkness to enter the light, most don’t allow Jesus to change their fundamental orientation at the root, most don’t really convert and continue to lift up their hearts to God. But, Jesus adds, “Whoever does accept his testimony certifies that God is trustworthy for the one whom God sent speaks the words of God. He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.” We believe what Jesus says on the basis of our faith in God. Because we trust in God we trust in what he says and gives witness to. The one born above allows the Holy Spirit to give witness within him not putting up any resistance to what God is doing. And for that reason, Jesus says, such a person is already living eternally because he is in union with Christ’s risen life: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.”
  • We see life according to these principles in the apostles in the first reading. They accepted Jesus’ testimony, they didn’t ration the gift of the Spirit, but with all boldness were giving witness with the Holy Spirit to what they had seen and heart. After the same members of the Sanhedrin who had had Jesus publicly tortured and executed were threatening them with the same fate had given them strict orders to stop teaching in Jesus’ name only to be met by their “fill[ing] Jerusalem with your teaching,” St. Peter and the Apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men.” They kept giving witness, undaunted because they knew that they were already experiencing eternal life and even should they be martyred, that wouldn’t be the end of their life but the passage to life with Jesus. That was the source of their boldness. They sought the things above, they spoke of heavenly things, they grasped that, just like Jesus’ testimony, not everyone would receive theirs, but to everyone who did, they testified that God is trustworthy and would have eternal life. They appeal to us to accept that testimony coming from God the Holy Spirit, to order our life to the things that are above and to fill New York and beyond with this teaching.
  • Today we celebrate a great, humble saint who testified to what she had seen and heard, who spoke of heavenly things, who obeyed God rather than human beings, who never rationed the Spirit: St. Bernadette Soubirous, to whom the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared 18 times in 1858 in Lourdes and who died 136 years ago today. I had the great joy to invoke her as the patroness of my last parish. She suffered a great deal on account of what Mary asked of her, even to come back to the grotto of Massabielle, to wash in what seemed to be only a muddy pool, to pray before someone whom others couldn’t see or hear, to face the threats not only of the civil authorities but at first of the ecclesiastical ones. But with great simplicity she boldly gave witness, under the power of the Holy Spirit, to what she had observed. She recognized about Mary that “the one who comes from above is above all,” and placed her trust in her who promised not to make her happy in this life but in eternal life.
  • I’d like to finish with some thoughts about St. Bernadette and the Holy Eucharist, which is where we encounter Christ, we see him in disguise, we hear him tell us to do this in memory of him, we’re set out by him as witnesses. Because Bernadette was illiterate and couldn’t read her catechism, she still hadn’t made her first Holy Communion by the time the Blessed Virgin started appearing to her when Bernadette was 14. Once it became clear to her pastor, however, that Mary was favoring her in this way, he was somewhat ashamed that he hadn’t done his duty in preparing her for Holy Communion, so he asked the parochial vicar to get her ready to receive Jesus. After she had made her first Holy Communion, a woman named Mademoiselle Estrade asked her, “What made you happier, Bernadette, first Holy Communion or the Apparitions?” Bernadette replied, “The two go together. They cannot be compared. I only know that I was very happy on both occasions.” With her simple wisdom, Bernadette points all of us to something really important. St. Bernadette is famous today because God chose her to be the recipient of Mary’s apparitions, but she was clearly indicating that the gift each of us receives in Holy Communion is just as important. (I actually think it’s even more important to receive Jesus, the Son of God, than his mother, but insofar as both were special gifts of the same divine Giver, it’s acceptable to equate them). She shows us to treat the reception of Holy Communion each day as a gift as valuable as a rare apparition of the Blessed Mother that would make us famous 156 years after our death? Later in life, St. Bernadette wrote about how God had made her great, not so much through the apparitions, but through the Eucharist. “I was nothing and of this nothing God made something great. In Holy Communion I am heart to heart with Jesus. How sublime is my destiny!” How sublime is all of our destinies! Today on her feast day, we recognize how sublime is our destiny, to be heart-to-heart with Jesus here in this life so that we can be face-to-face with him forever. And we ask her and Our Lady of Lourdes to intercede for us that we might learn from St. Bernadette’s example how to live courageously by faith, not rationing the Spirit, seeking the things that are above and speaking of them in obedience to the command of God to proclaim the Gospel to every creature!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 ACTS 5:27-33

When the court officers had brought the Apostles in
and made them stand before the Sanhedrin,
the high priest questioned them,
“We gave you strict orders did we not,
to stop teaching in that name.
Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching
and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
But Peter and the Apostles said in reply,
“We must obey God rather than men.
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus,
though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.
We are witnesses of these things,
as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”When they heard this,
they became infuriated and wanted to put them to death.

Responsorial Psalm PS 34:2 AND 9, 17-18, 19-20

R. (7a) The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
R. Alleluia.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Taste and see how good the LORD is;
blessed the man who takes refuge in him.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
R. Alleluia.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
When the just cry out, the LORD hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
R. Alleluia.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
Many are the troubles of the just man,
but out of them all the LORD delivers him.
R. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia JN 20:29

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You believe in me, Thomas, because you have seen me, says the Lord;
blessed are those who have not seen, but still believe!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel JN 3:31-36

The one who comes from above is above all.
The one who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of earthly things.
But the one who comes from heaven is above all.
He testifies to what he has seen and heard,
but no one accepts his testimony.
Whoever does accept his testimony certifies that God is trustworthy.
For the one whom God sent speaks the words of God.
He does not ration his gift of the Spirit.
The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life,
but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life,
but the wrath of God remains upon him.