Building on Christ, Fifth Sunday of Easter (A), May 22, 2011

Fr. Roger J. Landry

St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A

May 22, 2011

Acts 6:1-7; 1Pet 2:4-9; Jn 14:1-12

 The following text guided this homily:


  • In today’s second reading and Gospel, we hear about a building plan. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that he is going to prepare a place for us at his Father’s house. In the second reading, St. Peter tells us that we’re called to be built into a spiritual house of living stones on Christ, the living cornerstone. Both as individuals and the community of the Church, we are called to construct our existence on Christ. That’s God’s architectural plan for our life. That’s God’s architectural plan for our parish. That’s God’s plan for the whole human race.
  • Today in the Gospel, Jesus describes for us how to build ourselves on him. In one of his most memorable phrases, he said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In other words, no one can come to the Father’s house, no one can be built into this house of living stones except through me.
  • We’ve heard these words so many times that we can be oblivious to how shocking they must have sounded to the apostles’ Jewish ears. In this simple phrase, Jesus took three of the great basic conceptions of Jewish religion and made the tremendous claim that in him, all three found their full realization.
    • The Jews talked much about the way in which men must walk and the ways of God. God said to Moses: “You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you.” Isaiah had said: “Your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, this is the way, walk in it.” The Psalmist prayed, “Teach me your way, O Lord.” The Jews prayed much about what God taught them concerning how we must walk. And then Jesus said: “I am the way.” We’ll get to its full significance in a second.
    • Jesus also said “I am the Truth.” A Jew would have been similarly amazed by this statement. The Jews prayed in the Psalms, “Teach me thy way, O Lord, so that I may walk in thy truth” and “I have chosen the way of truth.” Many men have told us the truth, but no man ever embodied it. What did Jesus mean? Hold on.
    • Third Jesus said “I am the life.” Constantly on the lips of Jews were prayers for God to lead them into life. The psalmist prayed to God, “Show me the path of life.” In the Book of Proverbs, they’d say to God, “He who heeds your instructions is on the path to life.”
    • In saying that he was the Way, the Truth and the Life, Jesus was saying that he was the fulfillment, the personification of all of these hopes and prayers of the Jews.
  • But Jesus is the fulfillment not merely of all the Jews’ prayers and Scripture but of the prayers that perennially swell up in every human person’s heart.
    • There are so many who are lost, who don’t know where to find God, who wander through a valley of darkness with no clear sense of direction, about where they should go. Jesus says I am the Way.
    • There are so many others who a searching for answers to the biggest questions. Jesus says I am the Truth.
    • There are so many others who want to experience total human fulfillment, who seek happiness in all types of good things and occasionally in bad things, but Jesus says to all those seeking the fullness of human life, I am the Life.
  • What did Jesus mean?
    • I am the Way
      • Probably every single one of us has had the experience of being lost. A few years ago I was heading down to Rhode Island to give a short religious conference. The sisters had given me directions. I had printed off a map from the Internet. But even with both, I kept driving around and around, and couldn’t find it. Finally, I saw a policeman stopped at an intersection. I pulled up aside him, rolled down my window and he rolled down his. I asked him if he knew how to get to the particular address. He said to me in response, “Sure, Father, I could give you directions, but I think the easiest way is that you just follow me.” And then he led me to where I needed to go.
      • That’s what Jesus wants to do with all of us. In the commandments, in his word, we have the directions to get to where he wants us to end up, heaven, in that place where he’s gone to prepare a place for us. If we follow them, we’ll end up there. But sometimes following those directions is hard and we can end up lost. We even have a sure and true road map in Sacred Scripture and in the Catechism and teachings of the Church Jesus founded. If we follow that map all the way, we, too, thanks to God’s love and help, will end up at the eternal destination of heaven. But following that map through the unchartered territory, roadblocks and detours of life, is often hard, and we can get lost as well. But Jesus came to earth and said to each of us, like the cop said to me, “Follow-me.” He made it as simple as possible. It doesn’t matter how many construction roadblocks we encounter. It doesn’t matter how many lefts, how many rights, how many forks, how many detours. All we need to do to arrive at where we want to go is to follow Jesus all the way. What a great gift that is! The only way to make sure we don’t get lost in this world is to make sure we keep our eyes firmly fixed on him.
    • I am the Truth
      • The day after Jesus pronounced these words to the apostles in the upper room, Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Truth is, basically, the correspondence between something, a phrase, a thought, an idea and reality. Truth is what is real. For example, if I say, “It’s a sunny day,” you can go outside to see if that statement accords with reality. If it does, the statement is true. If it doesn’t, I’m lying. When Jesus says that he is the truth, what he is ultimately saying is that he is the ground of all reality. That he is what is most real. That he is the source of all truth. That after everything we know passes away, everything we see and deal with on a daily basis, even our own body, that God still is.
      • Too often, we can treat so many other things as more real than Jesus. We can treat the Eucharist as a concept or as a piece of bread. We can treat the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which our eighth graders will receive at Confirmation this Wednesday, as just poetic fantasies. We can think of the whole life of grace, which is lost by sinning, but gained by confession and the sacraments, as somehow much less real than the clothes we’re wearing, the money in our pockets, the people we’re contacting, etc. It’s actually the other way around. Jesus is most real of all. He says that he is the truth, not that he teaches us truths. To be most real, to ground ourselves most deeply in reality, we have to base everything we do on Jesus. If Jesus were to have just said, “Here’s the Bible. The answer’s in here,” he would have made doing the right thing, living the truth, dependent upon our intelligence and understanding. But rather he said, “I am the truth.” This is why a properly informed conscience who in every situation tries to do what Jesus would do will almost always do the right thing,
    • I am the Life
      • Jesus is more than just alive. He does more than give life to the world he created, to the plants, to the animals. He does more than simply give physical life, which he gave to all of us, by making fruitful the love of our parents and infusing a soul. He does more than simply give us spiritual life through the sacraments he instituted for our salvation. He does more than give us his own living body and blood in the Eucharist. Jesus is life incarnate. To the extent we’re alive at all, we’re alive in him. We owe our physical life to him and if he didn’t hold us in existence, we would disappear. We owe our spiritual life to him. And, God-willing, we will owe our eternal life to him, if we share in his life in this world, so as to share in it eternally in the next. Jesus said, “Just as the Father who has life sent me and I have life because of the Father, so the one who eats me will live because of me.” This is the means by which Jesus fulfills his words, “I came that they may have life and have it to the full.” He wants to be the life inside of us, the reason we do everything we do. And if he’s not right now, that’s not his fault.
    • We’re called to build our life on Jesus and build our parish on Jesus, to make him the foundation of our existence. We know how houses are built. The foundation is key. Jesus talked about it in the Sermon on the Mount, building on rock or building on sand. The one who builds on rock is the one who hears his words and acts on them; the one who builds his house on sand hears the words, but doesn’t act on them. And when the rains come, the storms, the house is swept away. To build our life on the living cornerstone who is Jesus means:
      • To follow Jesus along the way.
        • This means first we need to be ready to get up and go, to change, to leave where we are now and like Abraham go to a place God will show us. Our relationship with Jesus is meant to be fundamentally dynamic.
        • This also clearly means we need to follow the path of morality Jesus indicates to us. His path is the path of the beatitudes, not the path of the world. His path is the way of the Cross not the way of crowds. His path is the way of self-giving, not receiving.
        • To build our life on Jesus the Way means to go with Jesus to those in need, to love them, to help them, to help save them, like the Good Samaritan.
        • This is what we’re called to do as individuals and as a parish.
      • To get to know Jesus the truth
        • He needs to be the deepest reality of our life. We understand ourselves, everything about the world, through Him.
        • If we’re really building ourselves on Jesus the Truth, then we should have a real hunger to get to know what he teaches us. We should study his holy word so that we can build our lives on it. We should know it well enough to be able to pass it on to others.
        • This is key both as individuals and as a parish.
      • To receive Jesus’ life
        • We do this in the sacraments most especially and in prayer.
        • Church calls us to a Eucharistic life. Source and Summit. I was criticized recently in a blog by someone who said that he or she initially liked me but then I lost my mind because I started to say that we’re called not merely to be good Catholics but to be saints and that I was strongly encouraging people to attend daily Mass.
        • But that’s what it means to build our life on Jesus as our life, to make receiving his life the true foundation of our existence, more than work, more than health, more than anything else.
        • This is true for us as individuals and as a community.
      • Building project. Living stones.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1ACTS 6:1-7

As the number of disciples continued to grow,
the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews
because their widows
were being neglected in the daily distribution.
So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said,
“It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.
Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men,
filled with the Spirit and wisdom,
whom we shall appoint to this task,
whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer
and to the ministry of the word.”
The proposal was acceptable to the whole community,
so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit,
also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas,
and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
They presented these men to the apostles
who prayed and laid hands on them.
The word of God continued to spread,
and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly;
even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

Responsorial PsalmPS 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19

R. (22) Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
R. Alleluia.
Exult, you just, in the LORD;
praise from the upright is fitting.
Give thanks to the LORD on the harp;
with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises.
R. Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
R. Alleluia.
Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
R. Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
R. Alleluia.
See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
R. Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
R. Alleluia.

Reading 21 PT 2:4-9

Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings
but chosen and precious in the sight of God,
and, like living stones,
let yourselves be built into a spiritual house
to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices
acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
For it says in Scripture:
Behold, I am laying a stone in Zion,
a cornerstone, chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in it shall not be put to shame.

Therefore, its value is for you who have faith, but for those without faith:
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,
A stone that will make people stumble,
and a rock that will make them fall.

They stumble by disobeying the word, as is their destiny.

You are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people of his own,
so that you may announce the praises” of him
who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

AlleluiaJN 14:6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the way, the truth and the life, says the Lord;
no one comes to the Father, except through me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

GospelJN 14:1-12

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.
Where I am going you know the way.”
Thomas said to him,
“Master, we do not know where you are going;
how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him,
“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.
The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me,
or else, believe because of the works themselves.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in me will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father.”