Jesus as the Fulfillment of our Hopes for Direction, Truth and Life, 4th Friday of Easter, May 12, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Memorial of Blessed Alvaro del Portillo, Bishop
May 12, 2017
Acts 13:26-33, Ps 2, Jn 14:1-6

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In today’s first reading we have the second part of St. Paul’s word of exhortation in the Synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia. Yesterday we had the first 13 verses, today the next eight and the last five we have for homework. Throughout this “word of exhortation,” we see how St. Paul puts the Gospel into a context of what is relevant for his listeners.
    • He begins by discussing his listeners’ hopes and expectations, their longing for a Messiah, so that he can show how Jesus is the fulfillment of their deep desires. He shows there’s a purpose to history.
    • Second, he declares forthrightly that Jesus is the fulfillment of their hopes.
    • Third, he discusses that even though Jesus is their hope, many, in blind folly, rejected him, but that rejection didn’t have the final word, because God raised him from the dead, showing that hope placed in him is never in vain.
    • Finally, Paul makes that news actual, bringing us to a moment of decision. He describes how this is Good News, joy, for all of us who accept Jesus and begin to live by his ways — and bad news for those who disobey that summons.
  • This is the pattern of proclamation for us in every age. We begin with the context of people’s aspirations and hopes, how Jesus fulfills them, how God has triumphed over people’s sins and rejection in the past, and how he wants us to share in that victory, but we must choose to respond to that incredible offer. St. Paul would elsewhere describe his own conversion and how he was among those who initially opposed, but came to grasp this life and that’s what motivated him to share Jesus with others. Similarly we can always begin, even with those who have never heard of God, with their desire for happiness and lead them from that desire to see what we’ve found in Jesus as the fulfillment of our longings for happiness, give witness over time to the choice we’ve made for him and seek to help them imitate that choice.
  • Today in the Gospel Jesus meets those aspirations. He gives us one of his most famous phrases: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” We’ve heard Jesus’ self-description as the Way, the Truth and the Life so many times that their revolutionary shock value is almost entirely lost on us, but to first century Jewish listeners, they would have heard Jesus saying that he was the full realization of their three deepest religious aspirations. Jews had been praying for centuries, “Teach me your way, O Lord” and Jesus was saying, “I am the way.” They had been imploring God, “Teach me your decrees” that “I may walk in your truth,” and Jesus was saying, “I am the Truth.” They had been begging, “Show me the path of life,” and Jesus was indicating, “I am the Life.” Jesus was saying that he was the personification of all their religious aspirations and the answer to so many of their most insistent prayers. But these aspirations were not exclusively Jewish. They point to the perennial needs that spring up in every human life. Many times we’re lost, we don’t know where to go, we’re wandering through a valley of darkness with no clear sense of direction. To all of us in those circumstances, Jesus says, “I am the Way. Follow me!” There are many others who are stumped before life’s biggest questions, who are searching for answers and meaning, who don’t know what to believe, who don’t trust because they don’t know whom to trust. Jesus tells us, “I am the Truth. You have faith in God, have faith also in me.” And there are countless others who are struggling to have hope, who feel like they are having the marrow of existence sucked out of them, who are seeking happiness and human fulfillment sometimes in right places, sometimes in wrong. To them, Jesus responds, “I am the Life. Live off of me.” What does it mean to choose to build our lives on Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life? Let’s take each of Jesus’ affirmations individually and see.
    • Jesus says, “I am the Way.”  In the Commandments, in his Word, we have the directions we need to get to where Jesus wants us to end up, to the place he’s prepared for us in this life and forever. But Jesus wants to personalize those directions, saying to us far more than “Follow the map” but rather “Come, follow me.” He’s the Good Shepherd who comes out to search for us whenever we’re lost sheep. Many times he meets us when we’re like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, wandering away from Jerusalem and everything it stands for. Jesus comes to us on that road to help us to rediscover our path. He sends us as our spiritual GPS the Holy Spirit. He gives us a sure and true set of coordinates in Sacred Scripture and in the Catechism and teachings of the Church he founded. In a life full of going through unchartered territory, occasional roadblocks and detours, he helps us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on him so that he can lead us to the eternal destination of the Father’s house.
    • Jesus next says, “I am the Truth.” The day after Jesus pronounced these words to the apostles in the upper room, Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” If we’re going to understand Jesus’ expression and how we’re supposed to respond, we need first to answer Pilate’s question. 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 either mistaken or lying. When Jesus says that he is the truth, what he is ultimately declaring 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, like many in the world, we can treat other things as more real than Jesus and the truths of faith. The real, real world, we convince ourselves, are the clothes we’re wearing, the money in our pockets, the people we’re meeting, or the silly reality shows we’re watching. The real, real world is what’s being determined by Congress or the courts, or the strength of military might, or the consequences of scientific discoveries. We can treat God’s word as if it’s a group of fables or morality plays. We can consider prayer as just a time of rest. We can treat the Sacrament of Confession as an optional psychological exercise. We can view the Eucharist as a metaphor or as a piece of bread. We can regard the gifts of the Holy Spirit as just make-believe moral powers. We can think of the whole life of grace as spiritual monopoly money. It’s actually the other way around. Jesus is most real of all. He says that he is the Truth, not just that he teaches us truths. To be most real, to ground ourselves most deeply in reality, he calls us to base everything we are and do on him. At a practical level, 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 be praying, so that we can receive his help to see the things we need to deal with day-by-day from his perspective. We should be studying with ardor his holy word so that we can build our lives on it. We should be taking advantage of opportunities to get to know our faith much more deeply so that we can have become a living stone of truth in the midst of a world that often blows and buffets against our spiritual house and so that we can pass that on to others, so that they won’t be building their house on quicksand. We should be striving to know the truth in such a way that it will set us free to love God and to love others and keep us from being enslaved to the lies and slogans to which so many in our day succumb.
    • Third, Jesus said, “I am the Life.” Jesus is more than just alive. He does more than give physical life to the world he created, to the plants, to the animals and to us, by making fruitful the love of our parents and infusing a soul. He does more than give us spiritual life through the sacraments he instituted for our salvation. He 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 right now, 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 came, as he said to us last week, so that “they may have life and have it to the full,” but he doesn’t force his life on us. He wants us to choose to live off of him, to draw our very existence from him. How do we do this? We do so most especially in the sacraments, in prayer and in the moral life of love. That life with Jesus begins in baptism, is restored in confession, and is nourished in Holy Communion. But this life of Jesus within us is more than simply batteries for the soul that keep us going. It’s supposed to be the principle of our existence so that, eventually, we are able to say with St. Paul, “It is no longer even I who live, but Christ who lives in me” and “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave his life for me.” Whereas the world believes that the most important things in life, that the essential foundations, are money, property, education, influence and health, we recognize that it’s our relationship with Jesus. The most important thing in life is this personal discovery of Jesus, forming a life-changing friendship with him that will sustain us in life and into eternity.
  • Paul and Barnabas are examples of those who staked their life on his truth, who followed him all the way, who drew their very existence from him, and who gave their lives to try to help others, including strangers in far away places, get to know Him who is the Way, the Truth and Life. And today we celebrate the feast of someone who put this faith in Jesus as the Way, Truth and Life into practice. I like to call Blessed Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, the patron saint of multitaskers and multiple hat wearers, because of all he did to unite his life to Jesus as Way, Truth and Life and help others in a particular way to do so through their work. Don Alvaro del Portillo was a Spanish engineer, priest, bishop, Vatican II giant, author, friend of popes and paupers, and chief collaborator and successor to St. Josemaria Escriva leading Opus Dei, which was founded in 1928 to help people achieve holiness in the midst of all their ordinary duties of life. I first heard about Don Alvaro— “Don” is the Spanish and Italian title for a secular priest — soon after he visited my hometown in 1988 to have a get together with thousands of Catholics at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. When I began college a few months later and told some fellow Catholics where I was from, they asked whether I had gone to see him. I had no idea who he was or what Opus Dei was, but I soon found out. And I’m happy I did. Over the course of time, Don Alvaro’s writings and words began to have a big impact on me, especially with regard to sanctifying the ordinary things of life. He had superb ability to give practical advice on how to unite one’s study and work to God and how to turn even occasionally enormous amounts of work into a unified prayer. When he was in his 20s, at a time when engineering was Spain’s most prestigious profession, Alvaro went for two engineering degrees at the same time, something that would be akin today to going to medical school and law school simultaneously. After he finished the first, he began to work full-time while completing the second. At the same time he was traveling as a dedicated layman all over Spain, studying and sleeping in train cars, to spread the supernatural vision of Opus Dei. After the Spanish civil war — during which Alvaro was imprisoned, mistreated and repeatedly in danger of death for his faith — St. Josemaria asked him whether he would consider studying to be a priest so that he could give spiritual care to fellow Opus Dei members. He agreed. While doing all his seminary studies and continuing his travels, he also obtained on the side a civil doctorate in Philosophy and Literature. After his ordination St. Josemaria asked him to go to Rome. There he built Opus Dei’s headquarters, worked on Opus Dei’s legal status, supervised its expansion throughout Italy, got a doctorate in canon law summa cum laude, founded, taught moral theology at and served as the first rector of what is now the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, and served as St. Josemaria’s confessor and right hand. During the Second Vatican Council, while continuing his other tasks, Don Alvaro was appointed to assist on the Council’s general congregation, as well as to serve on the Commissions for the Laity, States of Perfection, Media, Bishops and Clergy. He would eventually become the secretary of the Clergy Commission and the principal coordinator for writing Presbyterorum Ordinis, Vatican II’s decree on the priesthood. After the Council, he served on a staggering 13 different Vatican Congregations, Councils and Commissions, including a very time-consuming service to revise the Church’s canon law. He did all of this while guiding Opus Dei and its 75,000 members world-wide, helping and then succeeding St. Josemaria, promoting St. Josemaria’s writings and canonization, and working to establish Opus Dei as a personal prelature. I should mention that while doing all of this he was battling crippling headaches and various other health complications. He gave his secret once: “To multiply our time, we need to have more presence of God. Then we will work with greater peace and greater intensity and with more desire of doing things well.” That presence of God is shown in the way we seek to walk Jesus’ path with him, to ground our life on his truth, and to allow his life in us to overflow.
  • He died on March 23 upon returning to Rome from Jerusalem. His Last Mass was in the Upper Room, and, as St. John Paul II pointed out when he came to pray at his mortal remains, the length of time between that Mass and his death was the same amount of time scholars believe between the Last Supper and Jesus’ death on Calvary. We celebrate his feast day on May 12 first in order to keep it outside of Lent but also because today was the day he made his first Holy Communion, and everything he did began with Jesus in the Eucharist as his source and summit, way, truth and life.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 ACTS 13:26-33

When Paul came to Antioch in Pisidia, he said in the synagogue:
“My brothers, children of the family of Abraham,
and those others among you who are God-fearing,
to us this word of salvation has been sent.
The inhabitants of Jerusalem and their leaders failed to recognize him,
and by condemning him they fulfilled the oracles of the prophets
that are read sabbath after sabbath.
For even though they found no grounds for a death sentence,
they asked Pilate to have him put to death,
and when they had accomplished all that was written about him,
they took him down from the tree and placed him in a tomb.
But God raised him from the dead,
and for many days he appeared to those
who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem.
These are now his witnesses before the people.
We ourselves are proclaiming this good news to you
that what God promised our fathers
he has brought to fulfillment for us, their children, by raising up Jesus,
as it is written in the second psalm,
You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 2:6-7, 8-9, 10-11AB

R. (7bc) You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.
or:
R. Alleluia.
“I myself have set up my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD:
The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
this day I have begotten you.”
R. You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.
or:
R. Alleluia.
“Ask of me and I will give you
the nations for an inheritance
and the ends of the earth for your possession.
You shall rule them with an iron rod;
you shall shatter them like an earthen dish.”
R. You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.
or:
R. Alleluia.
And now, O kings, give heed;
take warning, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice before him;
with trembling rejoice.
R. You are my Son; this day I have begotten you.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia JN 14:6

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

Gospel JN 14:1-6

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.”