Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, New York, NY
Third Sunday of Easter, Year B
April 19, 2015
Acts 3:13-15.17-19, Ps 4, 1 John 2:1-5, Lk 24:35-48
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided the homily:
Why no Easter Party?
If ever there were a day for a party, it was the day Jesus rose from the dead! It was the happiest day in all of human history, made more jubilant by ending the terrible despair and dejection of the disciples over the previous two days. And once the immense shock of seeing Jesus risen from the dead walk through the closed doors of the Upper Room to greet them had worn off, St. Luke tells us that the disciples were “incredulous for joy and amazed.” But they didn’t run out for gallons of wine or ask Jesus to convert water into champagne. Jesus didn’t call for cakes and fruit and other Middle Eastern celebratory fare. Instead, in the midst of the joy of his resurrection, Jesus turned the Upper Room into a vocational training school and began to finish the training of the disciples and apostles to fulfill his saving mission. There was a certain urgency involved in this that Jesus didn’t want to put off until the morrow: the fields were white and ready for the harvest (Jn 4:35) and Jesus wanted the apostles and the disciples with them to get ready to go out to take in that harvest.
We know that by this scene in the Gospel, Jesus had already spent three years with the apostles, teaching them, sending them out to preach in his name, to cure the sick, to raise the dead. He had already shown them the example of service, washing their feet in the Upper Room three days earlier and instructing them to go to do the same. He had already ordained them priests on the same night and given them the ability to bring down his body and blood to the altars. He had already given them the ability to forgive and retain sins on Easter Sunday evening, as we pondered last Sunday. He had already shown them the example of his whole life as a model to follow, living for God and dying out of love for God and for others. In today’s Gospel, we see how he finishes his preparations so that they might become his witnesses to all nations.
What it means to be a witness
Pope Francis gave a beautiful reflection this morning in St. Peter’s Square before he prayed the Regina Caeli with tens of thousands from all over the world. He focused on the reality of being a witness for Christ and sought to help us all to grasp that the commission Jesus gave those in the Upper Room is the same as the one he has given us all by Baptism and Confirmation. I think it’s among his most moving Sunday meditations in his two years as Pope and so I’d like to share many of his helpful thoughts with you.
“In the biblical readings of today’s liturgy,” Pope Francis begins, “the word ‘witness’ resounds twice. The first time is on the lips of Peter [in today’s first reading]: he, after the healing of the paralytic at the door of the temple of Jerusalem, exclaims: ‘The author of life you put to death, but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses’ (Acts 3:15). The second time is on the lips of Jesus Risen: He, on the evening of Passover opens the minds of the disciples to the mystery of His death and resurrection and says to them: ‘You are witnesses of these things’ (Lk. 24:48). The Apostles, who saw with their own eyes the Risen Christ, could not keep silent about their extraordinary experience. He had revealed himself to them so that the truth of his resurrection could reach everyone through their witness. And the Church has the duty to prolong this mission, every baptized person is called to give witness, with their words and with their lives, that Jesus is risen, that He is alive and present among us. We all are called to give witness that Jesus is alive!”
But then Pope Francis asked, “Who is the witness?” What do we need to do to become the witnesses Jesus wants and needs? Pope Francis answered by describing the three qualifications of a witness: “The witness is one  who has seen,  who remembers and  who recounts. To see, to remember and to tell are the three verbs that describes the identity and mission” of the witness.
Then Pope Francis fleshes out how each of us is called to see Jesus, to remember him, and to tell of him to others. “The witness,” Pope Francis says, “is one who has seen with objective eyes, he has seen a reality, but not with indifferent eyes; he has seen and involves himself in the event.” In other words, the witness is not a dispassionate, “objective,” observer but someone who has entered into the event with passion. “That is why he remembers,” Pope Francis continues, “not only because he knows how to precisely reconstruct the events, but also because those facts have spoken and he has grasped their profound meaning.” And because he recognizes that meaning, while intensely personal, is not meant merely for him, he seeks to help others have a similar experience. “Then the witness recounts, not in a cold and detached way, but as one who has questioned himself, and from that the day has changed his life. The witness is someone who has had his life changed. The content of a Christian witness is not a theory, an ideology or a complex system of precepts and prohibitions, or even a moralism. But rather a message of salvation, a concrete event, indeed a Person: it is Christ Risen, living and sole Savior of all.”
Jesus’ preparation of the disciples to see him, remember him and announce him
Jesus was preparing the apostles in this room to give this three-fold witness. First, he allowed himself to be seen, to be encountered, to be embraced. “Touch me and see,” he exclaimed, and showed them his hands and his feet. Then he helped them to remember. Like he did with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, he turned the Upper Room into a Bible School. “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled,” he said, as “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” He probably started with the proto-Gospel of how the offspring of the woman would stomp on the devil’s head. He doubtless talked about how he was the fulfillment of Abel unjustly killed by his brother; of Isaac, who carried the wood for the Sacrifice like Jesus carried the wood of the Cross and was the Lamb Abraham said would be provided; of Moses, as he completed the ancient Passover rite and was leading the people through the desert of death into the eternal promised land; of the just man beset by evil doers and the suffering servant announced by Isaiah; and of Jonah who would rise from the belly of the earth on the third day and fulfill Ezekiel’s prophecy of the dry bones, so that Isaiah’s, Jeremiah’s, Ezekiel’s and Daniel’s prophecies that God’s salvation would be brought to the end of the earth would all come true. Jesus finished in today’s account by summarizing all of this: ‘Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” They were to be the eyewitnesses of the person of Jesus, of his truth that sets people free, of the words that lead to eternal life.
Pope Francis said this morning that Jesus wants to train us in that same vocational school to send us out just like he sent his first apostles. He wants us to be his witnesses, those who see Jesus, remember him and his words, and tell of him and those words to others. This path of training for us, Pope Francis says, happens through the “personal experience of [Jesus], in prayer and in the Church, through a path that has its foundation in Baptism, its nourishment in the Eucharist, its seal in Confirmation, its continuing conversion in Penance. Thanks to this path, always guided by the Word of God, every Christian can become a witness of Jesus Risen. And his witness is all the more credible the more it is evident by a way of living that is evangelical, joyful, courageous, meek, peaceful, merciful.”
The importance of these three stages
The path begins with the encounter and this can’t be taken for granted. There are many Catholics, including those who come to Mass each Sunday, those who keep the Ten Commandments, those who are engaged in good, charitable works, who only know about Jesus rather than really know him personally. They “say their prayers” rather than enter into a genuine prayerful dialogue with the risen Lord. They go to confession and forensically audit their soul, but they do so as if they were engaging in a good spiritual exercise rather than meeting the Lord Jesus who out of mercy died to take those sins away. They come to Mass if they were attending just any old other commemoration or sacred ceremony, rather than really meeting Jesus Christ — the same Jesus who was wrapped in swaddling clothes, who walked the dusty streets of Palestine and hurdled the saves of the Galilean Sea, who was hammered to the Tree on Calvary, rose from the dead, and entered the Upper Room. Many young people live by the good Catholic values they’ve inherited from their parents, grandparents and godparents, but haven’t yet made those values personal. They’ve comfortable answering the question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?,” but not, “Who do you say that I am?,” because they really haven’t had that personal encounter with Jesus that is supposed to be the source and summit of every day in the life of a Christian who prays and lives by faith. One recent Catholic author, Sherry Weddell, stresses that it is key for us to become intentional disciples, people who have made the concrete choice to embrace Jesus and his message, to follow him, to think like him, love like him, live and die like him.
In order to become a witness, however, we need to do more than simply encounter Jesus. We know that there were many people in Jesus’ time who met him, who heard his words, who even could repeat them, but they chose not to follow him and not to help bring others to encounter and follow him as well. Nicodemus, for example, came to meet Jesus by night, because he was too afraid to encounter him in the daylight and potentially put at risk his position with the Sanhedrin. We are called to be Jesus’ witnesses, not — as Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston likes to say — members of a witness protection program. Jesus meets us not only to change our lives for ever but to make us his instruments to change others lives in the same radical way. Once Andrew had met Jesus, he went and brought his brother Simon to meet him, and Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter. Once the Samaritan woman met Jesus, she ran to her townspeople and encouraged all of them to come to meet Jesus, too. One various people had been cured by Jesus, they couldn’t help but spread word of Jesus to others, even when he asked them to tell no one. They couldn’t help themselves from sharing what Jesus had done for them. If we’ve really encountered Jesus, we can’t help but share him. In the most beautiful paragraph of his apostolic exhortation on The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis said that the Christian, the true witness, is one who is “convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights. We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. This is why we evangelize. A true missionary, who never ceases to be a disciple, knows that Jesus walks with him, speaks to him, breathes with him, works with him. He senses Jesus alive with him in the midst of the missionary enterprise.” And so one litmus test as to whether we’ve really encountered Jesus in the way he wants to be encountered is if we are able to say, with St. Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!”
But there’s a third aspect of witness that we need to confront. The witness we’re called to give is one truly of Jesus, of his way of being, acting, interacting, and of the way he changes us for the better. We ought to be on guard about giving a scandalous counter-witness that rather than bringing people to Jesus can drive them away. Pope Francis warns, “If the Christian lets himself be taken by comfort, by vanity, by selfishness, if he becomes deaf and blind to the question of the ‘resurrection’ of so many brothers, how can he communicate the living Jesus, how can he communicate the liberating power of Jesus Christ, his infinite tenderness?” The 19th-century German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who coined the phrase “God is dead” and whose thoughts on the will to power provided one of the main philosophical foundations for the Nazist ideology, once said, “I may have been able to believe in a Redeemer, if I had ever met someone redeemed.” He had never met someone, he was claiming, who really lived the Christian faith, who reminded him of Jesus, who seemed to enflesh the Christian promise that we carry within the real presence of the risen Jesus Christ whom we receive in Holy Communion, whom we supposedly meet in prayer, and whose example we seek to make the real pattern of our life. The reality is that everyone who encounters us as Christians is meant to encounter someone redeemed. Everyone we meet should be able to spot in us someone who has seen Jesus, who remembers him and his words, who has had his life totally changed by Jesus, and who recognizes that the greatest gift he could ever give someone else is the gift of the Lord. This means, obviously, that we seek to live like Jesus. St. John, someone who did seek to pattern his entire life after Jesus and to try to help the first Christians do the same, stressed in today’s readings the importance of this Christian integrity and the example that flows from it. “The way we may be sure that we know [Jesus Christ],” he said, “is to keep his commandments. Those who say, ‘I know him,’ but do not keep his commandments are liars and the truth is not in them.” A Catholic for example who holds grudges rather than prays for persecutors, who uses others for pleasure, who dishonors parents, who lies or steals or blasphemes or places his faith, hope and love in money and what money can buy other than in God is a counter-witness. Perhaps one of the worst forms of counter-witness we can give is of lukewarmness and lack of enthusiasm. Sometimes Catholics come to Mass, for example, as if they going to watch paint dry, or worse, as if they coming to endure a torture session. Even though they’ll joyfully sing “Happy Birthday!” to a young family member, they won’t mutter a peep singing to God. Rather than behaving as if they truly believe the words, “We have lifted [our hearts] up to the Lord” and “Blessed are those who are called to the Supper of the Lamb,” they behave like the chosen frozen. And this is a particular scandal to the young. Over the course of my priesthood in various parishes, some of the young, when I ask them why they aren’t coming to Mass, have replied, “Why should I want to go to Mass when so few who show up seem to want to be there either?!”
To what or to whom are we giving witness?
This points to a truth that as Christians we give witness to what we believe whether we want to or not. The question for us is whether we give witness to the Risen Christ and his unbelievable gift of salvation, his teaching, his love, his presence, his Church, or whether we give witness that we don’t really believe what we profess we believe, or if we believe it conceptually, that we don’t love the Lord and the gift of our faith. No matter how we’ve lived in the past, this Easter Season Jesus wants to raise us all from the dead with him. He wants to help us to experience the power of his resurrection, so that we will no longer by “troubled” with “questions aris[ing] in our hearts,” but so that we will be “incredulous for joy” and “amazed.”
Just as much as St. Peter, instructed by Christ in today’s Gospel and filled with the Holy Spirit 50 days later on Pentecost, was out in the middle of the crowd in Jerusalem giving witness to the Risen Lord Jesus, so we, encountering the same Jesus here, are supposed to go out into Manhattan, into the midst of our circles, and witness. We’re supposed to be witnesses, first, of all that happened to Jesus, his life, death and resurrection; witnesses, second, to repentance and forgiveness of sins — that we ourselves have been reconciled through the mercy we have been commissioned to proclaim; witnesses ultimately of our first hand, life-changing contact with the Lord in prayer, in the Eucharist, in Sacred Scripture, in his merciful love, in Christian charity and even in our picking up our daily Crosses. We see and encounter the Risen Jesus in each of these ways. We remember him and all he said. And then we burst with the desire to share this good news, this antidote to death, this answer to the deepest of all human questions, with others, so that they might experience the Easter gifts of joy and peace that come from communion with God and with his Church.
Truly Living our Baptism!
On Easter Sunday evening, Jesus didn’t throw a big party, but instead formed us for the urgent task of going out and inviting everyone to a party. God is indeed planning such a celebration, a feast that will known no end, in heaven, and he is sending us out into the world with the invitation and the spiritual dress code. That garment, as Jesus indicates to us in one of his parables (Mt 22:1-14), is meant to be our baptismal garment, which on the day of baptism we’re instructed to keep unstained for the eternal life of heaven, to have it grow with us, so that we will always be found rejecting Satan, his evil works and empty promises, and not just believing but professing our faith in God the Father, in God the Son risen from the dead, in God the Holy Spirit, in the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. The Easter season is meant to help us to revivify these baptismal graces so that we might experience Jesus’ risen life in this world and forever. Today, as I give thanks to God on the 45th anniversary of my own baptism, we can all thank God for this gift and beg for his grace to have our ears and mouths opened again to hear God’s word and proclaim his faith to the praise and glory of God the Father. God gives us that grace and strengthens us for our Christian mission here in the Upper Room, where Jesus weekly — and even daily —meets us, teaches us, strengthens us, equips us, and feeds us. Jesus has risen from the dead and this has changed everything, including our life. May we joyfully share this encounter today with him risen from the dead and this greatest news of all time with all those we know.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 ACTS 3:13-15, 17-19
“The God of Abraham,
the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,
the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus,
whom you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence
when he had decided to release him.
You denied the Holy and Righteous One
and asked that a murderer be released to you.
The author of life you put to death,
but God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.
Now I know, brothers,
that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did;
but God has thus brought to fulfillment
what he had announced beforehand
through the mouth of all the prophets,
that his Christ would suffer.
Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”
Responsorial Psalm PS 4:2, 4, 7-8, 9
When I call, answer me, O my just God,
you who relieve me when I am in distress;
have pity on me, and hear my prayer!
R. Lord, let your face shine on us.
Know that the LORD does wonders for his faithful one;
the LORD will hear me when I call upon him.
R. Lord, let your face shine on us.
O LORD, let the light of your countenance shine upon us!
You put gladness into my heart.
R. Lord, let your face shine on us.
As soon as I lie down, I fall peacefully asleep,
for you alone, O LORD,
bring security to my dwelling.
R. Lord, let your face shine on us.
Reading 2 1 JN 2:1-5A
so that you may not commit sin.
But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ the righteous one.
He is expiation for our sins,
and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.
The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep
Those who say, “I know him,” but do not keep his commandments
are liars, and the truth is not in them.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.
Alleluia CF. LK 24:32
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Lord Jesus, open the Scriptures to us;
make our hearts burn while you speak to us.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel LK 24:35-48
The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way,
and how Jesus was made known to them
in the breaking of bread.
While they were still speaking about this,
he stood in their midst and said to them,
“Peace be with you.”
But they were startled and terrified
and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?
Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have.”
And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed,
he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of baked fish;
he took it and ate it in front of them.
He said to them,
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you,
that everything written about me in the law of Moses
and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.”
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
And he said to them,
“Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer
and rise from the dead on the third day
and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins,
would be preached in his name
to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things.”