Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter
May 7, 2014
Acts 8:1-8, Ps 66, Jn 6:35-40
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today Jesus continues for us his Bread of Life Discourse that the Church gives us every Easter season so that we can ponder how we’re supposed to encounter the Risen Jesus and experience within us the power of his resurrection and risen life. While he was saying these words in the Capernaum Synagogue, no one really knew what he really meant, about how he was to be the Bread of Life, how we were to eat his flesh and drink his blood and have life because of him. As we’ll see on Saturday, not even the apostles could understand how that was possible. It would only begin to make sense one year later when Jesus would take bread and wine into his hands during the Last Supper and totally change them into his Body and Blood, give himself to the apostles to eat and ordain them with the power to go out and do this in memory of him, so that we, too, could live off of Jesus. At the time, however, people were wrestling with the unpleasant cannibalistic overtones not to mention the aspects of Jewish law, particularly concerning touching not to mention drinking blood, that would make them ritually impure. So Jesus needed to focus on faith. He had said before that the work of God is to believe in the One God sent, and obviously to believe in Jesus is to believe in what he said. At the very end of the discourse, when Jesus asked the apostles whether they wanted to abandon him over the hard teaching of the Eucharist, Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” He was confessing he had no idea how he would eat Jesus’ Body and drink his blood, but because he believed in Jesus, he would believe in what he was teaching, even though it exceeded his capacity for imagination at the time. Today Jesus centers in on the process of faith needed to accept his words on the Eucharist and enter into risen life with him through his Body and Blood.
- Jesus’ words about faith in the Eucharist are really important for us today because, frankly, many Catholics have totally ceased to be scandalized by the Eucharist. Instead of thinking they’re consuming Jesus’ body and blood, they just believe they’re consuming “bread” and “wine.” Many approach to receive Jesus at Mass as if they’re receiving birthday cake at a birthday party, not as if they’re receiving God. They might think they’re doing something holy, but they’re not really conscious that they are preparing to do by far the most unbelievable action a human being could ever do, which is to enter into Communion with the One through whom all things were made. Just like Jesus said to those in the Capernaum Synagogue, so he could say to many Catholics, “Although you have seen me, you do not believe.” So let us ask Jesus to increase our faith as we ponder anew the words he says to us today!
- Jesus describes various stages of the process of faith in today’s Gospel. The first stage is grace. “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me.” Elsewhere he’ll say that no one can come to him unless the Father draw him. Faith is an unmerited gift of the loving Father. The Father first attracts. The second step is coming to Jesus. We come into his presence. “I will not reject anyone who comes to me,” Jesus says. The third step is seeing Jesus. We see him with our eyes, hear him with our ears, we come into contact with him through our senses. The fourth step requires both grace and freedom: we believe in him, we find him trustworthy and begin to trust in him and in what he says. Jesus says, “Everyone who sees the Son and believes in him…” Fifth, through faith we begin to experience his life, and because his life is eternal, our existence changes. Before we’re experiencing biological life, but not yet the supernatural life that God wants to give us. But everyone who sees the Son and believes in him has “eternal life” and Jesus promises to raise us on the last day. And that life begins not later when we die, but right now through communion with Jesus by means of the extravagant gift of the Holy Eucharist. “I am the bread of life,” Jesus begins this whole section by saying: “Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Jesus totally changes our desires, our aspirations, our hungers, our thirsts. He begins to give us a downpayment on their total fulfillment when he raises us on the last day, because through the progression of faith all the way toward the faithful communion with him, he’s raising us up on this day.
- That transformation of human existence into the Christian life has consequences. We see a dramatic illustration of those consequences in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. As we’ve been seeing throughout the readings of the Acts of the Apostles during this Easter Season, the Sanhedrin had long been threatening to do to the apostles and members of the early Church what they did to Jesus. They had been arresting the apostles, imprisoning them, threatening them, even flogging them. But they had resisted putting any to death until what we saw yesterday, when they ended up stoning St. Stephen for his reiterating what Jesus himself had taught and showing how all of salvation history reached its fulfillment in Jesus. Stephen’s martyrdom, presided over by Saul, unleashed a ferocious persecution. St. Luke tells us today, “There broke out a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles.” The Apostles courageously stood firm at first and didn’t move. Everyone else, probably at their behest, was scattered. And St. Luke, who eventually became the converted Saul’s secretary, tells us what Saul was doing: “Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment.” The Greek word St. Luke employs is basically the “savage ravaging” of a wild animal ripping up one’s prey. Once that began, the Christian diaspora occurred, as the Christians were scattered far and wide.
- But what happened when they fled? What did they say when they entered new neighborhoods? Did they say, “Woe are we! We’re being persecuted! We’re being hunted down as criminals by savage beasts! Please pity us and help us!?” No. “Those who had been scattered,” St. Luke says, “went about preaching the word.” The persecution was an opportunity for proclamation. Instead of preaching what would evidently seem to be their misfortune, they were preaching Christ and the power of his Resurrection. Their hunger and thirst were for God and his kingdom, not for their houses and their lives to remain undisturbed. They rejoiced in the blessings of their faith rather than lamented the sufferings on account of the faith. They saw in the diaspora, the scattering, an opportunity to take the message of Jesus to others, and they seized that opportunity. Likewise, our sufferings are often an opportunity for us to give witness to our faith to others whom we would never have met otherwise: perhaps it’s the medical staff in the hospital, or the people who witness how we handle an unjust attack, or even our fellow prisoners.
- We see what happened with the Deacon Philip. His needing to flee led to his bringing three things to the city of Samaria. First, he “proclaimed the Christ to them.” St. Luke tells us that “with one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said.” Second, he brought healing and liberation through the power of Jesus working through his faith: “unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured.” And third, as a result of bringing Jesus, his words, and his healing power, he brought Easter joy: ” There was great joy in that city,” St. Luke says. It’s a model for us. After the progression of faith that leads to a holy Communion with Jesus, a communion of hunger and thirst with him when we begin to desire what he desires and will what God wills, we bring word and witness of that risen life of Jesus to others. When we do so credibly, individuals and even crowds will pay attention. Then we’re called to bring healing and liberation. God can in fact use us to bring about spectacular physical and spiritual miracles, but normally he will use us to bring about ordinary, and even more important, miracles, helping people to find hope in the midst of pain, forgiveness in wounded relationships, purpose and direction for someone lost, in short the riches of a kingdom in the midst of lives that are spiritually impoverished. And when we bring that faith, that hope, that love — when we bring the presence and love of God — joy results. This is the way that “all the earth” will “cry out to God with joy.”
- The question for us is whether we’re going to wait for someone to savagely ravage our life, ransack our house, seek to arrest us and put us to death to wait until we bring Jesus, his healing and his joy to others. We shouldn’t have to wait. If we really grasp our faith, if we’ve really been drawn by the Father, come to Jesus, seen him, believed in him, experienced the power of his risen life triumphing over death, begun to hunger and thirst for what he wills and desires, and entered into a communion of love with him through receiving his holy body and blood as we are about to do, then spreading the joy we experience should become the most natural and supernatural thing we do. Today the Lord is calling each of us to be like the first Christians and at the end of this Mass to be scattered and go about to preach the Word so that some day, some holy Chronicler like St. Luke will be able to write about Fall River, “There was great joy in that city!”
The readings for today’s Mass were:
and all were scattered
throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria,
except the Apostles.
Devout men buried Stephen and made a loud lament over him.
Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church;
entering house after house and dragging out men and women,
he handed them over for imprisonment.Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word.
Thus Philip went down to the city of Samaria
and proclaimed the Christ to them.
With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip
when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing.
For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice,
came out of many possessed people,
and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured.
There was great joy in that city.
PS 66:1-3A, 4-5, 6-7A
Shout joyfully to God, all the earth,
sing praise to the glory of his name;
proclaim his glorious praise.
Say to God, “How tremendous are your deeds!”
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
“Let all on earth worship and sing praise to you,
sing praise to your name!”
Come and see the works of God,
his tremendous deeds among the children of Adam.
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
He has changed the sea into dry land;
through the river they passed on foot;
therefore let us rejoice in him.
He rules by his might forever.
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
“I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.
But I told you that although you have seen me,
you do not believe.
Everything that the Father gives me will come to me,
and I will not reject anyone who comes to me,
because I came down from heaven not to do my own will
but the will of the one who sent me.
And this is the will of the one who sent me,
that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,
but that I should raise it on the last day.
For this is the will of my Father,
that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him
may have eternal life,
and I shall raise him on the last day.”