Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Memorial of St. Athanasius
May 2, 2015
Acts 13:44-52, Ps 98, Jn 14:1-14
To listen to an audio version of today’s homily, please click below:
To listen to a slightly longer homily given at a Day of Recollection for Consecrated Women, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- On Thursday, before the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker yesterday, we heard part of St. Paul’s homily in the Synagogue of Antioch in Pisidia in which he covered six points: the Jews’ longing for salvation; Jesus’ coming as Savior; their leaders’ rejection of that salvation through conspiring to have him crucified; God’s response in raising him from the dead; God’s desire to bring that salvation to all; and our choice to accept it or reject it today. Today we see the response to that homily: Some joyfully accepted the salvation Jesus was offering through Saints Paul and Barnabas and others jealously rejected it.
- The setting is the same Synagogue on the following Sabbath. Since their initial homily, word had spread. Now, a week later, “almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord,” a propitious occurrence at first sight. Jews and Gentiles had all come. The Jews had come because of what they had heard Paul and Barnabas say last week. They wanted to hear more. The Gentiles had come almost certainly because the “God-fearers,” the technical term for non-Jews who used to come to the Synagogue each Sabbath to hear the Word of God but who didn’t want to submit to circumcision or other aspects of the Jewish law, had doubtless spread word of the two men who had talked about salvation through the forgiveness of their sins being extended even to them.
- The Jews, however, were upset that so many Gentiles were there, hearing the Word of God as if it were meant for them. They could tolerate a few “God fearers,” attesting to the worth of what happens in their Synagogue. But to have the whole city there — in which there were far more Gentiles than Jews — risked watering everything down. And so, rather than continuing to listen to Paul as they did the previous week, they turned on him. St. Luke tells us, “When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.” A short time later they “incited the women of prominence who were worshipers and the leading men of the city [and] stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory.” Even though the prophets Isaiah, Daniel, Jeremiah and Ezekiel had all prophesied that salvation would be extended to all the nations, these Jews wanted to maintain their privilege, and for that reason they, like many of the scribes, Pharisees, and chief priests in Jerusalem, refused to allow the fulfillment of those words. When Paul and Barnabas said, “The Lord has commanded us, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth,’” many of the Jews in Antioch of Pisidia tried to extinguish that light.
- But the Gentiles there rejoiced in that light. Paul and Barnabas said to the Jews, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” Acts tell us that the Gentiles “delighted when they hear this and glorified the word of the Lord.” They “came to believe” and to help spread the word of the Lord to the whole region. Even after Paul and Barnabas were expelled, “the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit,” because they had received the Lord and were now walking in his light.
- This is more than an historical episode, but something that points to a perennial truth about how we’re supposed to receive God’s word and particularly his will to save all people. Do we really share that universal redemptive desire of God? The Word of God has been, in some sense, spoken to all of us “first,” like it was to the ancient Jews — at least in the sense that it has been proclaimed to us before many others — but do we want it to spread to everyone? At a very practical level, if five years from now the parishioners at a proudly Irish parish were overwhelmed in five years, thanks to immigration and evangelization, with a thousand new Spanish speakers, would the reaction be, “Thanks be to God for the faith of all these new brothers and sisters in Christ?,” or would it be to murmur, “My parish is not the same! Now there are three Spanish Masses and only two English Masses! Father seems to spend more time speaking Spanish than he does English!”? In some religious communities we see a similar thing. There’s one community I help out at that has received so many new vocations that the older sisters, while admitting that they’re grateful that God is calling many to their convent, basically resent that their community is “no longer the same,” that many of the younger sisters are asking for things like more Latin, and so on. The reality is that some of us accept with joy God’s wanting his Gospel to reach everyone and others of us reject that will because of jealousy over our own privileges or conveniences. We need to be aware of this, because we will never share the word of God with others — which is what all of us should be doing as faithful disciples! — unless we really want everyone to receive and live by the Word of God. If we’re jealous, if we want to keep things to ourselves, if we want to maintain our comfort zones and privileges, we’ll be very sparing in our spreading the Gospel, giving it only to those we think eligible to be members of our religious club and not spreading it to those who fail to meet our standards of membership.
- This dynamic of acceptance versus rejection is developed in the Gospel. Jesus often talked about the hardened, rocky and thorny soil that rejects his word, about the weeds and the wheat, about the big net of fish including some will be tossed back in. These are all images of how some accept him and others reject him, and in doing so accept or reject his salvation. In the first part of today’s Gospel [taken from Friday of the Fourth Week, since yesterday we celebrated the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker and the Church encourages us to combine the readings when that happens so that we can better appreciate the flow of Sacred Scripture in context], Jesus tells us that the only way to the Father’s house, to heaven, to being united with God forever is through him. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” he declared. “No one comes to the Father except through me.” To accept Jesus as the Way means that we will follow him. To accept him as the Truth means that we will believe Him and allow that truth to set us free from the lies on which we often comfortably base our existence. To accept him as the Life means that we will live off of him, deriving our very life from him not just theoretically but practically every day. The Christian life is a communion with God, a relationship, an intimate covenantal bond with Jesus through the Holy Spirit and in him with the Father. Jesus’ words, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life,” would have startled Jews, who always prayed in the Psalms for God to show them his paths so that they might know and walk in his truth, who begged him to show them the path of life. Jesus was saying, “I am that Path, I am that Truth, I am that Life.”
- When St. Philip asks Jesus to them them the Father, Jesus reveals that anyone who has seen him — the perfect image of the invisible God — has seen the Father because he abides in the Father and the Father in him, because the Father speaks through him and the Father dwells in him doing his works. What’s startling is that Jesus tells us that if we abide in him, if we follow him who is the Way, believe in Him who is the Way, and enter into Him who is the Life, the Father through Jesus will be able to work in us and those works will be even greater than the works Jesus himself has done in life. “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. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” It was one thing for the eternal Son of God to do the works of the Father in Palestine. It will be something even greater for his Mystical Body to do works throughout the world. Jesus himself raised the dead, cured lepers, made the blind see, exorcised demons, fed multitudes with paltry starting material and rose from the dead. What we will be able to do in his name is bring him from heaven to earth under the appearance of bread and wine, forgive sins in God’s name, and love others far more quantitatively extensively than he has loved us. And in so doing, bring many others to the the life, the truth and the path who is Jesus and to which he calls us all.
- Jesus reminds us through Philip that to accept him means to see the Father in Him, to hear the Father speaking through Him, to observe the Father doing his works through Him. Accepting Jesus also means that others will be able to see the Father and the Son in us, to hear his words through us, to see his deeds of love done with our own hands and hearts. That’s why Jesus was able to say to us on Thursday that the one who receives us receives him and in receiving him-and-us, receives the Father. Because of this Communion we’re supposed to have with Jesus, our Way, Truth and Life, Jesus tells us not only that we will go “greater” works than he has done but wants us to do those greater works, so that God will be glorified. And in so doing, we will undergo a similar pattern of acceptance and rejection, just like Jesus did, and just like Paul and Barnabas did in Antioch in Pisidia,. People who want to follow their own paths rather than follow Jesus, those who don’t want to accept the truth he proclaims when it doesn’t align with their opinions or preferences, those who don’t want to live full-time off of him, but receive his gift of life and then go do their own thing, those who want to hear themselves rather than pass on Jesus’ words, those who want to do things for their glory rather than God’s, those who want to be seen rather than those who humbly want God to shine, will reject us when we proclaim not just Jesus’ words but proclaim him through our union with him. One of the things that made Saints Paul and Barnabas so effective is that they realized it wasn’t about them, but about God, and they were able to preach his salvation and seek to bring others to receive it because they themselves were united to God in all of these ways, even joyfully uniting themselves to Jesus’ rejection and sufferings when those came their way as well.
- These truths are shown to us in the life of the great bishop and doctor of the Church we celebrate today, Saint Athanasius. He was a young deacon assisting the Patriarch of Alexandria (Egypt) at the Council of Nicaea in 325. This was the first Ecumenical Council, called 12 years after the legalization of Christianity, to deal with the teachings of an Egyptian priest Arius who was claiming that Jesus wasn’t God, that he wasn’t eternal, that he was just figuratively the Son of God and just a man, albeit the holiest man who had ever lived. The brilliant deacon Athanasius led the charge against Arius teaching, which he persuaded the Council to condemn, and it was largely out of his work that we have the Nicene Creed we proclaim every Sunday. But even though the Arians lost, their false theological ideas were not extinguished. Over the course of time, Arians, those who didn’t believe Jesus was 100 percent God and 100 percent man, gained the upper hand in civil and Church politics. Various bishops and priests were Arians as were some emperors. For that reason, St. Athanasius was persecuted, multiply exiled, and had to suffer a great deal. Five different times he was banished from his see by command of the emperor. 17 years he spent in exile. But he kept united to Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life, through it all. He sought to unite his flock by his writings. And he continues to help us us to see Jesus and in him the Father through the great teachings he’s bequeathed to us. He suffered for the truth of the Gospel we have heard today, that in Jesus we see the face of the Eternal Father, and Jesus is, as Athanasius helped to write in Nicaea, “the only begotten Son of God, God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” And it was in his sufferings that we were able to glimpse the Lord’s sufferings in his Mystical Body and also the Father’s love that makes it possible for us to bear those sufferings to please Him and to reunite his family.
- As we prepare to receive today that true God from true God, to take within us Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, to consume the incarnate Light to the Nations, we ask him for the grace to accept him to so great a degree that we will unite ourselves wholeheartedly to his saving will and announce him to those here in New York with the same boldness with which Paul and Barnabas did in Galatia and beyond, so that the “disciples [will be] filled with joy and the Holy Spirit!”
The readings for today’s Mass were:
almost the whole city
gathered to hear the word of the Lord.
When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy
and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.
Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said,
“It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first,
but since you reject it
and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life,
we now turn to the Gentiles.
For so the Lord has commanded us,
I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
that you may be an instrument of salvation
to the ends of the earth.”The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this
and glorified the word of the Lord.
All who were destined for eternal life came to believe,
and the word of the Lord continued to spread
through the whole region.
The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers
and the leading men of the city,
stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas,
and expelled them from their territory.
So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them
and went to Iconium.
The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
PS 98:1, 2-3AB, 3CD-4
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
His right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
“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 Jesus,
“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.
And whatever you ask in my name, I will do,
so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.”