Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter
May 6, 2016
Acts 18:9-18, Ps 47, Jn 16:20-23
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted during the homily:
- It’s easy to see why the Church gives us today’s Gospel passage on the day after the Ascension of the Lord. Jesus says to us today, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy away from you.” These words certainly apply to what is to happen, we pray by God’s mercy, to each of us one day when we see Jesus in all his glory and we have a chance to rejoice with all the saints. But we know that these words were said during the Last Supper and were referring more precisely to what would happen over the course of the subsequent three days, that Jesus would be taken away from them, that they would mourn as many in the world would rejoice, but that when Jesus would return risen from the dead, they would indeed rejoice with a joy that would know no bounds or end.
- But what I’d like to ponder today are two things that Jesus says to us in the Gospel that are central for our living our Catholic faith in light of Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension to God’s right hand where he’s gone to prepare a place for us. The first is his image of childbirth as an analogy of what he was about to endure and what we as Christians need to endure. To describe the passage from grief to joy, he said, “When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.” After the Fall, no woman looks forward to labor, but once a child is born, the pain of contractions and child birth are all relativized due to the great joy of holding her baby in her arms. In order to experience that joy, however, you have to go through birth pangs. You can’t have the joy of a mom without it. It’s similar in the spiritual life. In order to enter into the joy of Jesus’ resurrection, we need to enter into his labor, his contractions, his pangs to bring about a new world. We need to enter into his Passion, death and resurrection. One of the reasons why many people, including Catholics, don’t experience this joy is precisely because they haven’t entered into labor with Christ. They haven’t grieved with Jesus over the sins that brought about the pains of spiritual childbirth. Jesus permits us some sufferings precisely so that we can appreciate the joy that comes from his redeeming presence. There’s a similar pain in the life of spiritual motherhood or fatherhood exercised by parents as well as by religious and priests. St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you!”(Gal 4:19). We suffer until the presence, the love, the joy of Christ be brought to completion in others. In summary, in human life there’s a concomitant experience between the pangs of childbirth and the joy of possession, but the latter is meant to overwhelm the former.
- That leads to the second point I want to capture from today’s Gospel is how Jesus says that when he comes back, “on that day you will not question me about anything.” They will have no more questions precisely because Jesus through his Resurrection — and all the more through his Ascension and eventual second coming — will become the definitive Answer to every fundamental question we have. If we’re wondering about the meaning of our or a loved one’s or a sick child’s suffering and death, we’re able to see that after the childbirth of those sufferings, even a life full of sufferings, there is to be a joy greater than a mom’s holding her first born child. The Resurrection of Jesus is what gives meaning to the pangs experienced by the martyrs, to the sufferings we experience in trying to live by or spread our faith.
- We see both of these truths at work in the experience of St. Paul in today’s first reading. Soon after Paul arrived in Corinth and was rejected by the Jews in the Synagogue, Jesus appeared to him in a vision and said, “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you” and “I have many people in this city.” What was St. Paul afraid of? He wasn’t afraid of physical suffering. He had already had his share of beatings, stonings, perilous journeys, imprisonments and revilement. He was a little afraid, it seems, of preaching about this necessary childbirth we need in order to experience Christian joy. On Wednesday, we encountered St. Paul in Athens, when he gave an extraordinary rhetorical address announcing to the Athenians in the Areopagus the identity of the “unknown god” to whom they had erected an altar. But as beautiful as that philosophical and theological oratory was, it wasn’t particularly effective. Other than a few people, the vast majority politely blew him off, saying that they would hear about this from him on another day. And they did this because he was talking about Jesus’ having been raised from the dead. Paul didn’t even bother saying that this unknown God had be brutally crucified. After that failure, Paul crossed the isthmus into Corinth and, with God’s help, reached a conclusion. He gives witness to it in his first letter to the Church in Corinth, which came later. “When I came to you, brothers, proclaiming the mystery of God,” he wrote, “I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive [words of] wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God” (1 Cor 2:1-5). What was that power and wisdom? It’s Christ crucified and our need to be crucified with him. “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:22-24). As we see in the early preaching of St. Paul — different from St. Peter’s — Paul didn’t feature Christ’s crucifixion because he knew that it was a “scandal” to Jews (who would obviously struggle to accept that the Messiah, who was expected to evict occupying forces and reestablish the Davidic kingdom, would be publicly executed by that same occupying force, not to mention that he would both claim to be God and then be killed, something that they would have considered unfathomable) and a “folly” to Greek pagans (because wisdom was the art of living and dying well, and someone who couldn’t avoid crucifixion was obviously a fool). But after Athens, he resolved that rather than running away, he would begin to show how Jesus on the Cross was the power and wisdom of God, the power of divine love and the true wisdom of how to live and die so as to live forever. That’s what Jesus was telling him not to be afraid to proclaim. And St. Paul would proclaim it not principally with words but with his own life, entering into Jesus own childbirth to such a degree that he would be able to say to the Galatians later that he had been crucified with Christ and the life he now lived in the flesh he lived by faith in the Son of God who loved him and gave his life up for him (Gal 2:20). Jesus’ resurrection was the dramatic explanation, the definitive response, of the purpose of his and all suffering, and St. Paul was able to lead many on that passage from childbirth to joy.
- All of us enter into Jesus’ childbirth, his labor pains, at every Mass, as we enter in time into his eternal passage through suffering and death to the joy of new life. It’s here that we bring all our labor pains and end up, not by holding a beautiful baby in our hands — as happy an experience as that is for every one, including, or I should say, especially for us who are chaste celibates! — but something even greater. We get to hold Jesus Christ in our hands just like Mary and Joseph did, and then become one with Him on the inside. Many people don’t experience anywhere near the joy that this is supposed to give because they haven’t gone through the stage of grieve, the pains of their grievous sins, the wounds received by the grievous sins of others. But this is what the Mass makes possible. And during this second day of the Decenarium of the Holy Spirit, we can ponder the Gift of Courage as we pray in the Veni Creator Spiritus, the “firmans virtute perpeti,” that God the Holy Spirit may make us strong with his perpetual power, the power and wisdom of Christ crucified to Whom the Spirit wishes to conform us. As we unite ourselves to Christ’s delivery and Christ’s Eucharistic birth, he and the Spirit both say to us what Jesus said to Paul at the beginning of today’s first reading, “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you. For I am many people in this city” and we rejoice to be one of those many!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 ACTS 18:9-18
“Do not be afraid.
Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.
No one will attack and harm you,
for I have many people in this city.”
He settled there for a year and a half
and taught the word of God among them.
the Jews rose up together against Paul
and brought him to the tribunal, saying,
“This man is inducing people to worship God contrary to the law.”
When Paul was about to reply, Gallio spoke to the Jews,
“If it were a matter of some crime or malicious fraud,
I should with reason hear the complaint of you Jews;
but since it is a question of arguments over doctrine and titles
and your own law, see to it yourselves.
I do not wish to be a judge of such matters.”
And he drove them away from the tribunal.
They all seized Sosthenes, the synagogue official,
and beat him in full view of the tribunal.
But none of this was of concern to Gallio.
and after saying farewell to the brothers he sailed for Syria,
together with Priscilla and Aquila.
At Cenchreae he had shaved his head because he had taken a vow.
Responsorial Psalm PS 47:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
All you peoples, clap your hands,
shout to God with cries of gladness,
For the LORD, the Most High, the awesome,
is the great king over all the earth.
R. God is king of all the earth.
He brings people under us;
nations under our feet.
He chooses for us our inheritance,
the glory of Jacob, whom he loves.
R. God is king of all the earth.
God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy;
the LORD, amid trumpet blasts.
Sing praise to God, sing praise;
sing praise to our king, sing praise.
R. God is king of all the earth.
Alleluia SEE LK 24:46, 26
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead,
and so enter into his glory.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 16:20-23
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn,
while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.
When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived;
but when she has given birth to a child,
she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy
that a child has been born into the world.
So you also are now in anguish.
But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you.
On that day you will not question me about anything.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”