Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter
April 22, 2016
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 Gospel, Jesus stresses for us the type of communion he’s trying to establish with us. The words we’ll have for the rest of the Easter season come from the Last Supper, but we’ll be looking at them not through the short-term focus of his suffering and death but in light of his Resurrection and the way he wants us to share his Risen Life.
- Today Jesus says, “I am going to prepare a place for you … and I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” Normally when we think of this passage we think of the “place” of heaven in the “Father’s house” with “many dwelling places.” Already this would be a tremendous consolation, that Jesus would care for us so much that he would die and rise in order to prepare a special spot for each one of us. But he’s not just speaking of something he’s prepared for us after we pass from this life, God-willing, to the place of the Father. He’s also speaking of something here. His building project was to prepare a rebuilt Temple after the temple of his body was destroyed, a temple in which we would abide with him and he with us. That’s his plan for us.
- For that plan to come to fruition, however, we need two things. First, we must trust in that plan. Jesus tells us, “You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” Throughout this Jubilee of Mercy, every time we look at Jesus blessing us in the image of Divine Mercy, he’s saying to us, “Trust in me!,” and we reply, “Jesus, I trust in you!” As we’ve had the chance to examine during the last couple of days, Jesus is getting us to see the connection between him and the Father and that the work of God is to believe in the One the Father sent out of trust in the Father. Jesus tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” So often our hearts are filled with all types of troubles and concerns. Jesus is trying to assure us that if we have faith in him and enter into communion with him, not even death will be able to rend it asunder.
- Second, we need to embrace that plan as a result of our trust in him. Today Jesus 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.” In other words, no one can come to the Father’s house, no one can become a living stone in the Father’s dwelling place except by means of building their life on Jesus the cornerstone. 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 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.
- Today in the first reading we see two great saints who did believe in Jesus, who entered into a life-changing communion with him, 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. Yesterday we began to focus on St. Paul’s and St. Barnabas’ visit to the Synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia, where St. Paul tried to open themselves up to the Christian life through embracing Christ’s life and following Christ’s way. Yesterday we had the first 13 verses of his homily; today we have the second eight; and I’d ask you to read the last five as your homework. Having been asked to give a “word of exhortation,” he gave a paradigm for every exhortation that people await from those who live in Communion with the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
- 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, what is the excised portion that is your homework, 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. It’s a choice between basing our lives on worldly wisdom or divine wisdom, between going our own way or following Christ, about seeking our life in the things of this world or in relationship with God. The more we’re able to identify people’s natural and supernatural hungers to know the truth, to walk the way of happiness God wants, to experience life to the full, the more we’ll be able to help them enter into the place that Christ has gone to prepare for them.
- It’s here at Mass that Christ’s building project most especially takes place. From the earliest days of Christianity, the saints have stated that the Eucharist builds the Church. It’s here that Jesus in the Eucharist makes us Christians and unites us as living stones built together into a spiritual edifice on him the cornerstone. It’s here that Jesus makes us a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God the Father through Jesus Christ. It’s here he constructs us, as St. Peter tells us, into a chosen race, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that we may announce the praises of him who has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. It’s from here that Jesus sends us out to help everyone else discover that Jesus is the direction they most need in life, the answer to their profoundest questions, the source of life that will give them happiness and meaning. We rejoice that we have followed Jesus here today, to hear his Truth in the Liturgy of the Word and to receive His Life in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We ask him to give us the grace he knows we need to keep this communion and build our entire life on him so that no matter what storms come that blow and buffet against us and the other members of the Church, we may remain always firm in the faith that will bring us to eternal happiness in that house of the Father that Jesus out of love has gone to prepare for us.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 ACTS 13:26-33
“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
“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.
“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.
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.
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
“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.”