Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A
April 28, 2002
Acts 6:1-7; Ps 33; 1Pet2:4-9; John 14:1-12
1) Doubting Thomas is at it again today. Just as he wouldn’t accept his brother apostles’ word for it that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead, and that he wouldn’t believe until he himself probed the wounds of Christ with his own finger, so in today’s Gospel, taken from the Last Supper, Thomas again shows that he’s unwilling to say he believes in something that he still does not yet understand. When Jesus said to him and the other apostles that he was going to prepare a place for them, so that where he is they could be as well, and that they know the way that leads where Jesus is going, Thomas refused to just nod at the Lord and pretend as if he understood. He asked a question. “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” And just as his doubting Jesus’ resurrection led to Jesus’ reappearance and the most concise and synthetic statement about the Lord found in the lips of men, Thomas’ own, “My Lord and my God,” so here Thomas’ question led to arguable one of the most concise and synthetic statements about who the Lord was from his own lips, when Jesus said in response to Thomas’ question, “I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
2) The way, the truth and the life. We’ve heard this expression so many times that its significance can be lost on us. If we were to know the Hebrew Scriptures much better — as clearly the apostles did — we would have been blown away by what Jesus said. In this simple phrase, Jesus took three of the great basic conceptions of Jewish religion and made the tremendous claim that in him, all three found their full realization.
a) The Jews talked much about the way in which men must walk and the ways of God. God said to Moses: “You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you.” Moses said to the people: “I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you.” Isaiah had said: “Your ears shall hear a word behind you saying, this is the way, walk in it.” The Psalmist prayed, “Teach me they way, O Lord.” The Jews knew much about the way of God in which a man must walk. And Jesus said: “I am the way.” What did he mean? We’ll get to that in a second.
b) Jesus also said “I am the Truth.” A Jew would have been similarly amazed by this statement. The Jews would be used to praying in the Psalms, “Teach me thy way, O Lord, so that I may walk in thy truth” and “I have chosen the way of truth.” Many men have told us the truth, but no man ever embodied it. What did Jesus mean? We’ll tackle that in just a moment.
c) Third and lastly, Jesus said “I am the life.” Constantly on the lips of Jews were prayers for God to lead them into life. In the Book of Proverbs, they’d pray, “The commandment is a lamp, and the teaching a light; and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” and “he who heeds instructions is on the path to life.” The psalmist prayed to God, “Show me the path of life.”
In saying that he was the Way, the Truth and the Life, Jesus was saying that he was the fulfillment, the personification of all of these hopes and prayers of the Jews. Now we can delve into a little more concretely what Jesus meant by each of the three expressions. He was the fulfillment of all their prayers and all their Scriptures.
3) I am the Way — Probably every single one of us has had the experience of being lost. We don’t know where to go. We’ve probably asked for directions, and received something in response like this, “Take a left. At your fifth set of lights, take a right, then take your second left and then bear right at the fork. Take your second or third right. Then go over the railroad tracks. At your third stop sign, take another right and then the house will be there with the white picket fence a short mile down the road.” Oftentimes such directions, even though they might be right, don’t inspire us with tremendous confidence that we’ll arrive. Or on other occasions, we can have a map, but if we’re in a city or a place that we don’t know well, oftentimes even though we’re following the map, we still end up getting lost. Maybe there are no street signs. Maybe there’s construction. Bottom line is that often, even with a map, when we’re going through unchartered territory often times we end up pulling into a gas station for more directions. I remember doing that a few months ago down in Rhode Island, where I had gone to give a short religious conference. The sisters had given me directions. I had printed off a map from the Internet. But even with both, I kept driving around and around, and couldn’t find it. Finally, I saw a policeman stopped at an intersection. I pulled up aside him, rolled down my window and he rolled down his. I asked him if he knew how to get to the particular address. He said to me in response, “Sure, Father, I could give you directions, but I think the easiest way is that you just follow me.” And then he led me to where I needed to go.
4) Jesus does the same thing with us. We have the directions to get to where he wants us to end up, heaven, in that place where he’s gone to prepare a place for us, in the commandments. If we follow them, we’ll end up there. As Jesus said to a young lawyer who once asked him what he needed to do to enter into life, Jesus said “keep the commandments. Do this and you will live.” But sometimes following those directions is hard and we can end up lost. We even have a sure and true road map in Sacred Scripture and in the Catechism and teachings of the Church Jesus founded. If we follow that map all the way, we, too, thanks to God’s love and help, will end up at the eternal destination of heaven. But following that map through the unchartered territory, roadblocks and detours of life, is often hard, and we can get lost as well. But then Jesus came to earth and said to each of us, like the cop said to me, “Follow-me.” He made it as simple as possible. It doesn’t matter how many construction roadblocks we encounter. It doesn’t matter how many lefts, how many rights, how many forks, how many detours. All we need to do to arrive at where we want to go is to follow Jesus all the way. What a great gift that is! The only way to make sure we don’t get lost in this world is to make sure we keep our eyes firmly fixed on him.
5) Jesus also said, “I am the Truth.” What did he mean here? Pontius Pilate, the day after Jesus pronounced these words to the apostles in the upper room, asked Jesus, “What is truth?” 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 lying. When Jesus says that he is the truth, what he is ultimately saying is that he is the ground of all reality. That he is what is most real. The 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, we can treat so many other things as more real than Jesus. We can treat the Eucharist as a concept or as a piece of bread. We can treat the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which our eighth graders will receive at Confirmation this Wednesday, as just poetic fantasies. We can think of the whole life of grace, which is lost by sinning, but gained by confession and the sacraments, as somehow much less real than the clothes we’re wearing, the money in our pockets, the people we’re contacting, etc. It’s actually the other way around. Jesus is most real of all. He says that he is the truth, not that he teaches us truths. That’s why, to be most real, to ground ourselves most deeply in reality, we have to base everything we do on Jesus. The opposite of the truth is a lie. That’s why everything that leads us from Jesus is ultimately a lie, a deception. The devil is the father of lies and wants to do everything possible to deceive us. In the concrete, how do we know what is true or false, especially when we’re unsure? If Jesus were to have just said, “Here’s the Bible. The answer’s in here,” he would have made doing the right thing, living the truth, dependent upon our intelligence and understanding. But rather he said, “I am the truth.” This is why a properly informed conscience who in every situation tries to do what Jesus would do, WWJD, will almost always do the right thing.
6) Thirdly, Jesus said, “I am the life.” Jesus is more than just alive. He does more than give life to the world he created, to the plants, to the animals. He does more than simply give physical life, which he gave to all of us, by making fruitful the love of our parents and infusing a soul. He does more than simply give us spiritual life through the sacraments he instituted for our salvation. He does more than give us his own living body and blood in the Eucharist. Jesus is the life incarnate. To the extend 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, 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. Now the opposite of life is death. Anything that leads us from Jesus, that prevents our living in Jesus, ultimately kills us. That’s why sin leads to death, as St. Paul wrote so clearly reflecting on the sin of Adam and Eve and all our sins. Sin kills life inside of us, and if we do not get this life restored by Christ through the sacraments he instituted to do it, namely baptism, the confession and the Eucharist, that we will die forever. Jesus said in St. John’s Gospel, “I came that they may have life and have it to the full.” He wants to be the life inside of us, the reason we do everything we do. And if he’s not right now, that’s not his fault.
7) As we reflect on these truths, if we’re honest, each of us will recognize that we don’t follow Jesus the Way as closely as we ought to. We don’t believe in Jesus, the Truth, as we should either. And we don’t realize nor conform our life to the life of the Lord, and instead we’re so often working, intentionally or unintentionally, to kill off that life inside of us through sin and lack of love. That’s why we all need a period of renewal in the faith, so that we can follow the Lord more faithfully, believe him more fully, and live in him more abundantly. Bishop O’Malley recognized that in the time of preparation for the 100th anniversary of the Diocese of Fall River in 2004, the whole diocese needs this renewal. Fr. Jim and I realized that in preparation for the 100th anniversary of this parish in the same year, all of us need it to. So beginning this Fall, and continuing over the course of the next three years, along with other parishes throughout the city and Diocese, we’re going to be doing a parish spiritual renewal, called Renew 2000.
8 ) The program is based on three fundamental realities. Coming to know Christ, the Way, Truth and Life, ever better throught prayer and meditation on Sacred Scripture; coming to know him ever more deeply through the Eucharist and the sacraments; and experiencing and sharing his life in real, Christian fraternity and community. The formal kickoff of the three year program will be at the end of September. Then twice a year, during September and October and then during Lent, we will have a six week program in which practically everything we do as a parish will be geared toward a particular theme of renewal each week. The priests and deacons will all preach on it at Mass. Our school children and CCD programs will focus on it. There will be short little meditations that each parishioner will be asked to dedicate five minutes to each day. And then there will be the real nuts-and-bolts of the program happening in various homes of our parish, where 8-10 adults will get together once a week to share their faith, examine Sacred Scripture and grow closer to the Lord. It is our hope that every single adult parishioner will participate in this program and be involved in a small group. And that means not just every adult parishioner who comes to Mass every week, but the 50% of our parishioners who don’t come to Mass very frequently. They’re, often, as we know, the ones who need this renewal in Christ most of all.
9) Between now and the end of September, there is much to do. Earlier this week, we had a meeting of several parishioners who are among the leaders of the parish organizations, to chart the path, to start spreading the word and start spreading out the work. There’s a lot to prepare, but it won’t be much work if everyone does a small part. The first thing everyone needs to do is to pray for the success of this parish and personal renewal. The second thing is to get the word out to everyone that it’s going to be taking place and inviting everyone to take part. This is particularly important to get the message out to those who have been away from the practice of the faith for a while. These are the people who won’t hear us preach about it at Mass, the people who won’t read it in the bulletin. These are the people that the parish needs you to contact and invite, because they’re the people you work with, play sports with, maybe even live with. Will you do this? It never hurts to ask and invite. They need Jesus so much. Maybe your simple invitation will be what leads to their conversion, life with Christ in this world, and eternal life in the next. Finally, we need some help organizing all of this, especially in English. I would ask all of you here generally to please consider getting involved in the preparation. The more you put into this renewal, the more you will get out of it. You cannot out-give God. Fr. Jim, Deacon John and I will be asking you personally over the course of these months, but please don’t wait for a personal invitation. Please just let one of us know that you’d like to know how you can help and we’ll plug you in immediately.
10) With all that’s been happening to the Church in recent days, it’s obvious how important spiritual renewal is. If we’re honest, each one of us will admit that we personally do not have the depth of the relationship with Jesus right now that he would like, and it’s not his fault. This is a great opportunity for our own personal spiritual rebirth as well as for the spiritual rebirth of our parish. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. May we follow him more closely, believe in him more fully, and live in him more abundantly, today, tomorrow and forever. Praised be Jesus Christ!