Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Feast of SS. Philip and James, Apostles
May 3, 2014
1 Cor 15:1-8, Ps 19, Jn 14:6-14
To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today we celebrate the feast of two apostles together, Saints Philip and James the Lesser. The reason why we celebrate them together is historical, because their relics were brought to the Church of the Holy Apostles (Dodici Apostoli) and buried there together in the ninth century, similar to the reason why we celebrate on October 28 the feast of Saint Simon and Jude, because their relics are interred together in the Basilica of St. Peter. While it would certainly be fitting for us to celebrate them individually, as we do the other eight apostles (including St. Matthias who took Judas’ place), there is a certain fittingness to fête them jointly, since when Jesus initially sent out the twelve to proclaim his kingdom by words and deeds, he sent them out in pairs. It’s quite possible that Philip and James were at one time explicit partners in the proclamation of the Gospel and hence their feast is an opportunity for us to examine something that perhaps we don’t ponder enough: who are our partners in the proclamation of the Gospel? If it’s important for police officers to have partners on whom they can depend, how much more important is it for those called to proclaim the Gospel, not only so that we can have each other’s back, but so that we can more easily put into practice the Gospel we proclaim to others. St. Gregory the Great once commented that the reason why Jesus sent out the apostles to proclaim the Gospel two-by-two even though they could have theoretically covered twice as much ground if he had sent them out individually was so that as they proclaimed the Gospel, they would be able to learn and show how to love one another, how to forgive one another, how to live in communion. So today as we get ready to ponder what we learn in the Word of God, we can do so in the context of examining how we can proclaim the Gospel better in tandem with others and who are those whom the Lord has put into our lives with whom we can preach. Certainly Christian married couples are sent out two-by-two. But it behooves all of us to look around to see what friendships we can nourish, what bonds we can form, so that we can live the Gospel better and proclaim it more effectively.
- In today’s first reading, St. Paul tells the Corinthians and us about the importance of proclaiming the Gospel. “I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received,” and then he describes for us Jesus death, burial, resurrection and appearances. To pass on the Gospel was “of first importance,” in other words, the most important thing he could do and they in turn could do. Why? He told them right before, because it is the Gospel that “you indeed received and in which you also stand [and through which] you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.” When we receive the Gospel with faith and hold fast to it, our lives our made secure — we stand it in firmly — and we are being saved through it, always in the present tense. The Gospel places our life on the most solid foundation of all and leads to salvation. How could we not want to share that gift with others? As we collaborate with others in the desire to share the Gospel, we strengthen others on that foundation and ever-present work of redemption.
- But the Gospel is not a group of teachings or facts. The kergyma — what St. Paul preached about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection — is not a bunch of words that we say. But it is a relationship, an intimate covenantal bond with Jesus through the Holy Spirit and in him with the Father. Jesus reveals this in his dialogue with the apostles during the Last Supper, which we have as today’s Gospel. Jesus says, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life,” words that 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. To pass on the Gospel is to help one enter into the life-changing relationship with Jesus, so that they will know where they are supposed to head, what they are supposed to believe, and how they are to live and experience life to the full. Jesus says that it is through the way, truth and life he both reveals and is that one comes to see and know the Father. 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.
- St. Philip was one who was always bringing others to Jesus. Right after Jesus called him, he brought his friend Nathanael to Jesus. Little did he know that Nathanael would likewise become a partner in the Gospel. It was he who helped find the boy with five loaves and two fish we heard about yesterday, which was the raw material for Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fish. It was he whom the Greeks asked to introduce them to Jesus before the Passion. He was a bridge for others to come to Jesus and that is what every Christian ought to be. This is of “first importance” in the Christian life. St. James the Lesser likewise had this function. He was the first leader of the Church in Jerusalem. When SS. Paul and Barnabas brought them the case of the Gentiles in Antioch and whether they needed to accept all of the Jewish law and practices — including circumcision — before becoming Christians, St. James, together with St. Peter and the other members of the Church, said that they did not, facilitating their entry into the Church. He knew that Jesus was the way, not the isolated works of the Jewish midrash of the Mosaic law, which Jesus himself spoke again in his dialogues with the Scribes and Pharisees. Of first importance was the kergyma. Of first importance was Jesus. So it is always.
- SS. Philip and James entered into communion with each other when the Lord made them one body during the Last Supper. And he sent them out to bring others into that same communion. Today the Lord invites us into that same mutual abiding with him and with others so that just as he said to SS. Philip and James he made say to us at the end of today’s Mass: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord!” May we be as faithful to our mission as they were to theirs!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
1 COR 15:1-8
of the Gospel I preached to you,
which you indeed received and in which you also stand.
Through it you are also being saved,
if you hold fast to the word I preached to you,
unless you believed in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;
that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
After that, he appeared to more
than five hundred brothers and sisters at once,
most of whom are still living,
though some have fallen asleep.
After that he appeared to James,
then to all the Apostles.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.
PS 19:2-3, 4-5
The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day pours out the word to day;
and night to night imparts knowledge.
R. Their message goes out through all the earth.
Not a word nor a discourse
whose voice is not heard;
Through all the earth their voice resounds,
and to the ends of the world, their message.
R. Their message goes out through all the earth.
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 him,
“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.”