HOMILY – APRIL 30
If you’ve been coming to weekday Mass and hearing the Easter season readings from the Acts of the Apostles, you know what the reaction was to St. Peter’s preaching, at least among the religious elders of the people: “Stop talking about Jesus! Stop doing anything in his name! We will not believe, and WE’RE NOT LISTENING!!!” You can almost see them cupping their hands over their ears, closing their eyes, and bellering noise to try to drown out the Good News.
This still happens today. Several years ago, I spoke with a Dominican priest who has a doctorate in genetics from M.I.T. He doesn’t disguise his identity when he goes to professional conferences. In fact, he wears his habit, inviting smirks and sneers from his mostly agnostic colleagues. That’s until they realize that he is in fact a brilliant, published scientist who just doesn’t happen to accept the standard LIE that you can’t think scientifically unless you reject the idea of a Creator. While most of us expect that scientists are open to discovery, many of their minds are deliberately closed when it comes to asking rather basic questions like, “Where did this all come from, and why?”
So when St. Peter addresses his readers in his First Letter (which we heard in the second reading) and says that you should be “REALIZING that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors,” he is inviting you to open your eyes to God, open your minds to God, and KEEP them open. The world and the culture around you will not support you in this. Don’t expect them to. You and your children and grandchildren are under constant pressure to stop believing in God, putting him on the level of fantasies and fairy tales. The people who tell you this might have doctorates, they might be brilliant lecturers, they might have fine careers and everything that money can buy. But they are the ultimate cynics, determined to torpedo faith wherever they find it. And why should they spend so much energy fighting someONE, someTHING they claim does not exist? Because they’re AFRAID. Afraid that there will be a question they can’t explain away, afraid that there will be a solution they can’t buy with cash or credit, afraid that if they ever took that leap of faith into the arms of an all-powerful God, they would absolutely LOSE THEMSELVES in the process.
And you know what? They’re right. Jesus Christ knew that, and taught that. “Unless you DENY yourself, take up your cross each day, and follow in my footsteps, you can’t even BE my disciple!” Those aren’t words that you can address to the fearful and timid. Those aren’t words that comfort wimps and washouts. The martyrs jumped at the chance to be faithful witnesses to Christ all the way to and including death itself. If you didn’t believe in Christ, you’d be afraid to take the leap of faith, too. I’ll tell you, it’s happened to me at times, as I suspect it has to nearly every priest, that JUST WHEN I’m praying the Eucharistic prayer and about to pray the words of consecration, or elevating the Host and the Precious Blood, that the voice of the evil one starts putting the words into my mind: “What if it’s not true? What if it’s all a hoax?” And my response? Not due to any wisdom or bravery on my part, the Holy Spirit has enabled me to say, “I don’t care. If Jesus says it, I love him, I believe him, and it must be true. And besides, there’s nothing better that I could be doing right now.”
The point is, our faith, our attachment to Christ, MUST be a loving friendship with someONE, not just an academic belief in someTHING. When Jesus begins to walk with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, YES, he explains the Word of God to them; YES, he comes into the house to remain with them; and YES, he breaks bread with them. His Word, his presence, his breaking bread: does it sound like the liturgy? Does it sound like what we do when we engage in the worship of God at Mass? Does it sound like what we do when we follow Jesus’ direction, “Do THIS in memory of me”? I think you know the answer. And when those disciples go running back to Jerusalem to tell the others, they don’t rush in and say, “We’ve been pondering these truths and have come to this conclusion.” NO, they recounted what had happened on the road, and how they had COME TO KNOW HIM in the breaking of the bread. It wasn’t just the doctrine of the resurrection, IT WAS JESUS!
So when we pray the words of the Creed this morning — and it IS a prayer, not just a rehearsal of our doctrines — let’s realize that we are professing our love for someONE who has revealed all this truth for us, for our salvation and eternal life. Sure, there are some big words we don’t use all the time, like “consubstantial” and “incarnate,” but that’s because they reveal big and dynamic TRUTHS which are part of the mystery of Jesus. When you love someone, you try to expand your vocabulary to express the new and beautiful realities you are discovering about him or her. That’s what we do with the Lord Jesus. What a privilege to have him accompany us on the road of life, to stay with us (for life is short, and it’s nearly evening), and to have him break bread with us. Is it any wonder, my friends, that the Church tells us that as a minimum requirement for discipleship, we should be breaking bread with Jesus himself on every Lord’s Day? Don’t get to thinking that the Sunday Mass obligation is mere legalism, and that it intrudes into the loving relationship we ought to have with Christ. Remember that the first great gathering of the Apostles and of the early Church after Pentecost was the Council of Jerusalem, where disagreements had to be hammered out and certain disciplines imposed, as minimum requirements. That’s the nature of any organization that has fallen human beings in its membership. But if we’re in love, we do things because we WANT to, not because it’s law or ritual. Can you imagine watching a wedding–NOT a Catholic wedding–on TV, and the judge finishes pronouncing the couple husband and wife, and then he says to the husband, “You may kiss the bride.” And the husband looks at the judge and asks, “Do I HAVE to?” Hoo, boy, not a smart move. The Tribunal doesn’t need any more business!
Anyway, friends, if you don’t have the kind of relationship with Jesus that has you aware of his company at all times, that has you talking to him frequently throughout the day, that has you breaking bread with him as his disciple AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN, please don’t get discouraged. Take the leap of faith, trust him with your life, keep on doing what he tells you to do in his Word and through his Church, and little by little you’ll see how he reveals himself to you, as you’re on the road of life, along with everything you need to know to get you safely home to his Kingdom.