Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C 2019
It is very easy for us, priests, to mount the pulpit and tell you what we feel you should hear in a homily. But the truth is sometimes what we say can be totally out of touch with the reality of your day to day life. We can be disconnected from you for many reasons, one of which is our own personal struggles. We allow our troubles to get in the way of you, the people we are called to serve and lead. While this is sad, and an abuse of office, it is also good for you to hear us.
“To hear us”, not to feel pity for us, but to enter our world, engage us and know we are also someone like you. The Letter to the Hebrews puts this way, “Every high priest is called from among his people and appointed to be their representative before God. It falls to him to offer gifts and sacrifices for sin. He is able to understand the ignorant and erring for he himself is subject to weakness” (Hebrews 5:1-2). So, it is basically not all about us, it is also about you, and God.
It is about telling a story of the people of God. The people, God is for ever seeking out and calling, gathering and bringing into His wonderful light. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of His family, the Church”. Thus, the Church isn’t a constituent of a preferred majority, or a reflection of the priest and his theological opinions. “It is always the gathering of all men and women”.
So, when we gather for Mass, we gather for the Lord. We gather to hear Him. We gather to receive Him. We also gather to give ourselves to Him, to tell Him our own stories. Our stories of inner conflicts, broken marriages, difficult children, problems in our workplaces, our medical conditions, our fears, our joys, our happiness, our questions. Grandma or Grandpa doesn’t want to go to the nursing home, what can we do? How are we going to pay the bills that are due?
When we gather with this mindset, we can discern as a believing community, our problems and together find a solution. A typical example is the experience of the early Christians as we heard of in the first reading (Acts 15:1-2, 22-29). This community of believers was burdened by some men who came down from Judea and taught something contrary to that of Paul and Barnabas. However, because the believers were united, they identified the problem in time and resolved it with the help of others.
This is the strength of a believing community. It is the strength of our faith: our response to God, who reveals Himself and give Himself to us. He revealed Himself in the Spoken Word. The Word that in the beginning called things into being. The Word that in the fullness of time became flesh and dwells among us. The Word that was not afraid to be a child. The Word that was humble enough to be led by the Father. The Word that let the will of the Father be done.
It is this Word we are called to keep if we love Him. Notice the conditional statement in the Gospel reading from John 14:23-29, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him”. So, what does it mean to love Him? It means three things. First, it means to admire Him; to be drawn to Him; to recognise Him for who He is; It means to praise Him. “O God, let all the nations praise you”!
Praise, worship and glory are all used interchangeably. They mean “to give God His due”. They are mainly acts of justice; giving to God the recognition that befits His person. When this is done, then there will be peace on earth. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will”. Peace is the fruit of right praise. Hatred, violence and war are the fruit of bad praise. When we stop praising God, we start praising ourselves. We stop keeping His Word.
Second, “to love Him” means to desire Him. It means to be in communion with the Word who is in communion with the Father in the Spirit. It means to pray; to bring our real selves to the Real God, who continues to draw us to Himself. It means to accept the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in His Son’s Name. For we can’t claim to love Him, if we reject His gift of the Holy Spirit. He gives us this gift to teach and remind us everything the Word had said.
But the Holy Spirit is not just the teacher and reminder. He is also the Advocate, the Helper. He stands by our side when we are being accused by the accuser of the brethren, especially when the accuser reminds us of memories that discourage and weigh us down. The Holy Spirit encourages us by reminding us of what God has done, is doing and will do. He fights our cause. “He comes to help us in our weakness, for we do not know how we ought to pray…” Romans 8:26.
Third, “to love Him” means to listen to Him. It means to keep His word. And His word today is, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid”. For most times, our hearts are troubled because we have stopped listening to Him. We are listening to ourselves, to what is happening around us. But to love Him demands that we come out of “our little world” and begin to listen to the word of the Lover. He is wooing us; if we listen, we will find Him. We will find the Prince of Peace.
He is the peace the world cannot give. But the peace the world can receive. This peace, He gives to us. But the question is, have we received His peace? If no, what then is hindering us from receiving His peace? Is it something we need to address? If yes, can we let the Holy Spirit lead us to all Truth, the Truth that will set us free to experience the peace He gives? Perhaps, it is time for us to let go of our control of things and let the Holy Spirit take over and be our Advocate.
Fr. Francis Afu