Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)
May 10, 2020
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

Introit

 

Collect

Almighty ever-living God,
constantly accomplish the Paschal Mystery within us,
that those you were pleased to make new in Holy Baptism
may, under your protective care, bear much fruit
and come to the joys of life eternal.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Liturgy of the Word

First Reading Acts 6:1-7

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Proch'orus, and Nica'nor, and Ti'mon, and Par'menas, and Nicola'us, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them. And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.

Responsorial Psalm

 

Exult, you just, in the LORD;
praise from the upright is fitting.
Give thanks to the LORD on the harp;
with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises.

Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.

See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.

Second Reading 1 Peter 2:4-9

Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God's sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and he who believes in him will not be put to shame." To you therefore who believe, he is precious, but for those who do not believe, "The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner," and "A stone that will make men stumble, a rock that will make them fall"; for they stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Verse before the Gospel

Gospel John 14:1-12

Jesus said to his disciples, "Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going." Thomas said to him, "Lord, 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, but by me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; henceforth you know him and have seen him." Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who 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 in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves. "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.

Reflection Questions

  1. In what ways do you exercise the royal priesthood of all believers?
  2. In what ways have you been called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light?
  3. Which are the “greater” works of faith most evident in your own life?

Catena Nova

Let us march forward intrepidly to meet our Redeemer, Jesus, pursuing our onward course without swerving until we come to the assembly of the saints and are welcomed by the company of the just. It is to join our Christian forebears that we are journeying, to those who taught us our faith—that faith which comes to our aid and safeguards our heritage for us even when we have no good works to show. In the place we are making, the Lord will be everyone’s light; the true light which enlightens every human person will shine upon all. In the house where we are going the Lord Jesus has prepared many dwelling-places for his servants, so that where he is we also may be, for this was his desire. Hear his own words about them: “In my Father’s house are many dwelling-places,” and about his desire: “I will come again, he says, and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” “But he was speaking only to his disciples” you say, “and so it was to them alone that the many dwelling-places were promised.” Do you really suppose it was only for the eleven disciples they were prepared? And what of the saying about people coming from all the corners of the earth to sit at table in the kingdom of heaven? Do we doubt that the divine will will be accomplished? Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so.  But for Christ, to will is to do! Accordingly he has shown us both the way and the place: “You know where I am going,” he said, “and you know the way.” Yes, Lord Jesus, we do follow you, but we can only come at your bidding. The place is where the Father is; the way is Christ, according to his own declaration: “I am the way, and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.”Let us set out on this way, let us hold fast to truth, let us follow life. It is the way that leads us, the truth that strengthens us, the life that is restored to us through him. To make sure that we really understand his will, Christ prays later on: “Father, it is my desire that those whom you have given me may be with me where I am, so that they may see my glory.” How graciously he asks for what he had already promised! The promise came first and then the request, not the other way around. Conscious of his authority and knowing the gift was at his own disposal, he made the promise; then, as if to show his filial submission, he asked his Father to grant it. He promised first to make us aware of his power; he asked afterwards to show us his loving deference to his Father. Yes, Lord Jesus, we do follow you, but we can only come at your bidding. No one can make the ascent without you, for you are our way, our truth, our life, our strength, our confidence, our reward. Be the way that receives us, the truth that strengthens us, the life that invigorates us (St. Ambrose of Milan).

I entered, then, and with the vision of my spirit, such as it was, I saw the incommutable light far above my spiritual ken and transcending my mind: not this common light which every carnal eye can see, nor any light of the same order; but greater, as though this common light were shining much more powerfully, far more brightly, and so extensively as to fill the universe. The light I saw was not the common light at all, but something different, utterly different, from all those things. Nor was it higher than my mind in the sense that oil floats on water or the sky is above the earth; it was exalted because this very light made me, and I was below it because by it I was made. Anyone who knows truth knows this light. O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: “I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me.” Accordingly I looked for a way to gain the strength I needed to enjoy you, but I did not find it until I embraced the mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus [1Tim. 2:5], who is also God, supreme over all things and blessed for ever. He called out, proclaiming I am the Way and Truth and the Life [Jn. 14:6], nor had I known him as the food which, though I was not yet strong enough to eat it, he had mingled with our flesh, for the Word became flesh so that your Wisdom, through whom you created all things, might become for us the milk adapted to our infancy. Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace (St. Augustine).

Christ himself is the way, and therefore he says: I am the way. This certainly is eminently right for through him we have access to the Father. Since this way is not separate from its end, but joined to it, he adds the truth and the life; thus he is himself at once both the way and the goal. In his human nature he is the way, and in his divine nature he is the goal. Therefore, speaking as man he says: I am the way; and speaking as God he adds: the truth and the life. These two words are an apt description of this goal. For this goal is the object of human desire, and a person desires two things above all. In the first place he wants to know the truth, which is peculiar to him; and secondly he wants to continue to exist, which is common to all things. Christ is the way by which we come to know truth, though he is also that truth: Lead me, O Lord, in truth, and I shall enter into your way. Christ is also the way to come to life, though he is also that life: You have made known the ways of life. Therefore, he designated the end of this way by truth and life, about which we have spoken above with reference to Christ. First, he himself is life, for life was in him; then, he is truth, because he was the light of men, and light is truth. If, then, you are looking for the way by which you should go, take Christ, because he himself is the way: This is the way; walk in it. And Augustine says: Make man your way and you shall arrive at God. It is better to limp along the way than stride along off the way. For a man who limps along the way, even if he only makes slow progress, comes to the end of the way; but one who is off the way, the more quickly he runs, the further away is he from his goal. If you are looking for a goal, hold fast to Christ, because he himself is the truth, where we desire to be. My mouth shall reflect on the truth. If you are looking for a resting place, hold fast to Christ, because he himself is the life. Whoever finds me finds life, and receives salvation from the Lord. Therefore hold fast to Christ if you wish to be safe. You will not be able to go astray, because he is the way. He who remains with him does not wander in trackless places; he is on the right way. Moreover he cannot be deceived, because he is the truth, and he teaches every truth. And he says: For this I was born and for this I have come, to bear witness to the truth. Nor can he be disturbed, because he is both life and the giver of life. For he says: I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10) (St. Thomas Aquinas).

I have made a Bridge of my Word, of my only-begotten Son, and this is the truth. I have given you the Bridge of my Son, in order that, passing across the flood (of the tempestuous sea of this life), you may not be drowned.  Look at the Bridge of my Son, and see the greatness thereof. The height of the Divinity, humbled to the earth, and joined with your humanity, made the Bridge in order that man might come to his true happiness with the angels. This Bridge has three steps, of which two were made with the wood of the cross, and the third still retains the great bitterness he tasted when he was given gall and vinegar to drink. In these three steps you will recognize three states of the soul.  The feet of the soul are the first step, for the feet carry the body as the affection carries the soul. These pierced feet are steps by which you can arrive at his side, which manifests to you the secret of his heart. The soul, gazing into that open heart with the eye of the intellect, finds it consumed with ineffable love. Passing the second step, the soul reaches out to the third step—that is—to the mouth, where it finds peace from the war that it has been waging with sin. On the first step, then, lifting its feet from the affections of the earth, the soul strips itself of vice; on the second it is filled with love and virtue; and on the third it tastes peace.  Climbing past the first and the second steps, you may reach the last, which is lifted on high so that the water, running beneath, may not touch it. This Bridge is built of stones so that rain may not impede the traveler. They are the stones of true and sincere virtues. These stones were not built into the walls before the passion of my Son—he moistened the mortar for its building with his blood. He has built a wall of the virtues, planting them as living stones, so that every believer may walk speedily, sheltered by the mercy which descended from heaven in the incarnation of my Son. So you see that the Bridge is walled and roofed with mercy. The pilgrim, having passed the Bridge, arrives at the door which is part of the Bridge, at which all must enter, wherefore he says: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; he who follows me does not walk in darkness, but in light.” For those who cross by the Bridge, being still in the darkness of the body, find light, and being mortal, find immortal life, tasting, through love, the light of eternal truth which promises refreshment (St. Catherine of Siena).

WHILE I was begging our Lord today to speak for me, since I knew not what to say nor how to commence this work which obedience has laid upon me, an idea occurred to me which I will explain, and which will serve as a foundation for that I am about to write. I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions. If we reflect, sisters, we shall see that the soul of the just man is but a paradise, in which, God tells us, He takes His delight. What, do you imagine, must that dwelling be in which a King so mighty, so wise, and so pure, containing in Himself all good, can delight to rest? Nothing can be compared to the great beauty and capabilities of a soul; however keen our intellects may be, they are as unable to comprehend them as to comprehend God, for, as He has told us, He created us in His own image and likeness. Rarely do we reflect upon what gifts our souls may possess, Who dwells within them, or how extremely precious they are. Therefore we do little to preserve their beauty; all our care is concentrated on our bodies, which are but the coarse setting of the diamond, or the outer walls of the castle….  Let us imagine, as I said, that there are many rooms in this castle, of which some are above, some below, others at the side; in the centre, in the very midst of them all, is the principal chamber in which God and the soul hold their most secret intercourse.  Think over this comparison very carefully; God grant it may enlighten you about the different kinds of graces He is pleased to bestow upon the soul. No one can know all about them, much less a person so ignorant as I am. The knowledge that such things are possible will console you greatly should our Lord ever grant you any of these favours; people themselves deprived of them can then at least praise Him for His great goodness in bestowing them on others. The thought of heaven and the happiness of the saints does us no harm, but cheers and urges us to win this joy for ourselves….it will rather make us love Him for such immense goodness and infinite mercy (St. Teresa of Avila).

Let us profit by what every day and hour teaches us, as it flies. What is dark while it is meeting us, reflects the Sun of Righteousness when it is past. Let us profit by this in future, so far as this, to have faith in what we cannot see. The world seems to go on as usual. There is nothing of heaven in the face of society; in the news of the day there is nothing of heaven; in the faces of the many, or of the great, or of the rich, or of the busy, there is nothing of heaven; in the words of the eloquent, or the deeds of the powerful, or the counsels of the wise, or the resolves of the lordly, or the pomps of the wealthy, there is nothing of heaven. And yet the Ever-blessed Spirit of God is here; the Presence of the Eternal Son, ten times more glorious, more powerful than when He trod the earth in our flesh, is with us. Let us ever bear in mind this divine truth,—the more secret God's hand is, the more powerful—the more silent, the more awful. We are under the awful ministration of the Spirit, against whom whoso speaks, hazards more than can be reckoned up; whom whoso grieves, loses more of blessing and glory than can be fathomed. The Lord was with Joseph, and the Lord was with David, and the Lord, in the days of His flesh, was with His Apostles; but now, He is with us in the Spirit. And inasmuch as the Divine Spirit is more than flesh and blood; inasmuch as the risen and glorified Saviour is more powerful than when He was in the form of a servant; inasmuch as the Eternal Word, spiritualizing His own manhood, has more of virtue for us, and grace, and blessing, and life, than when concealed in it, and subject to temptation and pain; inasmuch as faith is more blessed than sight; by so much more are we now more highly privileged, have more title to be called kings and priests unto God, even than the disciples who saw and touched Him. He who glorified Christ, imparts Him thus glorified to us. If He could work miracles in the days of His flesh, how much more can He work miracles now? and if His visible miracles were full of power, how much more His miracles invisible. Let us beg of Him grace wherewith to enter into the depth of our privileges,—to enjoy what we possess,—to believe, to use, to improve, to glory in our present gifts as "members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the kingdom of heaven" (St. John Henry Newman).

Solomon admitted that the temple could not contain God since not even the heavens can contain God. Moreover, we hope we don’t need Jesus’ ministry of throwing money changers out of our church. Peter gives us a powerful image for how we can be the church: “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” (1 Pet. 2: 5) In being living stones, we imitate Jesus who was the stone rejected by the builders. This reference to Psalm 118 is used many times in the New Testament, often by Jesus himself. It means that the life and teaching of Jesus that was rejected by nailing Jesus to the cross has become the basis of a whole new culture and way of life in Jesus. We are called to be living stones built by the Holy Spirit into a new temple supported by Jesus, the cornerstone. Stones are solid and surely we are to be solid in our commitment to Christ and to each other. It is the solidity of stones that makes them strong enough to support each other. We need to be as strong  as that if we are going to support one another. Stones, however, can be rigid and rigidity makes them hard and cold. Such stones are dead. But Living stones are vibrant so that they resonate deeply with each other. Unlike dead, rigid, stones, living stones are permeable to each other and most importantly to Christ (Abbot Andrew Marr).

Homily

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (A)

Readings:  Acts 6:1-7; 1 Pt. 2:4-9; Jn. 14:1-12

Outdone

            Have you by any chance walked on water lately?  Fed a crowd with a few loaves of bread and fish?   Healed the blind, the deaf, the paralyzed, the lame?  Changed water into wine?  Raised anyone from the dead?   No one has done any works greater than those of Christ?  Even though he said, Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these (G)?

            Something’s amiss here.  What works could possibly be greater than the ones Christ performed?  So is there a difference between his works and ours? Well, one theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, has suggested this verse from John’s gospel is indeed about something different: “This refers,” he says, “not to outstanding miracles, but to the fact there is reserved for the Church an effect on the world that Jesus himself did not wish to have.  His task was action, failure, death.”

            It’s true. Church history bears it out: Nero, during whose reign Peter and Paul would be martyred, is gone while his successor Constantine would build the original basilicas in Rome honoring the Galilean fisherman and the tentmaker from Tarsus – albeit centuries later.

            In the same city, where many other Christians were killed who would not worship the idols of Rome, you can visit the Church of St. Clement built over the Temple of Mithras; the Basilica of St. Mary Major built over the Shrine of Cybele; and the Pantheon dedicated to “all the Roman gods” but now dedicated to “St. Mary and all Martyrs.”

            Then there’s Napoleon, who coerced Pope Pius VII to come to Paris to crown him Emperor, only to take the crown from the pope’s hands and crown himself instead. He died in confinement on the island of Saint Helena – named after Constantine’s Christian mother -- while the same pope, returning from exile imposed by the Emperor, would live to oversee the Restoration of the Papal States after Napoleon met his Waterloo.

            And there’s the Ugandan King Mwanga II, who saw to the martyrdom of numerous Christian converts, including St. Charles Lwanga. He too is gone, while Africa is today the epicenter of the “next Christianity” flourishing in the Southern Hemisphere.

            Perhaps more than others, the 20th Century bears special witness to the movement of the Church in time.  Adolf Hitler, for example, died by suicide in a Berlin bunker while the churches of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein, Titus Brandsma, and other Christian martyrs of the Third Reich survive. Vladimir Lenin, whose embalmed corpse is still on view in the Kremlin, and Joseph Stalin, who asked how many military divisions the pope has, would be shocked to learn how an Archbishop of Krakow, and later of Rome, would be instrumental in seeing the Soviet Union disbanded, the Berlin Wall come down, and the Russian Orthodox Church rise again – despite 80-plus years of official atheism and persecution of believers.

            Now I realize it’s dangerous to read any historical event as a sign of Providence at work in human history. A highly prejudiced view once common among Christians, for example, saw the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 as punishment for the crucifixion of Christ and the many streams of anti-Semitism such an interpretation fostered mar Christian history. When the event could just as easily be seen as the inevitable result of religion resorting to violence to achieve political goals – in this case, the Zealots who stood against Rome.  Such things carry within them the seeds of their own destruction, so forget putting God behind such disasters.  And that includes, by the way, the current pandemic which all too many “interpreters” have proclaimed a sign of divine displeasure and righteous chastisement for whatever moral issues they wish to highlight – while blithely ignoring others, of course.

            Then there are those who like to think the victories of Christian armies over Muslim forces at the battles of Tours, Lepanto and Vienna over the span of several centuries were due to divine intervention. Yet they must face the fact that Constantinople, and with it the Christian Byzantine Empire, fell to the Ottoman Turks in the middle of the 15th Century never to return.  And don’t forget the Crusades, whose ultimate failure should remind Christians that when they live by the sword, they too will sooner or later die by the sword just like everyone else -- as Jesus made clear the night of his arrest in the Garden of Olives when Peter wielded a sword to cut off the ear of a slave.

            But church history does seem to bear out one constant theme: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians,” as Tertullian said in the year 197. Which is to say, the church advances only by way of the Lord’s paschal mystery.  As von Balthasar went on to note: “In failure and under persecution the Church will smash through all barriers erected against her.” In that sense, she is no different than her Lord: that is to say, rejected by human beings. And while one might note a certain advance of the Church over her enemies as time marches on, it’s only in imitation of her Lord, the stone that the builders rejected (II).

            So as we try to discern where Providence is at work in our lives, where the “greater works” are unfolding among us and within us, it is easy to point to what we consider the apparent triumphs of our lives, our greatest successes, and proudest accomplishments.  And yes, the grace of God can surely be at work on the resurrection side of the Paschal Mystery.  After all, that’s why we celebrate it these seven weeks of the Easter season.

            But it’s in those moments of apparent failure, loss of prestige, and humbling circumstances that God may be doing the greatest works from the cross side of the Paschal Mystery – or so it seems in the light of history and the lives of countless saints. So like poor Thomas and Philip we might easily miss what’s right there in front of us!  Namely, the Christ whose Way is not the world’s; whose Truth shatters human wisdom, and whose Life emerges from a tomb: Christ, the way, the truth and the life (G). Who lives and reigns, forever and ever.  Amen.

Litany of Solidarity and Hope During a Pandemic

For those who are sick.
For those with chronic illnesses and underlying health concerns.
For all those who are suffering.

For those who are lonely.
For those who have no one to check on them.
For families that are separated.

For those who are unemployed.
For those suffering financial hardships.
For those who face an uncertain future.

For those who are suffering from physical or emotional abuse.
For those who are disproportionally suffering because of societal structures and unjust policies.
For those who are struggling with physical or mental disabilities.
For those who are overwhelmed by anxiety and stress.

For those who are dying.
For those who have died while saving the lives of others.
For all who have lost their lives.

For those who have survived.
For those who have lost their spouses.
For children who have been orphaned.
For all those who mourn and those who comfort them.

For firefighters, police, and emergency medical workers.
For doctors, nurses, and all health care professionals.
For those who serve in the armed forces.

For public officials.
For business leaders.
For educators.
For innovators and inventors who provide new solutions.

For peace in our city and in our world.
For renewed friendships among neighbors.
For solidarity and unity among all peoples.
For a greater appreciation and love of all humanity.

For patience and perseverance.
For calm in the midst of fear.
For the grace to overcome adversity.

For generosity of spirit.
For hope in times of despair.
For light in the darkness.

Gracious and Loving God,
You are our comforter and our hope.
Hear our prayers as we come before you.
Strengthen us in this time of need.
Inspire us to acts of solidarity and generosity
and give us hope of a brighter future. - Joseph P. Shadle

Offertory Chant

 

Lord’s Prayer

Let us pray as the Savior has taught us to be delivered from every form of evil….

Spiritual Communion

Lord, it is hard for us these days not to let our hearts be troubled.  Once again we are deprived of the grace of gathering with our community to be fed by the Bread of life and the Cup of salvation.  In their stead, we ask for the grace of a spiritual Communion not only with you but also with those from whom we have been separated during this time of trial.

Communion and Closing Hymn