Friday, May 20, 2011

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter • John 14:1-12

Notes from Didymus by Father Jeffrey L. Sarkies

Whenever I read the Gospel passage for this Sunday a lad I ministered to many years ago comes to mind. He was a leukemia patient in the days when the disease was a death sentence. His parents would not allow talk of death around their son. They hushed him whenever he broached the subject. Perhaps they thought that if they didn’t talk about death they could keep death at bay. He came down to breakfast one morning while he was at home on a break from the hospital and spoke to his mother about a dream he had had the night before.

“Jesus came to me and talked to me in my sleep last night,” he said.

“Really?” his mother said. “What did he say to you?”

“Jesus told me he is building me a house and it is nearly finished.” The boy died two weeks later. His mother told the story at the vigil, the night before his funeral.

It amazes me that we can hear proclaimed certain pericopes from the gospels and not gasp. This Sunday’s is one of those. I don’t remember ever seeing someone poke a person next to him/her and ask, “Did you hear what I heard? Can you believe that?”

Hear the amazing response that Jesus gives to Philip’s request that Jesus show the disciples the Father “and that will be enough for us.” “Philip, whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” It seems obvious because we believe that Jesus and the Father are united. Jesus’ works are the Father’s works. By their works you will know them, we say. But what happens if we take the words one step farther and apply them to our baptismal relationship with Jesus. We are baptized into Christ. We are identified with Christ. We are one with Christ. Christ lives in us as we live in Christ. I have even heard it said that God has the same love for us that God has for Christ. Amazing, isn’t it? But then think about the implications.

Here’s where the gasp of recognition should come. If I read the text correctly, If I am correct about our union with Christ that mirrors Christ’s union with the Father, if Baptism does what the Church professes that it does, how does the reality strike you that you might be the only Christ some people will ever meet? If Jesus says to Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” does not Jesus want us, as his disciples, to live the reality of our baptismal priesthood and so be able to say, “Those who have seen me have seen Jesus?”

Again, by their works you shall know them. The letters on the plastic bracelets may have become a cliché, but the fact is, asking one’s self regularly, what would Jesus do is not such a bad idea. Why? Because, invariably the answer will be whatever love demands. The other day I went back to a biography of Dorothy Day. What an amazing woman! She is an embarrassment to some in the Church the way sometimes those who experience life-altering conversions are. St. Augustine gets by because most people assume that he could not have been as bad as he said he was. 

The convert, Dorothy Day, got the implications of her Baptism and the course was set for the rest of her life. She believed that Catholics needed to be people of prayer, that we needed the rituals of our faith, i.e., Mass and the other Sacraments. And we needed to be a people who loved one another. A couple of quotes support this. “We cannot live alone. We cannot go to Heaven alone. Otherwise, as Peguy said, God will say to us, ‘Where are the others?’” 

When asked what members of her movement, the Catholic Worker, are working for, she replied that they must work for a new heaven and a new earth, “wherein justice dwelleth.” Why was she not content to wait for heaven to bring just to people who have been wronged? Another quote: “We believe in the brotherhood of man and the Fatherhood of God. This teaching, the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, involves today the issue of unions (where men call each other brothers); it involves the racial question: it involves cooperatives, credit unions, crafts; it involves Houses of Hospitality and Farming Communes. It is with all these means that we can live as though we believed indeed that we are all members of one another, knowing that ‘when the health of one member suffers, the health of the whole body is lowered.’” 

In addition to urging the disciplines of regular Mass attendance, she taught her readers to “practice the presence of God” by seeing God in one another. “(Jesus) said that when two or three are gathered together, there He is in the midst of them. He is with us in our kitchens, at our tables, on our breadlines, with our visitors, on our farms.”She got into serious trouble with the authorities by her uncompromising stance of pacifism. In some ways it should be obvious, shouldn’t it? If we believe in the Mystical Body of Christ, how can we drop bombs on that Body? Or shoot at it? Or engage in the other horrendous things that going to war unleashes? Dorothy spent time in jail because of her stance.

In Dorothy Day’s vision, who is the actor and who is the one ministered to? Jesus. Think of the words of judgment near the end of Matthew’s Gospel: I was hungry and you fed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was in prison and you visited me. And you know the rest. If we take those words of Jesus seriously, see the demands our faith makes on us? And see what sense Dorothy Day makes?

Didymus says to the Lord in the Gospel today, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” And what is the answer? “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus is the answer and what Jesus would do ought to be what those who believe in Jesus should choose to do. As daunting as the task must seem, the challenge Jesus gives is for those who believe in him to be able to say as a result of the works they do, Those who see me, see Jesus. Of course doing those works may make you vulnerable. You just might wind up the way Jesus did, misunderstood, on the cross, with God as your sole support. All this, and union with God here and here after.

My young friend told his mother that Jesus was building him a house that was nearly finished. I believe that he came to realize as he entered that house, that he, himself, had built the house in union with Jesus through his acceptance of the Cross and through his unwavering confidence in the one in whom he had been baptized.



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