The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Homily: 5th Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Readings: Acts 6:1-7; Ps 33; 1 Pet 2:4-9; Jn 14:1-12

(Below is a video of this homily. The text follows.)

In a few days I'll celebrate a milestone of sorts, the 20th anniversary of my ordination to the permanent diaconate. As a permanent deacon, I have a special fondness for today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. For in this brief passage we encounter the institution of the diaconate in the early Church.

But those first deacons, those "seven reputable men, filled with spirit and wisdom" [Acts 6:3], weren't ordained to hold high office in that rapidly expanding Church. They weren't ordained to do great things. They were ordained to do little things, in some ways the littlest of things.
Ordination of the first Deacons
You see, the early Church, like today's Church, had its imperfections. Although divinely instituted by Jesus, its members were human, and when they entered the Church, they carried a heavy load of human baggage. I think a lot of us, when we enter this Church each Sunday, would like to turn to the usher and say, "Look, here are all my problems, all my worries, all my aches and pains, all my biases, bigotry, hate, anger, and confusion. Here's everything that's keeping me from leading a Christian life. I'm going to leave it all with you." That would be nice, wouldn't it? The trouble is, I'm afraid too many of us would demand it all back on the way out the door.

Well, the early Christians were no different. Like you and me they carried their sinfulness with them.

In today's reading we see this manifested in the complaints of Hellenic Jews, the Greek-speakers, that the widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food - that the locals, the Hebraic Jews, treated them poorly.

St. Luke, the author, doesn't specifically address the problem of justice in the global terms we'd use today, but he does clearly define the roots of the Christian concept and mission of justice. In this particular instance, we encounter unjust discrimination based on language and culture, a problem still experienced by many today.

What did the Apostles do about it?

They established the order of deacons. The word, "deacon" has its roots in the Greek word, "diakonia," meaning service. Deacons were called to be servants, to wait on tables, taking food to the hungry. Perhaps that's why I enjoy working at the soup kitchen so much.

Although the Church was established by Jesus, it's filled with imperfect people, including deacons, priests and bishops. We are all fallible, often weak human beings whom the Lord miraculously uses to teach, govern and sanctify His Church.

Of course, God makes a point of raising up saints every so often to remind us of the lives we're called to lead. And among those first seven deacons were a couple of great saints: Stephen an eloquent preacher and the Church's first martyr. And Philip, a powerful evangelizer. What about the other five? We don't know. I suspect they just struggled to discern God's will in their lives and live up to their calling. Like today's Church the early Church had its share of sinners and saints, and all of them struggled just like you and me. Throughout its 2,000-year history the Church has also had to deal with the false teachers that Jesus warned us would appear regularly.

And so, what are we to do - we who struggle - to make sense of it all? Well, St. Peter gives us some pretty clear direction in today's second reading. Listen again to his words.
"Come to Him...rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God...and whoever believes...shall not be put to shame" [1 Pt 2:4,6].
And then Peter says something rather remarkable. He calls God's people - now that's you and me - he calls us "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own..." [1 Pt 2:9]

Just consider what this means.

We're a chosen race. Chosen by God Himself we are related, not by blood, but by faith. We are brothers and sisters united in Christ in a unity that transcends all human barriers and distinctions.

We're also a royal priesthood and that gives us direct access to God and carries with it the responsibility to bring others to Him as well. Our very lives become an offering to God, or as Peter said, "let yourselves... be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" [1 Pt 2:5].

And we're a holy nation, a nation set apart and consecrated to God's service: a holy nation, not a political nation like the United States, or Mexico, or Canada, or the UK, but a holy nation, a spiritual nation. As disciples of Christ we are called to be different from the world because our values are those of the Gospel. Nevertheless, as Christians we're dedicated to transforming the world and restoring it in Jesus Christ. That's what a holy nation does.

And lastly, we are a people of His own. We are God's private property. No matter how ordinary, how unwanted by the world, because we belong to the Lord, we each acquire priceless value.

Peter tells us we're pretty special in God's eyes, that as Christians we mustn't belittle ourselves. God wants each of us to recognize our value, to know how precious we are to Him. St. Paul calls our bodies "Temples of the Holy Spirit" [1 Cor 6:19], God's dwelling place. We must, then, keep ourselves holy, doing as Jesus has commanded us to love our God and each other.

As disciples of Christ, we are called to spread His gospel - His good news of eternal life - to others. Brothers and sisters, this is our calling. We, who are so imperfect, are called to follow Jesus, the source of all perfection, and to bring others to Him.

How did Jesus put it in today's Gospel?
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" [Jn 14:6].
Notice that Jesus didn't say, "I am a way, one way among many." Nor did He say, "I am a version of the truth." Or "I am a way of life, a lifestyle." No, he was very explicit, wasn't he?

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life."

C. S. Lewis
In other words, we can't pick and choose when there's only one real choice. C. S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, said it well:
"Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance and, if true, is of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important."
What is the Way? Nothing other than our Christian faith and the struggle to put that faith into practice by loving God and our neighbor. We can't do it alone, and so we turn to God for help, and trust in His mercy. Follow me, Jesus tell us, and I'll show you the way.

The truth is the Good News of Jesus Christ. the truth of His promise, borne out and proven by His resurrection. Follow me, He says, and you will know the truth.

The life is eternal life, the fruit of Jesus' promise - the understanding that we're here for a purpose: to do God's will so we may spend an eternal life of happiness with Him. Follow me, Jesus tells us, and I'll lead you to eternal life.

These are God's gifts of love to us. And He wants each of us to know how much He loves us.

Why does He love us? For the same reason a parent loves his child. He loves us for who we are, not for what we do. The Father loves us because He sees His Son in us. Yes, we are precious to God. We are living temples that carry the image of His Son within us.

Like those first deacons, we are called to do the little things, to live our Christianity in our daily lives, to carry Christ to others, one person at a time.

Yes, there will always be scandalous sinners and false teachers - but the Church herself will continue as Jesus' presence in time and space.

Today we join Pope Francis and pray even more ardently for her cleansing, a task that must begin with ourselves, with you and me.

May the choices we make be those that reflect the dignity given to us by the Lord of Life, and the truth He teaches us through His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Lifted up by His love, and fed by His Church, we can avoid what the world says is acceptable these days, but what we know is unacceptable any day.

Brothers and sisters, we are the Church - all of us, you and I. We are a royal priesthood. We are a people chosen by God to bring light to all who live in darkness.

Bathed in the light of Christ, let the Word of God and His Eucharistic Presence transform you.

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