May 25, 2012

HOMILY for Fri 7 of Easter

Acts 25:13-21; Ps 102; John 21:15-19

It’s often said that Jesus asks St Peter three times if he loves him in order to allow him to overturn his triple denial of Christ. And Peter, because he loves the Lord, is thus entrusted with the care of Christ’s beloved flock, the Church. But there is so much more to this passage. For in fact, Peter is being invited on a journey, to follow Christ so that he will learn to love as much as Jesus does to the point of dying for his flock. 

The Greek text of this Gospel makes this more evident, I think. Because the first two times, Jesus asks: “agapas me”. Agape in the New Testament is an unconditional pure love, the kind of unselfish sacrificial love that God has for us, the kind of love that goes to the Cross for the sake of sinners, and forgives those who deny and betray him. And Peter, in his three replies says: “philo se”. This is not quite the same pure love that Jesus has and that he asks of Peter, but the love of friendship. Now, friendship is the “most fully human of all loves”, a beautiful and precious love indeed, but it isn’t quite the supernatural divine kind of love that agape, charity, is. But it seems, this is all that Peter can give at the moment, his very best and fullest human love.

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May 21, 2012

HOMILY for Mon 7 of Easter

Acts 19:1-8; Ps 67; John 16:29-33

Recent research by various non-religious organizations have observed that an increasing number of people are persecuted by the State for their faith or face extreme restrictions contrary to a human right to freedom of religion. And estimates are that 75-80% of the acts of religious intolerance in the world today are directed against Christians, which translates into about 100 million Christians worldwide who suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, and millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Although we don’t necessarily face intolerance on this scale in the West, it can still be difficult to live our faith openly – jobs can be lost, we might be ridiculed by others, and pre-judged. And there is growing intolerance to Christian moral views. In Canada, certain parts of the Catechism are effectively censored, and the Advertising Standards Agency in the UK has been investigating advertisements that simply state that according to an independent poll 70% of people are not in favour of changing the State’s definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. Apparently, just stating this fact is “offensive and homophobic”, and risks subjecting one to an investigation by a Regulatory Body; it’s a subtle but real form of persecution. All this is evidence that, as Christ says, “in the world you have tribulation”.

But in the face of such tribulation, troubles, and trials, Christ tells us to have courage. Our Gospel translation says: “be of good cheer”, but, other translations are less coy, and say: “be confident”, or even better, “be brave”. Courage is not foolhardiness but it is a moral strength that gives us bravery to step up when necessary to speak the truth. It fortifies us against fear of being ridiculed, hated, or even, in extreme cases, killed. St Thomas observes that the greatest act of courage is martyrdom. 

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May 20, 2012

HOMILY for the 7th Sunday of Easter (B)

Acts 1:15-17. 20-26; Ps 102; 1 Jn 4:11-16; John 17:11-19

Today, Jesus is praying for us: “Sanctify them”, or better, “make them holy in the truth”. But what does this mean? There’s a tendency to think of holiness – if we think of it at all – as essentially an individual endeavour; we strive for it as a personal life-long project, albeit with God’s help. But, of course, we don’t become saints alone but as part of a communion of saints. For holiness is not an individual project but a communal one, and we are bound to one another, with all our various weaknesses and strengths, in love. Hence in today’s Gospel, Jesus prays to the Father for “them”, his apostles who stand for the entire Church, and so, he is also praying for you and me, for us, as members of his Church.

But what does he mean by “make them holy in the truth”? In the first place, Christ himself is the divine Word and the Truth. And so, the Church is made holy through its union with Christ, being in Him. God alone is the Holy One, so the Church, and each of us as individual members of the Church can be called ‘holy’ only because we share in Christ’s holiness by being united to him, just as the Body is united to the Head. And God has consecrated us - set us apart for himself - not because of what we have done or really deserve, but because of who he is. God is love. So, he has sought us out in mercy, and united us to himself in love. So, when Jesus prays that the Church should be sanctified in the truth, he is praying that we should remain in the truth of his love in order that we may be holy as he is holy. 

But how do we remain in his love? How are we made holy? Through the Holy Spirit who is God’s love given to us, and who is called the Sanctifier. So, it is the Spirit who makes us holy and sanctifies us in the truth by holding us together in God’s love. Hence Christ’s prayer is, on another level, a prayer that the Spirit of Pentecost be given to his Church so that we will abide in love, and love one another. He is praying that the “communion of the Holy Spirit” be with you and with me. Ultimately, then, Jesus is praying for the unity of the Church that we Christians may be one even as he and the Father are one. Christ and the Father are united through love, who is the Holy Spirit. So, we Christians are also to be united through love, through the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

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