Fifth Sunday of Easter
Theme: New Horizons
Life is a pilgrimage, where new horizons constantly appear, and new challenges must be met. As on any journey, it is important to keep our eyes fixed on our destination which is eternal life. With Christ as our guide our church will not go astray, even if we have to make changes and relax some of our cherished traditions in order to meet the new needs of our people, here and now – just as the apostles did, when they set up new ministries to deal with new needs. We may be God’s temple and yet not be “set in stone”, for as St Peter puts it, we are “living stones” and the house we are built into is the living body of Christ.
Acts 6:1-7. After a disagreement in the early Church they find a solution to deal with the real needs of the community. The apostles devote themselves to the service of the Word.
1 Pt 2:4-9. Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, we are invited to come to Christ, and to be faithful members of his Church.
Jn 14:1-12. We have a deep basis for inner peace, because Christ has prepared a place for us in the Father’s house.
– that we may let ourselves be built, like living stones, into a spiritual house, with Christ as the corner-stone.
– that our church leaders may seek and find ways to ensure that priests and deacons are available to serve the needs of the faithful.
– that we may resist the temptation to condemn those who differ from us, and make room for them in our society.
– that with God’s help there may eventually be one flock and one shepherd.
Beginning At The End (Liam Swords)
Some years ago, a missionary bishop was invited to Paris to give a lecture in OECD on his experiences. The night before, he asked how best to get to the OECD headquarters, as his talk was scheduled for early the following morning. As there was a direct line on the underground, friends suggested he take the Metro. It was his first visit to Paris and he baulked at the prospect. It was strange to see this man who had braved persecution and imprisonment for his convictions, terrified of taking the underground. He only agreed finally, when someone offered to go with him. When he returned that evening, they asked him how he got on, meaning how was his lecture received. “Fine,” he said, “and I came back on the Metro all on my own.”
Paris must be the easiest city in the world for tourists to get around. The Metro is an example of French logic at its best. You begin at the end, where all good journeys should begin. It’s the destination that counts. Where you want to go is what decides the direction you take. Each line is named by its terminus. Your direction is determined by whichever of the two termini serves your purpose. Having made your choice, you can’t go wrong. No wonder Parisians have a saying: “If you get lost in the Metro, don’t tell anyone.’
Our life is a journey. Older generations preferred to call it the “pilgrim way.” It begins at birth and ends at death. In between, at every juncture, we are confronted with a multiplicity of choices. Life is a network of criss-crossing routes and spaghetti junctions. Getting lost is a constant possibility. We can easily end up in all sorts of blind alleys or get trapped in narrow cul-de-sacs from which we can barely extricate ourselves. We are often tempted to stray from the “straight and narrow path” that leads to salvation, preferring the easier paths to perdition. Like the Paris Metro, finding their way is only a problem for those who don’t know their destination.
To Thomas” question, “How can we know the way?’, Jesus replied: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me.’ James Thurber, the American fable writer put a similar message in a verse:
“All men should learn before they die,
where they are going to, from where and why.”
The Soul’s Aspirations (John Walsh)
At the heart of every great civilisation in the history of mankind there has been some form of religion, which when it declined was followed gradually afterwards by the break-up of that civilisation. Are Western countries, we might ask, on the slide to decadence therefore, because they concentrate their energies almost solely on the gaining of wealth and political power, to the near total exclusion of religious values? Of course we should seek higher standards of living, and work so as to pay for the good things we enjoy, but unless we are ambitious also for the higher gifts of the spirit we can end up as a nation without a soul, devoid of moral values.
As against this, the history of God’s chosen people Israel, as we see in the Bible, is proof that a low material culture can become the vehicle of a truly great religious tradition. “Man,” one of the Fathers of the early Church (Eusebius) wrote, “man, the beloved creation of the divine Word, is meant to form a bridge between God and the material universe.” The first Christian heresies, on the one hand, sought to convert Christianity into a religion of pure spirit, claiming that the material world is essentially evil. The prophets of modern progress, on the other hand, would say, “We must concentrate all our energies on developing our material assets; as for religion, it is immaterial,” in other words it serves no useful purpose in promoting the welfare of the human race.
But there are only three great enduring factors which can sustain the true aspirations of the human soul, faith, hope and love, and only these can span the gap between ourselves and the God who created us for himself. The Church, which Christ the eternal Son of God founded, is continually reminding us of the faith which we have received, and of our duty to increase and hand it on to the next generation. As to love, some would even claim that it has been over-stressed in our sermons, to the point of becoming almost a kind of sentimentalism largely divorced from any moral code. However Scripture assures us that the greatest of the cardinal virtues is love.
But we should ask ourselves what about the virtue of hope and its significance in our lives. Hope which for the Jews was, and still is, so important, has for Christians become almost the forgotten virtue. “Trust in God still and trust in me,” said Jesus in his farewell at the Last Supper. “Hope is to us like an anchor, safe and sure,” the Letter to the Hebrews tells us (6:19), and in the ancient world the anchor was the one great symbol of stability for the seafarer, who, relying on sail-power, was forever at the mercy of the uncertain winds. An ancient proverb maintained that “a ship should never depend on one anchor, or a life on one hope” (Epictetus).
So it is that the hope mentioned by the writer of Hebrews is anchored in two unalterable truths, first the promise given by God, who cannot lie, to shower blessings on Abraham and all his descendants (and such are we also), and secondly the oath by which God confirmed this promise, so making it into a most solemn and sacred pledge. If throughout our lives we continue to hope and trust in God’s mercy then we can pass with confidence through the veil that separates us now from God, that veil through which the risen Christ has passed as our forerunner.
Christ’s promise to his Apostles at the Last Supper is made to us too, “I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared a place for you, I shall return to take you with me so that where I am you also may be.” The longing for happiness hereafter is obviously a response to the virtue of hope implanted in us by God. No matter what happens we should continue to trust that with the grace of God we may persevere to the end, and so obtain the joy of heaven, which God will bestow on us as a reward for the good works accomplished under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who pleads for us with sighs too deep for words.
The great Carmelite saint, Teresa of Avila, whose writings on prayer merited for her the title of Doctor of the Church, composed this little prayer to keep her hope alive: “Hope, Oh my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch therefore, for everything passes quickly. the more you strive, the more you prove the love you have for God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your beloved One, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.”
Back to the Garden (Jack McArdle)
We had wandered far away from the garden, and Jesus has come to bring us back. There is only one Way to get back to the Father, and Jesus is that Way.
A priest once described an experience he had in London some years ago. The whole city was fog-bound. He came out of a convent where he had celebrated Mass, only to discover that he literally couldn’t see his hand in the fog. The community house in which he lived was less than a mile away, but there was no way he could even attempt to walk down the road. Footpaths, lampposts, parked cars, etc., were all enveloped and invisible in the fog. He had decided to return to the convent when he heard footsteps approach from his left. He stood still, and listened. Suddenly, out of the fog came a man, walking briskly and confidently. He spoke to the man, who stopped and bade him goodnight and made to continue on his way. It was a few seconds before it dawned on the priest that the man was blind and was totally oblivious of the fog. The priest explained his predicament, and the man said, “Oh, I know that place well. Here, take my arm, and I’ll bring you there.” And that was how the priest got home. He knew the way alright, but he couldn’t find it!
Most of my generation grew up on promises. We were always making promises to God, renewing baptismal promises, making Lenten and New Year promises, etc. It would, indeed, be a real conversion if we were to turn that around, and begin to give top priority to the promises that Jesus makes to us. Today’s gospel contains a wonderful promise. He is going to prepare a place for us and then, one day, he will come to bring us with him so that, where he is, we also will be.
Jesus has two things to say about his promises that are important. Firstly, he says that heaven and earth will pass away before his promises pass away. Secondly, he says that the sin of this world is unbelief in him; in other words, the problem is that people do not believe his promises. Elizabeth said to Mary, “All these things happened to you because you believed that the promises of the Lord would be fulfilled.”
Abolishing Class Distinctions (Benedict O’Ceirin)
The first reading today shows us an example of ‘class distinction’ or racial discrimination in the infant Church. The Hellenists were converts whose language was Greek; their complaint was quite simply that their widows were not getting the necessary ‘social services” from the Jews. The apostles’ solution of the problem shows us that both the work of praying and preaching, with which they were primarily concerned, and the work of giving out food, serving tables, were of importance to them. Neither works should be neglected.
Reading this passage from the Acts of the Apostles we are reminded that for each of us, in our individual Christian life, there are two important dimensions prayer and service – and living our Christian vocation seriously and well demands that we find a balance between the two. As Christians we have to pray, to worship God directly; we are also called to serve each other. No matter what we do in life, our work will always reach others in some way; it will always be of service and utility to someone, somewhere; and hence, provided we have an attitude of respect for others no task we perform will ever be seen as a menial task. Prayer and the service of the word was of primary importance to the apostles. Yet the service of the widows in the community was of such importance to them that they appointed seven special men to attend to this service, and initiated them by a religious and liturgical ceremony.
As a result, the word of the Lord continued to spread: the number of disciples in Jerusalem was greatly increased .. We could here ask ourselves is this still true in our day. Is the word of the Lord spreading? Is the number of disciples in the Church greatly increasing? In the second reading from the first letter of St Peter, the Church is seen as a spiritual house, and we are called to be the living stones that make up this house. Everytime we say the Lord’s Prayer – and we say it together everytime we offer Mass we say ‘Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come.’ Does it ever occur to us that by praying thus we place upon ourselves, take upon ourselves the duty and responsibility of spreading the word of the Lord and of working by our Christian lives for the increase of the number of disciples in the Church? We are all responsible for establishing and maintaining a good standard of morality and of Christian concern in the community to which we belong. We can contribute greatly to the building of this spiritual house which is the Church by our daily conduct and attitudes.
The chief stone, the cornerstone, in this spiritual edifice is Christ himself, and he speaks to us in most encouraging language in the gospel today. If he is going away, it is to prepare a place for us, in his Father’s house, where there are many rooms. So, no matter who we are or what we do, there is a place for us all in the kingdom. Each has his own unique gifts of nature and grace, each is important to God, and the words of Christ here remind us again of the respect for each and all that was exemplified for us in the first reading by the action of the apostles.
In the gospel Christ reminds us, as like Philip we long to see the Father, that to have seen him is to have seen the Father. No one has seen the Father at any time. There are many completely wrong notions about what God is like, and in our day men often leave God aside as irrelevant because their notion of God is faulty or sometimes even completely distorted. The Lord tells us here today that if we want to see the authentic picture of God the Father we find it in him. ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me.’ When we see Christ in the pages of the gospel concerned for others, interested in everyone, respecting everyone, encouraging sinners to repent, we are always meant to reflect that this is the kind that the invisible Father is. ‘It is the Father, living in me, who is doing this work.’
First Reading: Acts 6:1-7
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.
And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”
What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.
The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
Second Reading: First Letter of St Peter 2:4-9
Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be 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: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,” and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” 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, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Gospel: John 14:1-12
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place 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 except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever 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 is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.