5th Sunday of Easter
Live-Streamed (Coronavirus Crisis)
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
May 10, 2020
“Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled”
Today’s Gospel opens with Jesus’ words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled!” Perhaps you were struck by those words as much as I was. When I read and prayed over them in preparation for this liturgy, I found myself saying, “But, Lord, our hearts are troubled!” How could we not be troubled with so many people dying of the coronavirus? How could we not be worried about those who are struggling with it? Who is not concerned about the huge economic impact of this crisis, as unemployment spikes to levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930’s? In yesterday’s Sun paper, a parent described what it feels like as this crisis lingers: “I feel like I’m drowning!” she said, and I think she speaks for many who are finding it hard not only to work every day at home, but also to be constantly at close quarters with the rest of family, not to mention the fear of illness, pay cuts, and unemployment. “We are looking,” someone said, “for light at the end of the tunnel.”
Yes, our hearts are troubled on this Sunday, the fifth of our celebration of Easter, the feast par excellence of hope. How we would like it if the Lord just extended his hands over us and caused the virus and its aftermath to disappear from view. And while we must surely pray in Jesus’ Name for this crisis to pass, today’s Scriptures invite us to make use even of this moment of fear and frustration to understand how faith in Christ and belonging to the Church matter. But just to be clear at the outset: faith is not a magic wand or a mere coping mechanism. While it’s true that prayers are often answered beyond all expectation and faith can surely provide us immense comfort and consolation, nonetheless, faith is not just a temporary fix or a sedative or a palliative. No, Jesus’ words, “Have faith in God; have faith also in me…” are an invitation to share a hope, a peace, and a joy that will outlast our sorrows, and in the midst of them, grow even more intense and beautiful. So: to what kind of a life is Jesus inviting us, when he tells us to have faith in him?
Heaven on Earth
Our usual conception of things runs one of two ways. Some feel that life on earth is all that there is; pain and sadness only prove that, if God does exist, he must be uncaring and even cruel. Other people, including some believers, think of life on earth as a hardship, a hardship to be endured as the price for entering that “better place” called heaven. I think it’s safe to say that Jesus does not endorse either viewpoint. The Lord knows that neither explanation satisfies the deepest longing of our hearts.
And so, the Risen Lord, on the eve of his Ascension, invites us to embrace something that will satisfy our hearts’ deepest longings, namely, a relationship of intimate love with himself (with Jesus) and with his heavenly Father. In our Gospel, Jesus says he is going to prepare a place for us, adding that in his Father’s house there are many dwelling places. Here, the Lord is not talking about a physical dwelling, like a mansion or a resort. No, the place Jesus is preparing for us is a place in his Father’s heart, that sacred space where the Father and the Son are eternally united in the love of the Holy Spirit. Imagine, we are destined to dwell in the heart of God, and furthermore, we can begin right now, amid life’s challenges, to inhabit our eternal dwelling place. For to know Jesus by faith, to trust him, to experience his love and to reciprocate it— to do that is to experience a foretaste of heaven, that peace the world cannot give.
Seen that way, our lives, whether in good times or bad, are really a journey: a journey through which we are purified of sin and strengthened with virtue, a journey that leads us ever more deeply into the heart of the Triune God. … And how is it that we make this journey, especially when the road is rough? Well, in answer to that question, Jesus utters words that should deeply reassure us. He says: “I am the way and the truth and the life!” First, he says, “I am!”, that is, “I am who am” – the name by which God identifies himself in the Book of Exodus (3:14). This is Jesus’ assurance that he is indeed the divine and eternal Son of God. Then Jesus tells us he is the way that leads to the Father; and that “way” is not a highway but rather Jesus’ crucified and risen humanity, his humanity, the humanity he shares with us, by which he forged a path for you and me right into the heart of our heavenly Father. Jesus then tells us he is the truth, not only in the sense that he teaches truth, but in the sense that he reveals who are and who we are meant to be in God’s eyes. His truth lights the way for us to embrace our true dignity as God’s adopted children. And finally, Jesus tells us that he is the life, meaning that the divine life he shared from all eternity with the Father, he now wants to share with us, forever.
What’s more, we do not make this journey alone, as isolated strangers. These days when we feel the separation from loved ones and our fellow Catholics, In today’s second reading, St. Peter shows us that we are still part of something larger than ourselves; he reminds us that we are all in this together. He does this by describing us as “living stones” in God’s temple, living, breathing, vital members of the Church, God’s Holy People, and as such, we are allowing ourselves to be built together into a spiritual house, a house whose foundation and cornerstone is none other than the Risen Christ. This is why we long for the day when we can be together in Church. Not just because we miss seeing one another – and we truly do – but because, deep down, we realize that our deepest spiritual blessings come to us not in isolation but in communion with Jesus and with the People he has made his own.
Doing the Works of the Lord
One final thing. If we are indeed united with one another in the Risen Lord, then, says Jesus, we will do the very works that he did during his earthly sojourn. If we live in Jesus, just as Jesus lives in the Father, and if together we’re being built up into the household of God founded on Christ, then won’t we find ourselves striving to pray, to think, to speak, and to act as Jesus did? Won’t we find ourselves going about daily life wanting to share our faith with others and won’t we also want to reach out to others with love, encouragement, and help?
And, as we saw, that’s what happened in the earliest decades of the Church’s life. As the Apostles went about preaching, they were sensitive to the needs of others, especially those who depended upon the largesse of the Church community. As they sought to address those needs, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit to set apart the first deacons of the Church and entrust them with a ministry of charity. That ministry continues locally in the dedicated deacons of this Archdiocese who proclaim the Word, assist in the Church’s life of worship, and serve those in need. In turn, our deacons inspire all of us to a life of charity a charity that is the fruit of our intimacy, in Jesus, with the God who is love. For, as disciples, we are indeed called to do the works that Jesus himself did. We are called to be a people who offer our lives to God by serving those in need. And when, in the depth of our own fear, need, and frustration, we reach out to others, somehow, we not only feel better about ourselves but we also experience a newfound peace, a deep and a beautiful peace, for then we have given living expression to our faith in Jesus, “the way, the truth, and the life.”
May God bless us and keep us always in his love!