6th Sunday of Easter
May 22, 2022
St. John, Hydes
Bicentennial Closing Mass
Throughout the past year, you have been celebrating 200 glorious years, 200 years as the oldest parish in Baltimore County. With an industry born of love, you have unearthed records, retrieved stories of faith and devotion, remembered the priests who served here, given thanks for all those whose faith, hard work, and generosity put the first church, the second church, and the school on firm foundations. In your recently renovated parish center, you have put your history on display, and in this way have made it accessible to parishioners and visitors. After Mass, we will be blessing a time capsule so that future parishioners will remember the pages of parish history which you, the present generation is writing so wisely and lovingly.
Much as we might like to remain in Bicentennial mode, however, there comes a time when such celebrations must come to an end, and the past, lovingly remembered, must give way to a future replete with challenges and opportunities. This is where we find ourselves this morning. How, then, shall we proceed?
Our response to that question must be: “Our heart is set in one direction; the only direction for our intellect, will, and heart is towards Christ the Redeemer, towards Christ the Redeemer of Man” … (Redemptor Hominis, 7) … words of St. John Paul II at the beginning of his Pontificate. Christ is the future of this parish and Christ is the future of each one here today. He who is “the way, the truth, and the life is the horizon of unlimited hope, and at the same time, our Shepherd and guide along the way. Jesus Christ is at the heart of every prayer, every liturgy, and every homily! Christ who is the heart and soul of pastoral planning, outreach, and projects! Christ whose Spirit gives us the courage and energy necessary for mission. Let us seek and find him in today’s Scripture readings!
Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled
Today’s Gospel comes from Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples. In the Upper Room, on the night before he died, Jesus spoke to his closest friends. Opening his heart to them, he urged them to remain true to his word so that they would share in the intimacy between himself and the heavenly Father.
He promised that the Father would send them the Holy Spirit who would remind them of all that Jesus taught.
Yet, sensing that Jesus was slipping from their grasp, the disciples are troubled. So Jesus bequeaths to them his peace, the peace the world cannot give. “Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid,” he says, as he prepares to die, to rise, and to be exalted at the Father’s right hand. At the time, the disciples do not understand what Jesus is trying to tell them. Later they did, and through their teaching and the power of the Holy Spirit, we also understand that Jesus remains with us, powerfully and lovingly – in his Word and Sacraments, most especially the Eucharist. His saving words and deeds touch our inmost souls through the ministry of priests. The Lord lives among you as a worshipping community, and you find the Lord as you educate the young, reach out to the poor, and welcome both the stranger and the estranged. Nothing history, culture, or human weakness throws at us should set us off course. Our hearts are set in one direction – towards Christ whose love conquers all.
In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the early church is at a crossroads. A new situation has arisen and a decision must be made. Through the preaching of Paul and Barnabas, the Gospel has gone beyond Jewish converts and extended to the Gentiles. Should these new converts be obliged to follow the Mosaic Law like Jewish converts?
To sort out this question – which was thornier than we might think – the Apostles convened the first of many church councils, the Council of Jerusalem. Amid patient dialog, the Apostles and elders, their hearts open to the Spirit, reached a sound decision on how to welcome Gentiles well and wisely. Thus, they fulfilled the mandate of the Risen Lord to bring his Gospel to all the nations and to baptize them in the name of the Trinity.
As you launch into your next 200 years, dear parishioners, you will also face new and challenging situations and decisions will need to be made. These decisions, like those faced by the early church, may be thornier than we wish. Yet, as the Synodal Process has taught us, we must first listen to the Word of God, open our hearts in prayer to the Holy Spirit, and then engage in patient dialog, even as the world around us has forgotten how to do so. We can be confident that the Risen Lord who remains with his Church will guide us. Therefore, our heart is set in one direction: towards Christ our Redeemer!
The second reading from the Book of Revelation is window on heaven, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. It is a place of immense beauty and overflowing joy, a place where the history of Israel and the foundations of the Church are enshrined in glory. At the heart of it all is the Lamb who was slain, from whom emanates the light brightens all of heaven and whose rays reach down, even to this vale of tears.
The true beauty of this parish and indeed any parish is but a participation in the beauty of that heavenly Temple towards which we journey as pilgrims. With our eyes fixed on that destination, we face the future with confidence, not mere optimism, but a hope that is invincible, a hope that does not disappoint. In that spirit of hope, we plant the seeds of faith and tend them. We strive to become living stones in the Body of Christ, and continue building up St. John’s into a vibrant community of faith, worship and service. As the future of this parish unfolds, our hearts are set in one direction: towards Christ, the Lamb who was slain for us, the Redeemer who lives.
I cannot conclude these reflections without thanking you with all my heart – thanking your wonderful pastor, Father Literal, and his team of co-workers, thank school leadership and the lay leadership of the parish – together with so many good-hearted and talented volunteers – not merely for what you give to this parish but for giving of yourselves, pouring yourselves into its daily life and mission, thus bearing witness to the Christ that lives in you and among you. I thank you, because your heart is set in one direction – towards the Christ who lives and reigns with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever!