Third Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
For the second week in a row we read today the account
of Jesus’ appearing to His apostles in the upper room on Easter Sunday
–last week we read St. John’s account,
and this week we read St. Luke’s.
As you would expect, the two accounts tell pretty much the same story,
each adding their own details and perspective.
But one thing that stands out in both accounts is their identical account
of the first words the Risen Christ said to His apostles:
“Peace be with you.”
Think about this.
On what other occasion does Jesus tell His apostles: “peace be with you”?
If you recall, it happened just 3 days before Easter,
when at the Last Supper He said:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you;
not as the world gives do I give to you.
Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Sounds a lot like what He says to those same apostles in today’s Gospel,
taken from Easter:
“Peace be with you…Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?”
The “peace of Christ” is not like the peace the world thinks of
—it’s not just about nonviolence or harmony between people,
although those can certainly flow from the peace of Christ.
But the peace of Christ is first and fundamentally an internal peace
—peace of the heart.
So that even when there’s all sorts of violence and disturbance around you
–like the apostles locked in the upper room,
afraid the Sanhedrin or the Romans would come
and arrest them and crucify them—
even then, you can have true and inner peace,
like the apostles go from being terrified to, as it says,
being “incredulous for joy.”
Moreover, this peace comes directly from Christ,
and we receive it only by being with Christ.
We see this in today’s Gospel as Jesus seeks to reassure his apostles
that he is really there with them, really alive:
by showing them his wounded hands, and eating with them.
And so that with Him, there is no reason to fear or to have a troubled heart,
but only to be at peace.
Even so, at the very end of the last supper, He prays to His father:
“that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you,
may they also be in us…
So we see that the fullness of the peace of Christ
comes not from merely being with Him, but from being ONE with Him,
being united to him.
So He continues praying at the last supper:
“…that they may be one, as we are one, I IN them and you IN me…”
This oneness, or unity, or communion, is exactly what we find
in the sacrament Jesus instituted at the last supper,
and that we come here to celebrate today:
a sacrament that we call “Holy Communion”
at that point when Christ literally enters in to us
as we receive his Body: “I in them”…. and us in him.
So in a very important sense, the Eucharist,
or rather the Communion with Christ
that the Eucharist brings about and strengthens,
is the source of true peace.
And the Church reminds us of this at every Mass.
All throughout the Mass, we pray for peace.
For example, right at the beginning of the Mass, we sing:
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will.”
Then in the Eucharistic prayer we pray for peace 4 times, including:
the prayer that God will “order our days in [His] peace…,”
Then, right before we receive Communion, the priest prays to Christ,
recalling his words from the last supper,
“Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles,
Peace I leave you, my peace I give you…”
And then speaking of the Church he says:
“graciously grant her peace and unity ….”
And then he turns to the people and says:
“Peace be with you.”
And then he usually invites you to exchange a “sign of peace” with each other.
The exchange of the sign of peace can be a powerful symbol
as we prepare to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion.
Unfortunately, what’s happened over the last 50 years is
we’ve lost sight of what’s really happening here:
we forget “not as the world gives [peace] do I give [peace].”
So, many times the sign of peace becomes entirely about worldly peace.
But It’s not about us, and good feelings of friendship,
and certainly not about saying “hello”
or “good to see you” to your neighbor,
It’s supposed to be about the Risen Christ present on the altar in the Eucharist
saying “MY Peace be with you, because I’m here”
and about the spiritual fruit of the truest peace
that comes not just from being in his presence
but being truly united with him in Holy Communion,
of him being in us, and us being in him.
Now, it is true, that by receiving and being in Communion in Christ,
we come into or deepen our communion with each other:
as Jesus prays at the last supper: ““that they may all be one.”
But to understand the unity he’s talking about,
and the “they” he’s praying for,
we have to go back to the context.
He begins by first praying for the unity of his 12 apostles:
And then, continuing to pray for the 12 apostles, he asks his Father:
“…Sanctify them in the truth…
As you have sent me into the world,
so I have sent them into the world.”
And then he prays:
“I ask not only on behalf of these [the 12 apostles],
but also on behalf of those who will believe in me
through their word, that they may all be one.”
So you see, he’s praying for the unity,
first of the apostles,
and then of all those who come to believe in the truth they teach.
So unity with Christ and the fullness of true peace it brings,
also requires unity, or communion, with the apostles
and believing what they taught about Christ.
And not just with his first 12, but also with their successors in authority,
who have passed along the authentic true apostolic teaching,
over the last 20 centuries.
So ask yourself, when you turn to your neighbor and shake his hand
and say “peace be with you”
are you meaning to pray that he receive
the everlasting peace, the peace that passes all understanding,
that flows from
the Sacramental Communion with Christ in the Eucharist
and faith in everything the apostles and their successors
teach to be certainly true?
Or do you just mean, “hey, great to see you”?
Think about that….
And when you come up to receive Holy Communion
do you first examine your conscience
to see if you really are in communion with the apostolic teaching
handed down through the centuries through
popes, bishops, councils and great fathers and doctors of the Church?
And if you’re not, do realize there can be no true peace for you
in the lie you commit by receiving Holy Communion
when you are not in communion?
Unfortunately, today there are many challenges to our communion
with Christ and his apostles.
And I don’t mean just those brought by our separated Protestant brethren,
but rather the challenges that arise from within the visible boundaries
of the Catholic Church herself.
Whether it’s challenges to our communion by those who call themselves Catholic
but reject the Church’s ancient, apostolic and constant teaching on things like
the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist,
and its effects on us, the Communion it brings with Christ,
or the real historical bodily Death and Resurrection of Jesus,
or the truth about marriage and sexuality,
or the dignity of every person, poor or rich, born or unborn.
Or whether it’s challenges brought by Catholics who simply spread confusion
regarding the constant teaching of the Church.
For example, when well-meaning priests and even bishops
will take an official doctrine of the Church,
and apply it to certain situations and act as if their private opinion
is the same and as binding as actual doctrine.
For example, some will take a clear doctrine of the Church,
like, the moral necessity that we must provide for the needs of the poor,
but then imposes their opinion as to the best way to do that,
and try to make us think that their opinion is doctrine.
But attempts to impose unity
where legitimate differences in judgment should be respected
does nothing but confuse the faithful and so undermine true communion
—and so, peace.
In the end, true peace comes only from unity with Christ.
But there can be no unity with Christ
without unity with the true teaching of the apostles and their successors.
As we enter more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist at this Mass,
as we pray for the peace and unity that only
the sacrament of Communion with Christ and His Church can bring,
let us pray for those who threatened that unity,
whether through ignorance, or willful dissent,
or by confusing doctrine and prudential judgment.
And as we approach the Lord in Holy Communion,
let us examine ourselves,
praying for forgiveness for any way we may have offended
the peace and unity of the Church.
So that we may approach our Eucharistic Lord
not with troubled hearts filled with fear
but with peaceful hearts filled with Easter Joy.
So that the Lord may say to us: “Peace be with you.”