Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 18, 2014
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
There are certain words that are very popular today
but that can be very confusing to Christians:
words like equality, diversity, tolerance and choice.
They can confuse Christians because nowadays
they are most commonly used in the popular culture
as synonymous for the word “indifference.”
But that’s not at all what these words mean in the Christian tradition.
This change in the meaning of these words
is rooted a more profound underlying idea popular in our world today:
the idea that there is no absolute truth,
no one way to be or act,
or one kind of life to live.
And that is what the Church calls and condemns as “indifferentism.”
Because being Christian means being in unity with Christ and his teaching,
and Christ himself, in today’s Gospel tells us, he himself is:
” the way and the truth and the life.”
Everybody is looking for the truth.
Everybody wants to know the right way to do things.
And everyone wants to know what kind of life they should live.
If they didn’t then no one would have high blood pressure,
or endure any kind of stress what ever.
No one would worry about doing the right thing,
not even the right thing to get what we want, much less the morally right thing.
No one would care about much of anything.
The Gospel text today is taken from St. John’s account of the Last Supper.
Imagine the context: Jesus is seated with his best friends, the twelve apostles.
It had been an turbulent week for them.
It began with the Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover
pouring into the streets to greet Jesus as the Messiah.
But as the week when on, the sensed a change in the crowd:
they had been disappointed in Jesus.
And perhaps they had noticed a change in Jesus too,
as if he knew something was about to happen.
And he did know: he knew that in a few hours they would see him
dragged away and hanged on a cross.
And when that happens he knows that they will be sorely tempted
to look to abandon all that he has shown them.
But that’s the last thing Jesus wants.
These are the men he has chosen to spread his message to all the world.
So Jesus tells them:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.”
They are not to fall back on their old ways.
They are not to loose faith in the God of their Jewish fathers,
but neither are they to loose faith in the one sent by God–his Son, Jesus Christ.
He knows that these 12 men–like every man, women and child from the beginning of time
–need to know which way they should go, what the truth is, and how to live.
He knows that for them, like us, this is a great source of worry and concern.
So much so that we will eventually accept anything
that somehow seems to temporarily meet those needs,
or somehow dulls the pain we feel when they go unmet.
And He says to them and he says to us: “Do not worry…have faith in me.”
The problem is, like us so often, the apostles had a hard time having faith in Jesus.
So Philip asks him: “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”
Philip is asking the question that most people
eventually ask when they encounter Christ and his teachings:
Why should I accept this, you’re just a man?
Oh, maybe smarter and holier than everyone else
–maybe you are a great prophet and God does speak to you.
But your still just a man.
Mohammed was a man–why can’t we follow him?
Gandhi, Buddha, Karl Marx were men.
Why can’t we follow them?
Show us something that makes you special.
I can just see Jesus now–at the same time frustrated and bemused.
I picture him with this look of exasperation on his face, shaking his head:
“Philip, have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me?
…Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”
Jesus Christ is not just an ordinary man: He’s also God.
The first chapter of Genesis tells us that God created man in his own image
–to be like him.
And that’s not saying that he’s like some proud papa
who wants his children to follow in his footsteps.
What it means is that he created us in a such a way
that we can only be who we are when we are like him.
When Stradivarius made a fine violin, or Gibson a fine guitar,
they were designed for one purpose–to be a violin or guitar—
and as a violin or guitar to make beautiful music that moves the soul.
A Stradivarius violin silently sitting in the corner is still a violin,
and a Gibson guitar used as a pot for a plant is still a guitar,
but what a terrible waste.
You are created in the image of God.
Would you rather be like a violin sitting silently in the corner,
or a violin that sings of eternal love and hope
filling the world with the music of God!
As St. John Paul II used to say so often: “man, be who you are!”
To be fully human is to be like God.
But what, in truth, is God really like?
In what way does he act?
What sort of life does he lead?
Many would say that its impossible for human beings know any of this
–its not like God came into the world and showed us….
Oh, but he did!
“Philip!…whoever has seen me has seen the Father!”
You can follow Mohammed, Buddha, or Marx
or whatever self-proclaimed prophet you want
….but who are they but mere mortal men.
They may understand some things about God…
But Jesus Christ is the way of God!
Jesus Christ is the truth of God!
Jesus Christ is the life of God!”
Because Jesus is God!
Indifferentism is growing in the world today.
Many say that its wrong to claim that any one particular group’s idea of the truth
is the absolute truth.
Some even argue that this contest between various religious groups’ different claims
to be sole possessors of the truth
is the root of much of the violence in our history and today
—and so something to be overcome and eliminated.
Even many Catholics have come to believe
that all religions are about the same fundamentally
–“its all the same God, isn’t it?”
There’s some truth in both these errors.
We can’t know all truths on our own.
But God knew that and came into the world as Jesus Christ
to reveal himself so we could know the truth.
There’s a radical difference between a guitar that serves a potted plant,
and a guitar which plays flawlessly beautiful music.
There’s a radical difference between a person who follows a partial truth,
a directionless way and a meaningless life,
and a person who follows Jesus Christ.
Now just as no two guitars sound exactly the same,
no two people are exactly the same.
And while God made us in his image, he also makes us unique in our own right.
And so we see the important Christian implications of ideas like
equality, diversity, tolerance and choice.
But, these ideas become radically opposed to God and his truth
when they become confused with “indifference,”
and when respect for our differences from each other is nothing more than
a rejection of what makes us like God.
It’s true that it’s difficult to know the truth—but not impossible,
because as Jesus says,
“for man it is impossible, but not for God; nothing is impossible for God.”
Just as Jesus knew his death would cause a crisis in faith for his apostles,
he also knew it would be even harder on those 100, or 200 or 2000 years later
who would never even knew him when he walked the earth.
And so at the last supper he gave us the 2 sacraments of priesthood and Eucharist
to bridge the divide of years.
First, in the priesthood he established the apostles as his representatives,
whom he would send then out with the special grace—his own power—
to teach his people the truth about him,
to lead them in the way he laid out for them,
and to help them in sanctifying their lives:
to unite themselves more closely to Jesus.
And he prayed to his Father at that Last Supper,
“not only” for his apostles, “but also,” as he said:
“for those who will believe in me through their word,
…so that they may be one, as we are one…”
It is absolutely true that many times priests make personal mistakes and sins
—beginning with the betrayal of Judas, and also the denial of St. Peter.
But Christ will never abandon the sacrament he established for his Church,
–he will never abandon his apostles, bishops and priests—
for to do that would be to abandon his whole people.
That night he also left us a second sacrament—the greatest of all: the Eucharist,
where he physically—through sacramental signs—comes into our presence,
and even into our very bodies and persons.
He enters us, so that we can really be completely united with him,
and through him, with him and in him, united to the Father as he is:
“so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
that they also may be in us….”
And united to the Father and to the Son, and Holy Spirit,
we can become the persons we were created to be.
Words like equality, diversity, tolerance and choice
mean different things to different people.
But some of those meanings are completely opposed to Christ,
and lead to indifferentism.
Through the gift of the teaching of the apostles,
passed down to us by the gift of the priesthood,
and by the grace of the Eucharist
may we always remember that there is
only one truth to hold,
only one life to unite ourselves to,
and only one way to become the persons God created us to be.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, and faith also in me…
I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.’”