Second Sunday of Easter (A)
(Acts 2:42-47; 1st. Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31)
My dear brothers and sister in Christ, we are brought together on this day to celebrate the glory of Christ and the goodness of God, and also to rejoice in Mother Church for the hope which her proclamation of the Gospel and bestowal of the Spirit opens up for us.
At the Last Supper Jesus offered His imminent crucifixion and death on our behalf to His Father, saying:
Father, as You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world; and for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word. (Jn. 17:18-20)
You will notice that Jesus was about to sanctify Himself, that is, offer Himself totally to the Father in obedient, sacrificial, love, in order that His disciples -- the Apostles being sent to continue His own mission – might also be sanctified in truth, so that their preaching and living of Jesus’ ‘Good News’ might be acceptable to the Father and might enable those who would subsequently hear and embrace their proclamation to come together into His Church -- chosen from all nations, gathered over all ages -- there to live securely and fruitfully, being gradually guided in the gospel of Jesus by the transfiguring power of His Spirit for the salvation willed by the Father for mankind.
Now, in our Gospel today, we see the beginning of the fulfilment of that prayer:
The same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you." When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, "Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit”.
Here Jesus breathed upon the disciples, the Apostles, as a whole, not individually. Later on, in the presence of many other disciples and of the Jews, the Holy Spirit would appear as tongues of flame over the head of each one of them, consecrating them for their individual tasks; but here, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon them as the original Apostolic College of Mother Church, that she, through them, might take His Gospel to the furthest ends of the earth for the salvation of mankind, as Jesus said In His prayer at the Last Supper:
(Father) now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (John 17:13-17)
People of God, recognize the beauty and the glory of Mother Church; consider, rejoice, and put all your trust in God Who, through the truth of her proclamation and the spiritual power of her sacraments, will bring about our ultimate salvation and glorification in Jesus, to which end Mother Church has indeed been specially endowed with the fullness of Jesus’ Spirit of Truth and Holiness as we hear in St. John’s Gospel (Jn.16:13-15):
When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.
Moreover, Mother Church has not only been thus wonderfully endowed, she is also sublimely protected by God:
I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one (Jn. 17:15);
as Jesus had earlier promised to Peter:
the gates of Hades shall not prevail against her. (Mt. 16:18)
However, although -- thanks to Jesus’ prayer and His gift of the Holy Spirit -- the devil can never deceive Mother Church into falsifying the Gospel of Jesus, nevertheless, the same devil is always, and ever more ferociously and cunningly, warring against her and her children, as was foretold from the beginning (Gen. 3:14-15):
The LORD God said to the serpent: "Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel."
The serpent will always be trying to “strike at the heel of the Lord”, that is, to lead individuals into sin, and -- be those involved laity, religious, priests, bishops, or even popes -- about that we should never be scandalized, because it has been foretold and we have been forewarned. We should, however, pray for those who are thus used by the devil in his attempts against our Lord and His Church; for, although Individuals always can, and sadly sometimes will, fail, the Church as a whole can never fail in her truthful proclamation of the Gospel; for in this, her God-given task, she is – as we have learned -- divinely guided and protected. That is why today, as we celebrate the Easter glory of Jesus, we also delight in her, in whom and through whom He continues His saving work in our world today.
Finally, we note those other words of Jesus in our Gospel passage:
He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."
And here we recognise that Mother Church is not only endowed and protected but that she has also been empowered to fight against the devil, as was also foretold from the beginning:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He (the woman’s Seed) shall bruise your head.
Jesus bruised the serpent’s head by destroying the tyrannical hold sin and death had exercised over mankind; and, in the power of His victory, Mother Church too continues His work through her priests and prelates authoritatively and publically forgiving sin in the world:
If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.
But in addition to such public conflict with sin in the confessional or internal forum, there is also a much wider attack and more bitter fighting being engaged in by all those faithful disciples of Jesus and true children of Mother Church who have not only been freed from the devil’s power and protected from his snares, not only blessed with the fullness of truth in Mother Church, but also realize themselves to have been called and empowered to fight – by their faith and their witness -- against the sin which still remains in us and in the world around us.
Thus, at every level of her being -- prelates, priests and religious; men, women and children; – Mother Church strives to extend her Lord and Saviour’s Kingdom of love and truth throughout all time, over all the world.
My dear people, at this time especially, we should be supremely grateful to God for the gift of the Faith which is ours; and as today we admire Our Lord’s faithfulness unto death on the mission received from His Father, and as we rejoice in His constant love for us and tender solicitude for our well-being, we should pray that, as His disciples, we too -- in Him -- may remain faithful to death in the Faith and fight the good fight for a share in His Resurrection and eternal glory.
How best can we do this? According to the Scriptures the best way to respond to God’s great goodness to us in Jesus is to praise Him, to thank Him, to obey Him.
When it is really so easy to respond faithfully to the Father’s call that first led us to Jesus, why do too many imagine that Christian living is a wearisome, unrewarding (at least here on earth) struggle? The answer is simple: such people look too little at God’s goodness and mercy (with examples of which the Scriptures are replete) and too much at themselves and their worldly anxieties and desires. Let us hear again St. Peter writing to encourage those magnificent early Christians who first faced the power of pagan Rome confident in the name of Jesus:
Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, He gave us new birth into a living hope, the hope of an inheritance reserved in heaven for you, which nothing can destroy or spoil or wither. Because you put your faith in God, you are under the protection of His power, until the salvation now in readiness is revealed at the end of time. This is cause for great joy, even though for a little while you may have had to suffer trials of many kinds. Even gold passes through the assayer’s fire, and much more precious than perishable gold is faith which stands the test. These trials come so that your faith may prove itself worthy of all praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. You have not seen Him, yet you love Him; and trusting in Him now without seeing Him you are filled with a glorious joy too great for words, while you are reaping the harvest of your faith, that is, salvation for your souls.
May we too walk in their footsteps, with the joy of hope and gratitude to God in our hearts and His praises with our thanksgiving on our lips.