My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, once again we have a beautiful Eastertide apparition of the Risen Lord Jesus to His disciples in which we in Mother Church are privileged to be able to share thanks to her Holy Scriptures.
Jesus appeared to His Apostles in Jerusalem as they were gathered together discussing the report of two disciples who claimed to have encountered Jesus – risen from the dead -- as they had been on their way to Emmaus. To prove that they were not mistaken they told the Apostles how, as He walked with them along the way, He had opened up the meaning of the Scriptures for them, and how they had managed to persuade Him to stay with them and share their meal; a meal which -- in a most wonderful manner -- became quite unmistakeably His meal being shared with them! The Apostles gathered there in secret in Jerusalem were amazed to hear what had thus transpired on the way to Emmaus, and as they were considering together what it all might mean, suddenly Jesus Himself was standing there in the room with them, and despite His greeting:
Peace be with you,
they -- thinking were seeing a ghost -- were startled, and indeed terrified to such an extent that Jesus went straight on to say to them:
"Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Touch Me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have." And as He said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.
Thereupon He opened their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures -- just as they had heard of Him doing for those two disciples on the way to Emmaus -- and He said to them:
Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.
Now let us turn our attention to the Apostle Peter in our first reading today, addressing the devout Jews gathered in the portico of the Temple in Jerusalem immediately after he, Peter, together with John, had enabled a man who had been lame from birth to walk upright for the first time:
The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you handed over and denied in Pilate’s presence, when he had decided to release Him. You denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked that a murderer be released to you. The author of life you put to death, but God raised Him from the dead; of this we are witnesses.
Peter was making his first attempt to carry out the commission called to the attention of His Apostles by the Risen Lord Jesus, that:
Repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in the name of the Christ to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Peter, who had wept so profusely over his denials of the Lord, was immensely grateful that Jesus, appearing so unexpectedly in that upper room, had addressed them with no words of recrimination but only a peaceful greeting and comforting exhortations to confidence; and he, Peter, was here trying to follow his Master’s example:
Now I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance.
Peter was, indeed, following the example of His Master so closely that not only did he not condemn the people who had been led astray into sin, but he even refrained from condemning those who had been responsible for thus leading them into sin:
I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did.
However, since for disciples of Christ there can be no repentance without sin being acknowledged, therefore, Peter was trying to lead his fellow Jews to recognize and to acknowledge their sins as he himself had so broken-heartedly acknowledged his own public betrayal of his Lord and Master. That done, there would be no recriminations, no accusations, only that which the Apostles -- and above all Peter himself -- had received from Jesus: understanding and forgiveness.
I know, brothers, that you acted out of ignorance just as your leaders did; but God has thus brought to fulfilment what He had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.
Peter then went on to add a little something more, something personal, saying:
Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away, that the Lord may grant you times of refreshment.
There we see something of the beauty of a right understanding of the work of the Church! There we realise why we call her Mother Church: because she uses the Scriptures, given into her care by the Lord, for our refreshment: that is, not only for our understanding and enlightenment, but also for our consolation and comfort, our strength and our hope; if -- that is -- we will treasure them in our hearts and ponder them lovingly in our minds as we look to our Lord and God ever more hopefully and confidently.
Notice, People of God, in these times when the Church is often accused of preaching homophobia, exemplified above all by hatred of the Jews, notice that there is no hatred in Mother Church’s earliest response to the Jews through her supreme leader on earth, Peter the Rock who openly said:
Brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.
Nor was there hatred in the personal attitude or apostolic preaching of Paul, even though the Jewish Christians had by then been driven out of Jerusalem and begun to experience persecution from the Jewish authorities. Paul’s public proclamation in his letter to the Christians of Rome testifies to this:
I say then, has God cast away His (Jewish) people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. (Romans 11:1-2)
People of God, be likewise in no way afraid of charges of homophobia against the present teaching of the Church. It was Jesus’ lot to slowly grow to manhood in order that He might bring back to God human nature in the full development not only of its human potentialities but also of its divine possibilities, and that is why His Resurrection is absolutely pertinent today, when men aspire to live to the utmost. Let us learn from Our Lord to give glory to the Father and testimony to the world as He did, the glory and testimony of fully matured Christian men and women finding their supreme fulfilment in living with Christ and doing the Father’s will in all things. The contemporary desire for integral personality in the exercise of responsible commitment is good, but let us try to show how it can be realized in Christ alone; for in Him alone, by the power of His Spirit, can all our warring passions be restored to their original cohesion and unity, and in Christ alone can we find not only ourselves but also the heavenly Father, dwelling in our soul where we can hear Him, speak with Him, love Him, in an unceasing and ever-more intimate ‘I and Thou’ communion. All this is ours in Christ, if we use the means He has given to us, that is His Church, His Sacraments, and His Sacred Scriptures, our Bible. All are ours, and we are Christ’s, and Christ is the Father’s.
St. John, addressing us for our refreshment in the second reading, says:
(Jesus) is the expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world. The way we may be sure that we know Him, is to keep His commandments.
All true seekers after God must have fears, at times, if not doubts, about their own sincerity as disciples of Jesus. It is therefore refreshing, indeed, and comforting, to hear St. John explain what makes a true disciple of the Lord. For he tells us that, although there are people who think themselves to be true disciples of Jesus because they have warm feelings for Him, and can speak enthusiastic words about Him, nevertheless, in so far as they pay little attention to His commandments, such people are mistaken about themselves:
By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.
Despite modern popular assertions, such words are neither cold doctrine nor do they express homophobia; but, on the contrary they are the very core and centre of Jesus’ own relationship with His Father, and of His and His Father’s love for mankind (John 12:49-50):
I did not speak on My own, but the Father who sent Me commanded Me what to say and speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life.”
God’s commandments, People of God, are eternal life and express divine love; they must be understood, appreciated, and appropriately accepted and embraced as such, not manipulated and adulterated for the human expression of pretentious, insufficient, and ultimately fake love.
And that is why Jesus asks for that indisputably authentic sign of love from us:
Whoever has My commandments and observes them is the one who loves Me. Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words; yet the word you hear is not Mine but that of the Father who sent Me. (14:21, 24)
Far from being cold doctrine, it is the keeping of Jesus’ commandments that alone can prepare us to receive the ultimate privilege that human life and death can afford:
Whoever loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him. Whoever loves Me will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our dwelling with him.
And so, from the readings set before us today by Mother Church, we have learnt something about ourselves as Catholics: we should be here in Church not simply out of obedience responding to our acknowledged obligation, not even out of fidelity to our bounden duty, we should be here desiring and seeking for our supreme refreshment as true disciples – admirers, lovers, and most willing servants -- of Jesus, by giving our very selves to Him (above all in Holy Communion) as He gives Himself to us.
Let us, therefore, not fail to renew our willingness and resolve to obey His commandments for we know that His commandments are eternal life. May we leave this Church today gratefully strengthened and confirmed by an obedient spirit bountifully refreshed for the service of, and witness to, Mother Church; she who is so divinely wise as to cling resolutely to her Scriptures and to her earliest and most firmly established teachings and traditions despite, and in the face of, all modern flights of intellectual froth and fancy (not true scholarship) or tides of popular, emotional feeling (not true devotion). And thus being herself obedient to Her Lord, and true to His founding truths and her own most ancient traditions, she has not failed us; she has called us, in His Name, to come here obediently today and rewarded us with the most sublime nourishment and incomparable comfort for our souls.