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Friday, 5 May 2017

4th Sunday of Eastertide 2017

 4th. Sunday of Eastertide (A)
(Acts 2:14, 36-41; 1st. Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10)

People of God, there was something of particular interest for us in today’s reading taken from the first letter of St. Peter sent:

To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. (NIV)

Those places form part of what we now know as modern Turkey and touch also upon those mountain areas where the Kurds today are trying to find a home and a national identity for themselves.  Now, those Christians to whom Peter was writing were only recent converts and Peter was seeking to encourage, strengthen, and to guide them in the ways of Christ, and I want you to note how he sets about it:

What credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.   For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.

Such was the way the early Church was built up: Christians were taught and encouraged to face up to the difficulties of their personal situation with their eyes firmly fixed on the historic Person of Christ Who suffered and died to redeem us from the sin which is in the world and of the world.  In such teaching Peter was being absolutely faithful to Jesus Who said to His disciples (John 15:19): 

If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

Isn’t it strange then, that in response to today’s world-wide persecution of millions of Catholics and Christians who are suffering not only pain, great distress and loss, but even most violent death, we hear few Church messages of whole-hearted Christian support, encouragement, and guidance -- not merely human sympathy -- for those thus suffering, in comparison with sometimes controversial messages for others with moral difficulties and personal problems.

The nascent Church knew her place, she preached and gladly poured out her blood to preach Christ our Saviour and Redeemer that all might hear the Good News He brings; it was God alone, as she well knew, Who persuaded people; and those He chose, He gave to Jesus:

          No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draw him. (John 6:44)

Our first reading gave faithful Peter’s presentation of Jesus’ teaching:

Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever our God will call.

Today the Church’s message too often seems directed not to seriously and zealously preaching Jesus as Lord and Saviour -- the Christ -- so much as rather pathetically trying to persuade people to come to Church!

In today’s readings Peter is so confident in the Jesus he preaches as being the sublime example and supreme reward, the all-sufficient strength and peace, for Christians under persecution, that he has no qualms whatsoever about encouraging and exhorting them to face up to their trials with patience, confidence, and courage:

Because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His footsteps.

Such a message, however, does not make pleasant hearing for our modern consumer society, where the practical endeavour of the vast majority is to enjoy life in this passing world to the utmost, with nothing more than an occasional polemical interest in Christianity; and sadly, the Church’s proclamation is far too often directed in response to, and occasionally watered-down for, such people, who have no personal interest in either faith or salvation.

After rising from the dead in glory Jesus did not live again here on earth.  He did, indeed, show Himself to His intimate disciples several times on earth, but on all those occasions He appeared as One Who had ascended, that is, One Who was now living at the right hand of the Father in Heaven.  He had risen in order to ascend, because the life in which He rose, the life He offers to share with us, was, is, heavenly life, eternal and glorious.   Those who imagine they can live as good Christians while aiming no higher than earthly happiness are at the best like those fireworks we call "damp squibs": made to be rockets, they do indeed burn when their match is applied, but they find it hard to lift off into the air, and if they should begin to rise they go up only a few fretful yards before spluttering and flopping down to ground again with no further possibility of fulfilling their promise.

Those to whom Peter addressed his message, on the other hand, were Jesus' true disciples, men and women under no illusions that the world which crucified their Lord might in some way come to love them:

If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

However, they also knew and wholeheartedly accepted that, thanks to Jesus’ Death and Resurrection, they were no longer helpless under the sin of the world.  They rejoiced in the conviction that they could now overcome the world, in and with Jesus Who conquered sin and death by rising in the glory of the Holy Spirit, and Who was offering to all who would believe in Him and in His saving proclamation of God’s Fatherly love, a share in the presence and power of His own Most Holy Spirit :

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33). 

Therefore, you can see how much the early Christians and the early Church differed from many, probably the majority, of Catholics and Christians today.

It is commonly thought today that the way to help people to the Faith is by chatting with those who are older around dinner tables, while the faith of young people and of converts can best be strengthened by making worship interesting and attractive, drawing them into social activities and good works.  Now all those activities may well have some helpful part to play at the beginning of Christian life, but they have little or no role in the strengthening of Christ’s faithful to face the trials and difficulties their faith will encounter in the course of real life, when things turn out differently to their expectations and when trials, misunderstandings, and even hostility or persecutions, come, perhaps undeservedly, their way.

Peter was very realistic in his address to the new converts of Asia Minor, and he not only warned them of the difficulties they would have to face, but even said it was their vocation, their calling, not only to suffer in that way but also to triumph over their trials in the strength of Christ:

What credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.   For to this you were called, because Christ when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.

Speaking in this way Peter was preparing and strengthening them for whatever might arise; and we ourselves -- aspiring to be sincere believers in and true disciples of Jesus -- also find his words, after nearly two thousand years, still refreshingly pertinent and inspiring, oppressed as we are by the sin that is not only blatantly rampant in the world around us, but also openly and unashamedly visible in our own society, and even to be found skulking among and in our very selves.

St. Peter makes very clear for us why we have felt the need to come here to Jesus where He promised to abide with us, that is, in His Church, our Mother, for we have come wanting with Peter’s converts, to be healed by Jesus, to learn from Him and be empowered by His Spirit that we might, by overcoming the sin of the world, bear authentic witness to Him and to the wondrous love of the Father Who sent Him among us to save us.

We know, however, that our healing will be a life-long process, for the Holy Spirit of Jesus must open up our most secret selves so that, penetrating to the core of our being, He might form us in all truth and sincerity into a likeness of Jesus.  God needs to temper His power to our frailty with the result that the Holy Spirit working in us can only change us gradually.  Moreover, the Spirit, having begun to work His wonders in us, has then to encourage us personally to commit ourselves to following His influence and guidance with confidence, trust, and courage, and that too is difficult and takes time, because we instinctively want to walk with others, to be comforted and appreciated by our fellows, and too often we find ourselves unable to hear or understand, neither will we follow, when the Spirit of Jesus would lead us along a way that is not level, well sign-posted, or well-trodden, by others.  We love to think of ourselves as unique, but most are usually both slow and reluctant to accept the consequences of such a quality.

Today therefore, dear People of God, let our Easter rejoicing be both whole-hearted and truly profitable for ourselves and for Mother Church: let us make it our delight to proclaim Jesus as Our Saviour and our Risen Lord, our whole confidence and sure hope; and as we do that let us renew our admiration of and prayers for all those saints in Mother Church suffering so much – even on this very day -- for their faithfulness to Jesus and His Church.  With them, let us bolster our hearts as we listen carefully and trustfully to Jesus’ words:

Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them.  I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.  

Jesus is indeed the Way, the firstborn from the dead; He is the Truth which alone can satisfy and fulfil our deepest longings; He is Life itself in the fulness of all its possibilities and divinely eternal.  Through faith in Jesus we have entered into the flock of God, and Jesus like a good shepherd leads His flock to nourishing pasture.  Having conquered the sin of the world, and having been raised -- still in our likeness -- to new and eternal life in the Spirit of Glory, Jesus is able to fulfil what He promised:

I give them eternal life, they shall never perish neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.   My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand.  I and My Father are one. (John 10:29-30)

Eastertide is a time of supreme joy for all Christians, but let us learn from Peter who, inspired by the Spirit of Jesus, spoke words of truth that pierce the fog of worldly deceits and our own self-indulgent fancies:

(Peter) testified and exhorted them, saying, "Be saved from this perverse generation."

Our rejoicing today should be for the fact that in the Risen Lord we can now overcome our own sinfulness and the corruption and deceit of the world around us thanks to His bequest of His most Holy Spirit Who dwells in us, offering us strength and light to follow Jesus perseveringly along the way that leads to sublime fulfilment in our heavenly and eternal home.