May. 14, 2017

FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

1st Reading- Acts 6:1-7; 2nd Reading- 1Pet.2:4-9; Gospel- John 14:1-12

“I AM THE WAY AND THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE” (Jn.14:6)

Today, in the United States, we celebrate Mother’s Day. This weekend also, the church marks the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Apparition at Fatima, when the Blessed Mother Mary appeared to Lucy, Francis and Jacinta on May 13th, 1917. I’ll hint on that in relation to Mother’s Day during this homily.

In the first reading, Luke narrates how the tension between the Greek speaking Jews (Hellenists) and the Hebrews (Jews who spoke Aramaic) was resolved by the apostles. The Hellenists complained that their widows are being neglected by the Hebrews in their daily distribution. The Twelve apostles took a strategic measure to resolve the conflict. They didn’t neglect the Hellenists in their complaints. Rather, the apostles paid attention, acted towards restoring confidence and ensuring equity. This led to the institution of the office of service (diaconia) but with great emphasis on the importance of prayer. A significant statement in the disciples’ action reads, “It is not right to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit of God and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:2-4).

Few things stand out here: Two aspects of the Church’s life are presented- the ministry of the word of God (prayer) and the ministry of service. Scripture records that the number of the disciples “continued to grow”, hence the various ministries became important in the community. When the disciples asked the Hellenists to select men to serve, that pointed to the need for volunteers in the church. Service helps to sustain the church’s life in a peculiar way. We need to recognize the emphasis on the quality of men who are to serve- “reputable” persons “filled with the Spirit and wisdom”. The Holy Spirit is the source of spiritual gifts and leads everyone to serve in a way that promotes unity in the church, as Saint Paul says, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord” (1Cor.12:4-5).  The apostles on their own part, were to dedicate to the ministry of prayers and the word of God which demonstrates the preeminence of prayer in the community. While material needs of the worshipping community are important, prayer is crucial for its sustenance.

Luke also brings out the issue of diversity here. The Hellenist and the Hebrew community spoke different languages, but worshipped God together. The church in their time did not proceed smoothly though, some division arose from distribution of food. For that reason, the seven were appointed. Importantly, each party was given adequate hearing and attention. Each group felt heard with the election of the seven men. We need to accommodate everyone in our liturgical worship despite cultural and linguistic differences.

In the gospel, Christ begins the lengthy Last Supper discourse for his disciples and pre-disposes them for his departure. Christ offers them consolation and hope for the future. Thus, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. You know the way to the place where I am going” (Jn.14:2-3). Thomas tells him, “Master, we do not know where you are going”. Thomas’ reaction leads to an important revelation; Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life”. He is the revelation of the Father, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col.1:19). To know Jesus is to see God, to understand him to be the Lord. Jesus is the living and perceptible image of God. Further, he says, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn.14:10). To know Jesus is to be connected to the Father through him. This points back to the Old Testament commandment of love, thus, “Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one Lord. You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Let the words I enjoin on you today stay in your heart” (Deut. 6:4-6; Matt.22:37). To know Jesus is to serve him and to love him forever.

Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. What does that mean? It means that He and the Father are one. He leads to the Father. Some critics use this passage to argue against Catholic devotion to the Virgin Mary. Of course, Jesus is God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He is the savior of the world, no doubt about that. He is God in both essence and existence having both the human and the divine natures (hypostatic union). So, Jesus’ role in the economy of salvation is that of the divine savior.

Mary is called the Mother of God (Theotokos) because she is the mother of Jesus. In this discourse above, Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father” (Jn.14:12). Mary is the first to believe in God’s word, “full of grace” (Lk.1:28-29), was the angel’s greeting to her. And Jesus said about her mother, “More blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk.11:28). Elizabeth remarked of Mary, “Blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk.1:45). We mark the hundredth anniversary of the apparition of our Lady to the shepherd children of Fatima today, May 13th, 2017. And Pope Francis tells the crowd that gathered over the weekend at Fatima, “We have a Mother! ‘So beautiful a Lady, cling to her”, referring to Jesus’ statement on the cross (Cf. Jn.19:27) (https://zenit.org/articles/popes-homily-in-fatima-we-have-a-mother-cling-to-her/). We need to cling to Mary. The Magnificat reads in parts, “For he has looked on the humility of his handmaid, for behold from henceforth, all generations will call me blessed” (Lk.1:48). In her humility, Mary followed Jesus, accompanied him and united with him until death.

Today, we celebrate Mother’s Day, we celebrate womanhood. We celebrate God’s special gift to creation. I encourage mothers here and all over to believe in Jesus and as well lead your families to God. We appreciate the challenges that mothers face in families and in married life, and we pray for women today; the suffering, the sick, the barren, those who have experienced the pains of abortion or loss of their child, as well as those who have experienced addiction in any form. We remember women who grieve because of their marriage and those seeking marriage. I use Peter’s words to encourage women and mothers today, “Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house”. As woman, you are chosen for a special goal, and God is your strength. Your goal can only be achieved if you build yourself and your family into the loving embrace of God. Follow Christ, “the way, truth and life”.

Happy Mother’s Day to you mothers, and may God bless you always.