Saturday, May 5, 2012

Meeting Jesus on Sunday: Easter 3B

 We launch Project Advance, our annual archdiocesan (and parish) fundraising campaign this Sunday, so my homily will be very brief--we show this video before Mass, which cuts into the time for a homily! So since I'm not posting the Sunday homily this week (Saturday's First Holy Communion homily is below), I thought I might belatedly post my homily from a couple of weeks back.  Technical glitches kept me from doing so then.

Pope Benedict turned 85 on Monday and celebrated his seventh anniversary as Pope on Thursday. Sounds like a busy week!

The Holy Father is no stranger to busyness. Alongside the many duties of his office, he managed to complete two books on Jesus, and he is at work on the third and final volume, which will deal with the childhood of Jesus.

Why, do you think, would someone who speaks to millions be writing these books? Don't the many homilies, speeches, and letters give the Pope more than enough opportunity to teach about Christ?

And why has Pope Benedict written these books unofficially? They are not formal papal teaching, but personal writings that do not demand the assent of the faithful.

A good answer to these questions can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which reminds us that the Creed "says nothing explicitly about the mysteries of Jesus' hidden or public life" [512] and that "Many things about Jesus of interest to human curiosity do not figure in the Gospels. Almost nothing is said about his hidden life at Nazareth, and even a great part of his public life is not recounted." [514]

This does not mean we cannot seek to understand more about Jesus than we read on the pages of the Gospels. What we believe about his Incarnation (that is, about his conception and birth) and the Paschal mystery (his passion, crucifixion, death, burial, descent into hell, resurrection and ascension) does "shed light on the whole of his earthly life."

To quote the Catechism again, "All that Jesus did and taught, from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven is to be seen in the light of the mysteries of Christmas and Easter." [512]

In other words, we have all that we need to know Jesus. At the end of his Gospel, St. John tells us that not once but twice. In John 20:30-31, we read "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name." And in the very last words of his Gospel, John adds "there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." [John 21:25}.

We have all that we need to know Jesus. But as the Pope's scholarly work reminds us, knowing Jesus isn't as simple as racing through the pages of the four Gospels. To know Jesus demands time and effort.

Who do you know very well? Your spouse, for sure, perhaps a few very close friends. How did you get that knowledge? Surely by spending time with the person, by long conversations, and maybe—in the days before texting—by reading and writing letters.

Very likely, you also listened to what others said about the person. Before you met, you'd heard people say "Susan is a lovely person" or "Jack is a real standup guy."

I spent some time on the internet while I was writing my homily, and I found a blog post written exactly a year ago today that makes this point very neatly: "Getting to know Jesus requires us to be around people who already know him and reading about him."

Today's Gospel shows this beautifully. In the first place, the disciples of Jesus are gathered together for mutual support when they get the glorious news of his appearance on the road to Emmaus. They hear from others about Jesus and then they see Jesus himself!

Christians simply must gather if they are to meet the Lord. Of course he will not stand in front of us as he did that first Easter Sunday; but he will make himself known to us "in the breaking of the bread," in the Eucharist that we celebrate every Sunday.

We must gather if we're to hear the testimony of others. To be strengthened by the experience of others. We come together to share our hopes and joys but—like the disciples—we share our fears and worries and even our doubts.

As the Catechism says, "the Sunday celebration of the Lord's Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Church's life." [2177] And that heart beats weekly, not monthly, not occasionally, not only at Christmas and Easter.

A year ago last week, at my Dad's funeral, I mentioned that people often tell me how blessed my parents are to have five children all regularly practicing the faith together with their families. I explained in the homily that there are a number of reasons for that, but none more important than the fact that our family never missed Sunday Mass.

A document from the Canadian bishops' conference reminds us that the Sunday assembly, linked from the beginning to the Resurrection, was "a standard feature not only of the apostolic age, but also of the centuries which followed. Christians would accept martyrdom rather than forsake common Sunday worship: 'We ought to be together,' wrote one early Christian. 'We cannot live without the Lord's meal; it is more important for us than life itself'."

Only by faithful participation in Sunday Mass can we be sure that Jesus will make himself known to us in the breaking of the bread.

Here we should note that "at every Mass the liturgy of the Word of God precedes the liturgy of the Eucharist in the unity of the two 'tables', the table of the Word and the table of the Bread," as Pope John Paul wrote in 2004.

At Mass, we break the bread that is Christ's Body, but we also break open the Word that reveals him and makes him known.

In today's Gospel we see that even Jesus—even the Risen Lord himself—points the disciples to the Bible. I hadn't noticed before how unusual this is. Imagine meeting someone risen from the dead, and he or she started quoting from his biography!

But this is what Jesus does. "He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures."

How important the Scriptures must if we want to know and understand Christ in his mysteries, since the Lord himself took that route—first on the road to Emmaus, and again in this appearance in Jerusalem.

Small wonder that St. Jerome warned that ignorance of Scripture was ignorance of Christ.

If the 85 year-old Pope can find the time to write books about Jesus, we—for all our busyness, amidst all our concerns—should be able to find the time to read about him. The Pope's masterpieces are not light reading, but there are books about Jesus for every age and interest, not to mention the Bible itself, particularly the Gospels.

Our Alpha course, which continues Monday evening at 6:30, and in a shorter version Friday mornings at 9, is popular for many reasons, but mainly because it speaks so directly of Jesus. As I have said many times, Alpha is not a comprehensive course on Christian faith and certainly not on the Catholic Church; but it introduces Jesus, Jesus who stood before the apostles that first Easter day—Jesus who brings peace, calms fear, removes doubt, and makes himself known to those who seek him.

We "are witnesses of these things." Is there someone in your family, office, neighborhood or school with whom you could share this good news?

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