Sunday, May 15, 2011

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Tu Es Petrus-
Pasce Agnos Meos[1]

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
13th of May, 2011

Parish of Saints Peter and Paul
Rev. Mr. Michael Taylor

When therefore they had dined, Jesus says to Simon Peter: Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? He said to him: Yea Lord, you know that I love you. Jesus said to him; Feed my lambs. [2]

            How many of you know someone who has left the Church? I’m pretty sure everyone here has an uncle, brother, sister, daughter, father, or friend whose shadow hasn’t darkened the doorway of a Catholic Church in perhaps decades. Maybe you yourself have been away for awhile. If so, welcome home. Many people leave the Church for various reasons. About a year ago, the Pew Foundation came out with a study about the religious experience of Americans. The largest group in America was Catholics. The second largest group in American were people who identified themselves as former Catholics. That’s just how awesome Catholics are. We’re number one and two. In all seriousness though, it is a point of concern. What does it mean to be Catholic? What is our faith? It is first and foremost a response to the one who calls us.
            When I was Protestant, the first mass I attended was the first Sunday of Advent in December of 2001. The winter of 2002 began the Long Lent of 2002, where the Church in the United States was rocked by the scandals of priests who had failed to live up to what Christ had called them to be. I remember as I looked at the faith though, the more it intrigued me. And I had friends and family who asked me, “Michael, how can you think of joining a faith that has such great problems? How can you join when so many of its leaders have failed?” But my reaction was that there was something greater to the Catholic faith than the failures of individuals. There was something beyond the path perdition chosen by certain individuals. This faith was bigger than just the mere mortality of some within our time. There was something ancient to this faith, a vibrancy which pulsed beneath it, a vitality that sustained it. In the words of the prophet Jeremiah, I stood by the roads, and looked, and asked for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walked in it, and found rest for my soul.[3] You see, when I was a child, my mother and father had planted within my heart the seed of faith. They had passed onto me the message of this man called Jesus, the one of whom it was said was God. The God who had become man, walked our walk, lived our life, died our death and rose again so that we might have life and have it abundantly.[4] And as I looked at the Catholic faith, I saw the one in whom I had believed. Saint Paul, in his second letter to Timothy writes, I know in whom I have believed.[5] In this faith I recognized the one who had called me by name. Let me explain.
            One of the great calls of the Protestant faith is that we have to return to the early Church, to the Church of the Apostles, Peter, Paul, James and John. And so, I began to read the scriptures looking for this early Church. But as I looked at the Catholic Church, the books I was reading were pointing me to passages I had not considered. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he writes about the conditions for a man to be a bishop or deacon.[6] I looked around my church at the time, and I did not see any bishops or deacons. In the James 5.14 it is written, Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders, [the priests] of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.[7] I looked around, and I didn’t see us anointing anyone with any oil. And speaking of priests, James goes on to write in 5.16 Confess therefore your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that you might be saved and in John 20.22-23, Jesus breathes on [the Apostles] and said to them; “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Well, I didn’t see any priests in my church, and I sure didn’t see any confession of sins for the sake of salvation.
            Yet the passages that struck me to the core of who I was, to the very marrow of my being, were the one’s concerning the Eucharist. They are found in John’s gospel, Jesus said to them “Truly, Truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life; and I will raise him up on the last day.[8] Or in Matthew 26.26-28 where Jesus took the bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Or how Saint Paul in I Corinthians 11.23 says I received from the Lord what I delivered to you, and then Paul repeats the same words the Christ Himself spoke concluding, whoever therefore eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.[9] That’s when I realized that in this bread and wine, given by Christ Jesus Himself to the Apostles, who handed it on to their successors the bishops, was Jesus Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity. I realized that if the point of being a Christian was to be with Christ, and the Eucharist was Christ, and the Catholic Church had the Eucharist, then I needed to be Catholic.
            You see, the Catholic Church is the Church of the Apostles founded by Christ upon the rock of Peter. If you want a bible Church, it’s here! Look around and see the bishops, priests and deacons mentioned by Peter and Paul. See the anointing of the sick and the confession of sins mentioned by James. See ordination by the laying on of hands mentioned by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles.[10] See the Body and Blood mentioned by John. The bible is our book; it cannot be used against us. The Sacred Scriptures only have their meaning within the Church and the Church possesses her authority from what is revealed in through the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit.[11] It is as Saint Peter says, First of all you must understand this, that no prophesy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophesy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.[12] The Church fathers gathered these texts into what we call the bible,[13] because they saw within these words of God the Word of God Incarnate Himself, and saw the Crucified One in whom they had adored in the breaking of the bread.[14] They knew in whom they had believed.
            So why do people leave the faith? Because we have lost our passion for this faith. We lack the enthusiasm, the fire, the fervor to share what we have received. How many of you wake up on a Sunday morning, or a Saturday and say, “what do you have to do today? Well, I have to pick up some groceries for dinner. Little Timmy has a soccer game, I have to pick up the dry cleaning, go stand in the presence of God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and then maybe we’ll go get some ice cream.” My brothers and sisters, which one of these is not like the other? And yet we treat it so cavalierly.
It’s not that those Christians who do not have the Eucharist are bad people. That is absurd. You know them and you know that many of them have a vibrant faith. They have a faith which burns brightly and sustains them through life. Yet the Church has what they want. Every Christian wants to be drawn near to the heart of Christ Jesus, and we Catholics have Jesus here with us. Why don’t we tell people about this? Either we don’t believe that Jesus is truly present, and thus we have been deceiving ourselves, or we do believe that the Eucharist is Christ and are so selfish that we don’t want anyone to know. Which is it? Are we liars or are we selfish? Jesus held that He would remain with us for all time, even until the end of the ages. Because Jesus deemed it good and holy that His flock be fed with His body and blood, He allows the bishops in union with successor of Peter to continue this greatest act of charity in the Eucharist.
This brings me to today’s gospel. You see, these teachings that we have been given, are intact because Jesus gave us shepherds by which to guide us. In today’s gospel, Jesus says, I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. As the Father knows me, and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep.[15] Jesus came to gather the lost sheep of Israel, to be their pastor of all who would believe.[16] Yet Jesus also promised to remain with us. This He did through the Prophets, fulfilling what had been written in Jeremiah, I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.[17] For this reason did Jesus tell Peter three times, to feed my sheep [18] even to the point of laying down his own life.[19] Peter is the rock of the Church. It was Peter who proclaimed the identity of Jesus, saying You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.[20] It was Peter who affirmed the truth of the Eucharist when other disciples were leaving, for he said, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.[21]
Because of this Jesus answered, Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.[22] Jesus promised to be the good Shepherd to His Church for all times, feeding them even until the end of the age.[23] He, the great shepherd of the sheep,[24] entrusted to the Apostles and their successors the ministry of shepherding God’s flock.[25] Of the Apostles, Peter especially was given pride of place. Peter was to be the one around whom the apostles were strengthened. Jesus said as much when on the eve of His own Passion, He told Peter, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.[26] Peter is the sign of unity which ensures that the faith as given to the Apostles is handed down without corruption.[27] It was Peter who first entered the empty tomb,[28] Peter who spoke for the Apostles to the crowds on Pentecost,[29] and Peter who opened the gospel up to the Gentiles.[30] Peter knew whom he had believed. Peter affirms our faith, and his successors affirm our unity in that faith. For 2,000 years our faith has not changed. The sacraments of Christ celebrated by Peter and Paul, James and John and all the apostles are still celebrated today. Empires have come and gone. Caesar is gone. Charlemagne is gone. Napoleon is gone. Hitler is gone. But the successor to a humble fisherman still stands firm. Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. So either Christ was being honest and the Church He established still stands firm, or Jesus is a liar. We know that Christ cannot lie. With this firm assurance, let us gather around our Shepherd in Rome and with one united voice, proclaim the faith handed on to all the saints once and for all. [31]

[1] Cf. Matthew 16.16-19 and John 21.15-19
[2] John 21.15
[3] Cf. Jeremiah 6.16
[4] John 10.10
[5] II Timothy 1.12
[6] Cf. I Timothy 3
[7] The Greek reads πρεσβυτερους, in the Vulgate, presbyteros, which means “elder” and where the order of priesthood gets its name, the Presbyterate.
[8] John 6.53-54
[9] I Corinthians 11.27
[10] Cf. Acts 6.1-6
[11] Catechism of the Catholic Church, §80: “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal” [II Vatican Council. Dei Verbum §9] Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own, always, to the close of the age [Mt. 28.20].
[12] II Peter 1.20-21
[13] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, §81: “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.” [II Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, §9] “and Holy Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the Apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the Apostles, so that, enlightened by the Spirit of Truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching.” [Ibid.]
[14] Cf. Luke 24.35 and Acts 2.42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
[15] John 1.14-15
[16] Cf. Ezekiel 34.11: “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I , I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.”
[17] Jeremiah 3.15; SEE ALSO Malachi 2.7: For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of Hosts.
[18] Cf. John 21.15-17
[19] Cf. John 21.18-19
[20] Matthew 16.16
[21] John 6.68-69
[22] Matthew 16.17-19
[23] Matthew 28.20
[24] Hebrews 13.20
[25] Cf. John 21.15ff; I Peter 5.2
[26] Luke 22.31
[27] II Vatican Council, Lumen gentium §18: “This Sacred Council, following closely in the footsteps of the I Vatican Council, with that Council teaches and declares that Jesus Christ, in the eternal Shepherd, established His Holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father [John 20.21]; and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion [Cf. I Vatican, Pastor Auternus §3050]. And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful. Continuing in that same undertaking, this Council is resolved to declare and proclaim before all men the doctrine concerning the bishops, the successors of the apostles, who together with the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ [Council of Florence, Decretum pro Graecis and I Vatican], the visible Head of the whole Church, govern the house of the living God.” SEE ALSO Dominus Iesus, §16
[28] Cf. John 20.1-4
[29] Acts 2.14ff
[30] Acts 10.1-48
[31] Cf. Jude 1.3: Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was for all delivered to the saints.

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