Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for Fifth Sunday of Easter
Year A: Acts 6:1-7;Ps 33; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Today’s readings remind us that Christian faith is a relation with a person, as we shall soon profess; with Jesus Christ, truly human and also truly divine, which is why we worship him.
When Jesus in our gospel today says that he is “going … to prepare a place”, and then return to take his disciples with him, he speaks the language of a bridegroom in Ancient Judaism and thus makes a crucial point: In him, God has united with humanity in order to give us a “place”, i.e., a new, eternal life, just as the Sacrament of Matrimony indissolubly unites a man with a woman into a manifestation of what can create and most completely foster new, human life.
Similarly, Jesus binds himself to his Church, mystically born from his opened side on the cross, and promises never to abandon her. The Christian relation to Jesus Christ as person thus is based upon a relation with the Church, complete or incomplete, at least through baptism, which originates from the Catholic Church and always gives a certain proximity, also when unconscious, to her; always an invitation to conversion.
In the readings at Mass during the Season of Easter, we follow the Acts of the Apostles and its depiction of the earliest days of the apostolic Church, which the Second Vatican Council identifies as the Catholic Church. Today’s first reading described the ordination of the first deacons, one part of the threefold Sacrament of Holy Orders, by which Christ’s presence in the sacraments and the teaching of the Church is to be secured, as it were, not by the personal excellence of us ordained, but by the ordination itself in the chain of unbroken faith from the Apostles.
In the second reading from the First letter of St. Peter, all baptized are labelled as “a royal priesthood”, which is theologically elaborated in the image of every baptized as a priest and a king, modelled on Christ. Baptism thus gives a basic vocation to offer a sacrifice, like a priest, of ourselves to God, allowing him to work fully through us, which includes leading others, like a king, to Christ. This basic vocation of all faithful is helped and strengthened by the sacramental and teaching office of the ordained ministers of the Church.
And this teaching, dear sisters and brothers, is Jesus Christ. When he says, as we heard: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me”, he speaks about how to be saved, from death as an anguished and definitive end, to eternal life with God. Jesus is not one of many ways, one form of life and one piece or version of truth, something for you but perhaps not for me. No, Jesus speaks in definitive form of the words: the Way, the Truth and the Life. For all.
The Greek terms used in the original text signify a way to a particular goal, a supernatural life. And by identifying with ”the Truth”, Jesus means that unlike e.g. other religions and value systems that might contain elements of truth, he is truth in its fullness.
Faith in Christ, i.e., to be a Christian, means to trust that he is who and what he claims to be. And to be a CatholicChristian, means to trust that Jesus has founded the Church and given her the authority in every age to display and explain him. Thus, assuring that the Jesus Christ of our faith is not our own invention, who would eventually only lead us back to ourselves and our limitations, to our sins and mortality; but instead truly remains him, whom the apostles got to know and encountered risen from the dead. The objective joy and hope, never dependent upon our abilities and moods, described by today’s responsorial psalm.
Just like Jesus’s claim was revolutionary, in such extent that it led to his death, Christian faith is revolutionary by undermining the claims from anything or anyone else to be absolute and worthy of our full loyalty and service – no matter how dear or powerful, how important. No nation, no political leader, no justice activist, no moral authority, no influencer, no idol, no gadget, no corporation or brand, no ideology or philosophy, no just cause, no personal lifestyle, no profession, no self-invented identity – nothing of this is, or must be, absolute. Only God is; God who became visible to the world in Jesus Christ so that we increasingly, mostly in small steps, can be changed and transformed into living building blocks for his eternal kingdom; already here, and no matter how small.
When Jesus in the gospel foretells that we will “perform even greater works”, he prophesizes that the Church, his mystical body, after him, but always with him as her head, will proclaim the truth for, satiate and cure many, many more than he personally did when he walked on earth. This is precisely what the Church always has done and will continue to do until he returns to fulfill and complete all of her efforts.
For the Church to carry through this, we as faithful must ask ourselves: What do I easily make into way, truth and life in my existence instead of Jesus? What do I need to ask for the grace to be able to detach from, so that Christ can make me, with that, which is fully unique with me, more like him, with his value scale as starting point for everything?
If the only way to the Father is through the Son, Jesus Christ, as he himself says and we believe; and if we truly love our neighbours as created in the image of God and offered salvation in Christ, i.e., if we want their good for their own sake, which cannot be anything else or more than eternal life with the Father! – well, then we have to do everything in our power for others to learn to know Jesus. We have to become apostles!
Today, many Christians think that it is not “humble” to speak of Jesus and of faith in him, as he speaks of himself. But this is a great misunderstanding, doing the opposite of serving God. Humility does not equal to keeping the most important thing in the whole universe private. No, humility starts, as e.g., St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, teaches us, by acknowledging what Jesus indeed says: that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life given to us through his Holy Church; not me and not you; not anything we possess, feel or create. Only him.
When Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount promises that humility will make us blessed, i.e., whole, in full communion with our origin and our goal, God, he precisely means this insight that God is above all. That everything we are and have comes from God, and is meant to bear witness, to lead us and others, to God. Through, with and in Jesus Christ, God made visible, who for our sake died and rose from the dead. Amen.