Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for Sixth Sunday of Easter
Year C: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Ps 67; Apocalypse 21:10-14. 22-23; John 14:23-29
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Without Dogmatic terminology, Jesus in today’s gospel speaks about the Divine Trinity. Only the Trinity fully explains who Jesus Christ is, what he does and why our eternal salvation, i.e. communion with God, depends upon us listening to him. Jesus’s voice is the voice of the one who created everything, sustains everything and thus knows the aim of everything – also of our lives.
Jesus makes the keeping of his words to a litmus test of our love for him orfor someone we invent ourselves. To keep his words is to make hiswill to one’s own. I.e. to order everything in life according to his value scale, turning it into a praise of God and God’s plan with everything. To allow all that, which we now express in here to be expressed out there.
And so, Jesus foreshadows Pentecost by referring to the Advocate, the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who “will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you”. Jesus here directs his words to his apostles. The gospel passage is taken from the account of Jesus’s speech at the last supper, in which he in many ways instructs how his Church is going to function.
This is illustrated by our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, depicting the events of the very first Council of the Church, i.e. meeting between bishops, Church leaders, known as the Council of the Apostles, as the bishops in question were the apostles. This Council was held in Jerusalem in the year 49, i.e. less than 20 years after the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. Its task was to decide on the teaching on one matter where there were no outspoken words of Jesus, viz. the question whether one had to become a Jew before becoming a Christian, thereby bound to observe the Jewish, ritual law with, among others, rules for eating and for the sabbath, as well as mandatory male circumcision.
And as we heard, the apostles proclaimed that “[i]t has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves not to saddle you with any burden”. I.e. to become Christian does not require being or first becoming a Jewish believer. Alongside the decisions of the following Councils at Nicaea, Constantinople and Chalcedon 300 years later, on Jesus’s true divinity, this decision of the Council of the Apostles was ultimately decisive for there being a Christian faith for us to practice today. Thanks to the Holy Spirit, teaching and reminding the Church.
What Jesus says and means is, in other words, not that the Holy Spirit will give each faithful the supernatural insight of the full meaning of the gospel. Instead, his promise of the Spirit here is a promise to the ordained ministers of the Church, the apostles, the first bishops, under Peter, the first Pope, and their successors in this service, that they will be led and inspired in their mission to explain the will of God, at all times. Jesus thus institutes the Teaching office of the Church. With and under Peter. The “foundation stones” that also will carry the New Jerusalem, i.e. the fulfilled, victorious Church, in the vision presented in our second reading from the Book of the Apocalypse.
The teaching office, the Magisterium, can never change the faith and the teaching of the Church. Only preserve it and pass it down the generations. And build on it, just like the Council of the Apostles, when it faces new questions, with help from the insights already there in the deposit of faith. It is this highlighting work of the Spirit, in and through the structure Jesus instituted, that makes it possible for Christians at all ages to keep his words; i.e. to love Jesus by knowing who he truly is and wants. We now also understand why deviations and break-outs from this order has led to substantial and for salvation highly problematic discrepancies in teachings, in communities resulting from the various Church protests from the 16thcentury onwards. And we also understand how Jesus Christ himself is the sole founder of the Catholic Church. No theologian, no preacher, no charismatic, no king, no politician – only Christ. He suffices. Indeed!
Against split and anxiety, Christ offers his divine peace. Worldly peace is something we ought to strive for, because it reflects God’s will of the preconditions for human flourishing, i.e. the possibility for every human person to actualize his or her full potentiality as his or her maker had intended it. This peace thereby starts with the unborn child, no matter how it was conceived. As St. Mother Teresa once put it: there can never be any peace between peoples and countries as long as we allow our smallest, weakest, most vulnerable human persons, most in need of protection, to be killed in their mothers’ wombs. Never.
But the supernatural, divine peace is the spiritual consolation strengthening us however little natural peace we experience, i.e. no matter our external circumstances. It comes from the Christian hope that we may one day share in the joy of Christ’s resurrection, where he shared suffering and death with us. It is the true happiness. Not as a cozy feeling, or as absence of problems. But as trust in, and thereby strength by, God’s presence in the midst of life’s all difficulties. Built upon that God incarnate, whom humans killed, came back just to forgive and in his great love continues to forgive, if we only dare to ask.
Divine peace is an offshoot of truth. It cannot be anything else. Therefore, it also shakes us, makes us aware of all that in our lives still awaiting conversion. But it is only the false peace, nourishing our self-sufficiency, that builds upon what we want to hear, becoming a bubble doomed to burst when our achievements, sooner or later, inexorably have to surrender to our limitations. God’s peace presumes that we will hear what we need to hear. Even if it shakes and scrapes. It becomes the consequence of us, however shaken, understanding how God through Christ, and his real presence in the seven sacraments of the Church and in her teaching and proclamation, offers us a path from slavery under both others’ and own limitations. A path never dependent upon our own abilities, but only in need for our cooperation.
Jesus Christ is equal to the Father in his divinity but less than the Father in his humanity, in order to give us access to his eternal communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit. And thus, share in divine peace. That peace, which removes fear of death as the end, and becomes a sign of the eternal life with God that already has begun, whatever happens to us in life here. That peace, which, as our responsorial psalm acclaimed, makes us “fall prostrate” before him. Amen.