3rd Sunday of Easter
A Homily - Cycle A - 2004-2005

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First Reading - Acts 2:14, 22-33
Responsorial Psalm - Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
Second Reading - 1 Peter 1:17-21
Gospel - Luke 24:13-35

Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

That very day, the first day of the week, two of Jesus' disciples were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.  And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. 

He asked them, "What are you discussing as you walk along?"  They stopped, looking downcast.  One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?"  And he replied to them, "What sort of things?"  They said to him, "The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him.  But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place.  Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive.  Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see." 

And he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are!  How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures.  As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther.  But they urged him, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over."  So he went in to stay with them.  And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them.  With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. 

Then they said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?"  So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, "The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!"  Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

In the twelfth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, we read, ". . . unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but it if dies, it bears much fruit."  In these days following the funeral of our beloved Holy Father, we observe that as effective as this Pope was in his life on earth, it seems as if he has even greater effectiveness in death.  Consider that in the last several days, nearly 5 million persons viewed his body as it lay in state at St. Peter's or attended his funeral.  An estimated 2 billion persons watched the funeral, making it the biggest media event ever.  What other religion commands this kind of attention when its leader dies?  Not Judaism.  Not Islam.  Not when the Archbishop of Canterbury dies.  Only the Church founded by Christ himself garners this kind of attention and respect.  It is important, then, for us to take time today to assess and synthesize what we have seen and extract its meaning.

To be sure, we are living in a uniquely Catholic moment.  It makes one proud to be a part of the mystical body of Christ.  The last week of media coverage has been something akin to a free catechism class on our faith, our traditions, and our rich liturgical heritage.  We couldn't afford this kind of publicity on our own!  When the conclave begins on April 18, the world will turn its attention to us once again, ready to meet John Paul II's successor.  Of course, all of this talk about the Faith has exposed the state of affairs within our Church in Europe (declining); in Latin America and Asia and Africa (flourishing) and in our own country (questionable). 

The media discussions have exposed the fact that many Americans who claim Catholicism as their religion are Catholic in name only.  The culture of dissent in our own country, which argues that one can remain Catholic even if one does not follow or believe in all of her teachings, continues to fester and it is a problem that our next Holy Father will undoubtedly face in his pontificate.

We know that American media outlets love opinion polls as a way of legitimizing their own agenda and these days of discussion about the Pope, the Church and the next Pope have not been exempt of this questionable method of discerning truth. 

For example, CNN ran an opinion poll that revealed that 67% of Protestants think that the Catholic Church should change our teaching on birth control and marriage between persons of the same sex.  I didn't know that Protestants had a say in how the Church conducts her affairs.  I suppose we could run an opinion poll that showed that 90% of Catholics think that Jews should not worship on Saturdays!  I don't think the Jews would really care about what our opinion poll revealed.  These opinion polls suggest that somehow, the Church is a lobby group, some special interest organization that needs to change its teachings in order to attract more followers.

Similarly, other media pundits have asked Church authorities if we should expect the next Pope to change John Paul II's "policies" on issues like women's ordination or birth control.  The question presupposes that the Church's teachings are John Paul II's private "policies."  No Pope invents Church teaching.  Rather, every Pope is the guardian of revealed truth, known to us directly from God or is extracted from natural law. 

John Paul II wasn't running on a political platform when he taught us as Pope.  Rather, he was guarding and transmitting the deposit of faith handed down to us from the Apostles.  In a word, the truth! 

A priest friend of mine said recently that the Pope is the builder, Christ is the architect.  The Pope is not at liberty to act apart from the architect's plans.  The builder follows what the architect lays out.  Do you think that John Paul II would have been honored in the way that he was if he had simply gone along with the spirit of the world?  Hardly!  John Paul was loved by so many because he was at times the only voice of reason and authentic moral authority in a world so enshrouded by the cloud of the culture of death; of relativism; of secularism; and of immorality.

To be fair, the better part of the media coverage has been very positive towards the Church.  At the very least, we can say that it has educated many, many more persons on what we believe and why we choose to live as we do.  It may have even sparked a few conversions or returns to the faith by fall-away Catholics.  One secular media commentator whom I know to be Jew, in his closing remarks after the Pope's funeral, surprised me when he remarked that the Pope taught us all that salvation comes through suffering.  Imagine that - A Jew discovering the meaning of the Cross! 

In his suffering, this Holy Father taught us to venerate the dignity of the elderly, the feeble and the weak.  Even in his decrepit condition, the Holy Father never shied away from his travels or workload.  Even if he was at times shaking uncontrollably from the ravages of Parkinson's disease or dribbling out of the side of his mouth at speeches, he continued on valiantly. 

By contrast, most Hollywood stars, once physical decline sets-in, retire into seclusion, because they can't stand to be seen not looking their best.  This is part of the reason why the Holy Father was so appealing to us - he really understood the human condition and he identified with everyone because he knew how to suffer!  And to think - the most important person in the eyes of the world in 2005 is a Catholic priest!

The Holy Father also invites us to live out our vocation wherever we may be.  He never asked to be Pope and yet he was thrust onto the world stage.  He lived his vocation with joy and fidelity, in spite of the many Crosses that he had to bear as Pope.

We do ourselves a great disservice if we simply look back on the days that we have witnessed in Rome as simply a remembrance of a life well-lived.  It is so much more than that - it is an invitation for us to be holy, as this Pope was holy!  It is an invitation to live out our vocations in faith, in hope and in love.

The saints can do much more for us than we will ever know.  I think that it's safe to say that Holy Father is probably in heaven.  If he's not, then we're all in a lot of trouble.  Consider the thousands of Masses and millions of prayers that have been said for him.  And if he's in heaven already, then God appropriates those graces of the Mass and other prayers to the souls in purgatory who need it most.  For all we know, John Paul II's death and the prayers that it has elicited may have cleared out substantial parts of purgatory!

John Paul II's mission in this life came to an end during this Year of the Eucharist - the same Eucharist in which the disciples on the way to Emmaus recognized the Lord Jesus.  Let us honor the Pope's memory by imitating this mystery we celebrate - making ourselves a gift to others by dying to ourselves and living for Him, for after all, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit!

Let us, then, seize this uniquely Catholic moment by being unafraid to proclaim the Gospel boldly in every place - in the office, in the school and in the home.  May our hearts burn within us so that we can assist our fallen-away brothers and sisters in the Catholic faith to return to the home of their spiritual heritage.  And may the blessed Virgin Mary, whom John Paul II loved so much, teach us holy fearlessness, as the world now watches for the next Vicar of her Son.

Praised be Jesus Christ!  Now and forever!

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