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Friday, June 06, 2014

25 May 2014 – Sixth Sunday of Easter

Shared Homily


First Reading:
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
Second Reading:
1 Peter 3.15-18
Gospel Reading:
John 14.15-21

Today, we're going to do things a little different. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles leaves out several verses, which I think enhance the meaning of the final four verses that were read. So, I'm going to ask one of you to read the first reading again as it is in the lectionary, omitting the highlighted verses. Read it once more, this time including the highlighted verses.

Acts 8:5-8, 9-13,14-17
5Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, 7for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralysed or lame were cured. 8So there was great joy in that city.
9Now a certain man named Simon had previously practised magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he was someone great. 10All of them, from the least to the greatest, listened to him eagerly, saying, ‘This man is the power of God that is called Great.’ 11And they listened eagerly to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. 12But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13Even Simon himself believed. After being baptized, he stayed constantly with Philip and was amazed when he saw the signs and great miracles that took place.
14Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16(for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

Before I say a few words on this, I'd like to hear what impact you think leaving out these verses has on your understanding or interpretation of the reading.

[Paused for responses from the community]

When read as a whole, this passage describes conversion and the ongoing journey of faith. I can relate to Simon as myself, and as the persons, places or things that we may think are magic. But once we begin to hear the call of God, we recognize that things we thought were magic are just illusions produced by deception or sleight of hand. They are only temporary diversions for us, if we are works in progress.

At the Easter Vigil, we renewed our Baptismal vows as a sign that we have accepted accepted God's call. Acceptance of God's call is the door that opens us to deepen our faith and our commitment. It's a done deal that invites us to accept that we're not done. Baptism or accepting God's invitation predisposes us to receive the promptings of the Holy Spirit. For example, Sister Lorraine facilitated a prayer group where she asked us to pray for a person who was a problem for us; to pray for them as God would. I know we're all works in progress but, like Simon, I was amazed by Sister Lorraine's ability to pray for even those who distressed her.

To return to the example, I chose to pray for a certain Monsignor with whom I am not on the best of terms to say the least. I would begin to pray as I thought God would. Then, my prayer would lapse into negatives like: “But he this and but he that.” Prompted by the Holy Spirit, I would at some time catch myself and continue to pray for him as I though God might. This prayer-negative thoughts-prompt-return to prayer routine repeated for the whole time we were at prayer.

Our faith journeys are like that. Good starts, interruptions, and prompting by the Holy Spirit to start again. The interruptions are the Simon's illusions of magic in our lives. So for me, the message of the second reading is that our spiritual lives are a process. The process begins with being opened to receive, and then, the challenge of ongoing receptivity to the Holy Spirit in our daily lives and the acceptance that we are always-- works in progress.

11 May 2014 – Fourth Sunday of Easter

Shared Homily Starter

First Reading:
Acts 2.14, 36-41
Second Reading:
1 Peter 2.20-25
Gospel Reading:
John 10.1-10

One of the questions facing Christians today is how to honour our faith and our baptism without becoming elitist and exclusionary. One way is to embrace the cosmic meaning of our baptism, which is to live in the experience of Christ. Bonaventure says God's visage is present in every creature, that is, God is expressed in all things, so that each creature is a symbol and a sacrament of God's presence. “Attentiveness to the other ... means relating to the other ... as icon through which the infinite goodness of God radiates. This is the basis of viewing creation as family in which we relate to all beings as brothers and sisters. ... To live in the experience of Christ is to live in the experience of relatedness, to be a member of the cosmic family, because Christ is the Word of God through whom all things are related.”1

In the First Reading, Peter says: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” What if we looked at this from the perspective of living in right relationships with God and all that is God's, that is, from the perspective of the experience of relatedness. Looked at this way, lived this way, we enter the dance of the Trinity, the dance of mutual outpouring love.

Peter continues by saying, “the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him." Now if we continue in the same understanding that I have been talking about, we must acknowledge that we are all called by God. But as we also know not everyone acts accordingly. Today's gospel reading is from the Gospel of John. Previously in this gospel, in verses 11 and 12 of the first chapter, the Evangelist tells us that Jesus “came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him ... he gave power to become children of God”.

Why, with the promise of unity with the Creator, would anyone resist God's call or Jesus' teaching or the prompting of the Holy Spirit? I don't think anyone does this on purpose but I do think that all of us, at times, fill our lives with so much noise and busyness that we can't hear the voice of God coming from deep within us. For most of us, this is a temporary lapse. When I say us, I'm speaking about anyone, who walks in the way of justice, compassion, peace and the common good.

On the other hand, some people become so taken by the perennial and alluring voices of thieves and robbers, that they become deaf to the voice of the Shepherd. These are the voices of profit and power-seeking, consumerism, competition, and various fears. But these voices belong to the thief who comes only to steal and kill and destroy.

Jesus tells us that he came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. He is the door of the sheep and if we enter by him, we will be made whole and find pasture. Now, by our baptism and participation in the Eucharistic meal, we are to become Christ for others. Our baptism is the door that invites us into the experience of Christ. Rather than being an invitation or membership into an exclusive club it is an invitation to realize, recognize and appreciate our relatedness to God and to all of creation because all-that-is came into being through the Word of God.

One answer to the question referred to at the start of this homily is: We honour our faith and our baptism by ignoring the voices of thieves and robbers who come to destroy, by heeding the voice of our Shepherd who told us: Our God is One. You must love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. ... You must love your neighbour as yourself2. Baptism prepares us for the knowledge that, religious truth, if it is truly religious, is not a formula to recite but a deed to do. As it says in the First Letter of John, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." If God is love, then the name of God is something to do. Without the deed, without doing the love, it is just noise, or a way to get my own way or to destroy my enemies. To quote one of my favourite sayings from John Caputo, “When love calls for action, we had better be ready with something more than a well-formed proposition even if it has been approved by a council.”3 In other words, more than something we feel, Love is something we do. Jesus is not only talking to Peter when his says, “if you love me, feed my lambs... tend my sheep... feed my sheep.”4 Amen! Alleluia!

Please share your thoughts.
1Delio, Ilia. 2008. Christ in evolution. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, pp. 62-3.
2Mark 12:30-31
3Caputo, John D. 2001. “On Religion – Without Religion” in On religion. London: Routledge, p. 130.
4John 21:15-17