June 3, 2019
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 6th Sunday of Easter (Year C) on May 26, 2019, at Holy Name of Mary Parish in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23; and John 14:23-29.
It is an absolute thrill to be here with you today! I belonged to Holy Name of Mary Parish 20 years ago. And even though I was here for less than 2 years, the 10:45 am Mass was “home” for me. As one friend said back then: “Holy Name is a place where you walk in, and before anyone speaks to you, you know that you are loved.” I think that it’s no coincidence that only a year after moving away from here, I felt the call to the priesthood.
I get back to Croton every year or two to visit, and the dear friends I’ve made through the 10:45 am Mass at Holy Name have been some of my greatest cheerleaders in my vocation for the past two decades. Thank you for all your love and support as I discerned the priesthood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; studied in the seminary of the Paulist Fathers in Washington, DC; began my priestly ministry in Knoxville, Tennessee; and now continue it in Austin, Texas!
In our gospel passage today, Jesus is speaking to his disciples at the Last Supper, knowing that he will be led to his Passion and death in the next few hours. Even after he rises from the dead, he will only have a limited amount of time with the disciples before he ascends to the Father. How does Jesus prepare them to carry on his mission?
Remember that we, too, have been baptized into the responsibility of carrying on Christ’s mission. Let’s celebrate that!
[Sprinkling rite? Gloria?]
On the night before Jesus died, he realized that life was about to change drastically for his followers. He gathered his disciples to share a final meal. The Gospel of John regards this event as being essential to the salvation of the world. The Last Supper is roughly 15% of the entire Gospel of John. And its main focus is a beautiful discourse by Jesus that covers three whole chapters. We have just listened to some verses from that discourse.
It is a special moment. Jesus Christ, the Word of God Made Flesh among us, is trying to sum up all that he has taught his disciples in the past three years. He wants to help them understand the significance of what is happening now and in the next three days. And he is instructing them how to carry out God’s mission after he is gone.
Even though Jesus was speaking to a small group of Galilean Jews at the Last Supper, he was addressing all of us in a very real way. “If you love me and keep my word, my Father will love you, and we will come to you and make our dwelling with you…. The Holy Spirit… will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” As long as we make a plan to keep loving Jesus and keep his commandment, we should be fine. The Father and Son will make their dwelling with us, and the Holy Spirit will teach and remind us. How can we ever feel anything but fine?
But often, we don’t feel fine. It doesn’t feel as if we’re making progress on our spiritual journey. Mark Twain famously said: “I’m in favor of progress; it’s change I don’t like.”
My time at the 10:45 am Mass at Holy Name from 1998 to 2000 was a golden time, but things here have changed a lot since then. The inside of the church is painted a different color, and a lot of the furnishings have been renovated. Several friends who were in the musical ensemble back then have moved away. A few of them have divorced. Another died. The three priests who preached regularly are no longer here… each leaving for very different reasons. The toddlers who made a ruckus during the homilies back then have now graduated from college.
The ancient philosopher Heraclitus had a less negative view of change than Mark Twain, acknowledging that it was the central force of the universe. Heraclitus’ teaching is often paraphrased as “you can’t step in the same river twice.” Things are constantly changing. It’s just the way it is.
It’s easy to pine about the old days, to think that anything different from then is bad or inferior. If we are tempted to think that way, what must it have been like for the disciples once Jesus ascended to heaven? Surely they must have longed for the days when Jesus made the decisions. Now, Greeks were clamoring to join this new religion. Did they have to become Jews first? As the Acts of the Apostles reports in the most diplomatic of terms, “there arose no little dissension and debate” about whether Greek men had to undergo physical pain in order to become Christians! Jesus did not leave the disciples instructions for this unexpected dilemma, nor for any of the other unforeseen circumstances faced by the early Church. You can’t step in the same river twice. Everything changes. Time flows on, and the Church was never supposed to be a historic artifact that is irrelevant to our current “dissensions and debates.”
Twenty years and three U.S. presidents ago, back when there were no streaming services and “Must See TV” was a real thing, back before Vladimir Putin was president of Russia for the first time, all of us at Holy Name were different people. With a 20-year time frame, a lot of us perceive the differences in ourselves as being what Mark Twain would call “progress” rather than just “change.” God knows, even with the minor medical maladies of middle age, I prefer the wisdom and insights I’ve acquired over the past 20 years, rather than being the confused optical engineer I was at age 25, questioning my life’s purpose. Each of us is constantly becoming who God calls us to be.
Despite the level of contention among the early disciples, the Acts of the Apostles reports that what Jesus predicted and prayed for at the Last Supper did in fact happen: he and the Father came and dwelled among the believers. The Holy Spirit came and dwelled in each of them, reminding them of everything that Jesus taught them.
Despite the evidence in the book of Acts, and despite our belief that Jesus sits at the right of our Father in heaven, many of us seem to think that Jesus’ predictions and prayers were not offered for us in this present day and age. But surely, Jesus’ prayers are still working. The Father and Son make their dwelling with us, and the Holy Spirit teaches and reminds us. Our lives are constantly changing, and hopefully, at least some of the time, we’re progressing in our pursuit of holiness and wisdom. Where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, God is there.
Teresa of Avila was a reformer whose life was filled with constant change, but she had the sense of God’s presence in her life. She was able to believe that any change that happened in the presence of God was not merely change, but spiritual progress. When Teresa died, her Carmelite sisters found a little prayer that she had written on a piece of paper and kept in her prayer book. Fittingly, the prayer has come to be called “St. Teresa’s Bookmark.” She wrote:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing;
God never changes.
Patience gains all things.
The person who possesses God
has no want of anything.
God alone suffices.
Beloved, let nothing disturb us or frighten us. The new heaven and the new earth promised in Revelation have not yet arrived, but we possess Jesus, the Lamb who is the lamp of the kingdom of heaven. Let us bind ourselves ever more closely to one another, trusting that Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit dwell among us and within us. We need not fear change, for God is with us, beside us. Patience gains all things. God alone suffices.