Homily – 5th Sunday of Easter

Friends, I invite us to think back to a time in our lives when we didn’t have so much technology; cell phones, computers, emails and every other device that keeps us, if we choose, eternally connected to the wider world.  Now, I realize for some of the younger people among us, the question is a different one as maybe you can’t remember a time when you weren’t technologically connected.  So, you will have to bear with me for a bit.

I was at meetings last weekend, you will recall, and at one of the breaks; we got talking about how we don’t know how we got along without cell phones before they were so readily available because now we are so dependent on them.  Back then; I can remember needing to find a phone booth if something came up when I was away from home and I questioned if there is even a phone booth to be found anymore.

All of the advances in technology help us to live our lives better, for the most part, but we need to strike a balance that keeps us connected, safe and informed, without being over-stimulated.  When we have grown up without all these new ways to be connected and can remember a time when people couldn’t so readily find us; we sometimes long for those days again, even though we enjoy some of the technology.

I for one love the parts of Facebook that keep me connected to our son and daughter and their spouses and our grandson, but I dislike the technology that interrupts my day with constant calls from political candidates asking for money. I love the technology that helps us, through our webmaster’s expertise to create our wonderful website that helps us share the message of Jesus to the wider world.  I dislike that same technology that allows that which isn’t good to be spread in the same manner—hatred and dislike for others—everything that the message of Jesus is not about.  All that is new is not always good.

Paul and Barnabas, John and Jesus, in today’s readings are proclaiming something new as well, and the good thing is that their message isn’t only good for a certain time, —their message is timeless.  God’s love lasts forever—we won’t need a new and improved message next week like we need to periodically update all our devices.

We might also consider today what is it that we can’t live without—the newest technology that will presumably change my life, or the knowledge that I am loved by God, every day of my life, no exceptions, no time limits.  Now granted; we all make use of present day technology that without a doubt make our lives easier, more interesting and enjoyable—there are now more smart phones than dumb phones, to say nothing of “no phones,” as in my opening example. The point is to keep it all in perspective.

When it comes to what we can’t live without, hopefully a relationship with the source of all being is high on our list and especially through the person of Jesus of Nazareth who was the closest manifestation of this all-inclusive love the world will probably ever see.

The reading from Revelation today speaks of a “New Jerusalem, a new heaven and a new earth.”  In the Greek, “new,” exegete, Diane Bergant says, “ speaks of an extraordinary character of this newness—this is literally an act of God.”  She goes on to say that the marital image is used to describe the loving relationship that exists between God and God’s people—all of us! This new time, just as for those in marital union, is one of unending happiness and peace—to be held by the beloved. I think of this as I have been spending time with two couples that I have the privilege of preparing for marriage later this year. Both couples love each other very much; I have no doubt; so for our God to suggest a relationship with us comparable to  the intimacy of married love speaks to One who loves us profoundly and will go to no end to show us that love.

On this 5th Sunday of Easter; we celebrate as we have throughout Easter time our belief that when Jesus rose from the dead, everything was made new.  Our lives would no longer be ordinary in any way; we will now and always live extraordinary lives because our God, in Jesus, walks with us each and every day. This reminds me of Fr. Ed Hays, a priest for over 50 years of the archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas and the founding director of the Shantivanam Retreat Center in Easton, Kansas, who died this month and of how he looked at the presence of God in our lives. In an article of “Appreciation,” Tom Fox, former editor of the National Catholic Reporter said, “Hays taught that the incarnation was not just a moment in time, but a continuous “infleshing of the Divine Mystery within us.” Fox goes on, “He told me: “If we believe in infleshment, then we see God not as otherworldly, as separate, as different, but rather as of this world.  The smell of burning leaves, an evergreen, a turkey in the oven…isn’t that the smell of God? Doesn’t God taste like pizza, a good steak, salmon?”  There is no longer any reason to fear; we are loved, plain and simple, by a God who asks for us to love in return.

We might ask, “What kind of love are we talking about, in addition to how this love is spoken of in Revelation today?  The love that Jesus talks about is agape—a love that asks for total commitment.  It isn’t something we do just when it feels good, but when it is very difficult, as well.  Again, I think of married couples and of how life doesn’t present them with unending bliss—but even then, and precisely then, is when they  are called to love fully—agape love. We, as Jesus’ followers must additionally be committed to doing the right thing for all of God’s people when we have support from others and when we do not.  Many times it may mean that we have to stand alone, as did Jesus.  Our satisfaction—better yet, our peace, will come in knowing in our hearts, that we have done the right thing.

Again, looking at committed marital love, what allows that love to grow rich with the years is the willingness to stand by the beloved in the ups and downs of life. But let me be clear; I am not speaking of commitments that have been broken and misused by abuse. Here I think of a friend who is breaking free of a marriage that hasn’t been good for a while—that hasn’t been a mutual undertaking of love, but one where she learned to defer to him and could never really be who she was.

There are so many ways that call us to extend agape love to those in our midst. We are presently concluding a month that calls our attention to child abuse. Each of us is called to be aware of those around us and to speak up in situations where we might suspect that children are being abused. Certainly not an easy thing as our own Church hierarchy struggles to be truly pastoral and demonstrate agape love in regard to all the used and abused children under their care whom they failed to protect.  In our wider world; we may be aware of situations—an overburdened single mom whom we can reach out to, lightening her load, helping her to better care for her children, care for herself.

This past Friday, our country celebrated Earth Day—a day to remember that care of our beautiful earth is most important if we want to give our children and grandchildren a future upon this planet.

We aren’t all called to missionary work as were Paul and Barnabas; the place we share our love isn’t as important as that we do it where we are—now!  If we look around, we will be aware that many people carry a heavy load—many people work in jobs that aren’t ultimately fulfilling—what can we do to help lift the load for them?  Family life at times can be trying and it is in the midst of whatever life brings that each of us is called as were Paul and Barnabas, to “undergo many hardships,” knowing that we don’t do it alone—God in Jesus, is with us.

I believe at the heart of it, each one of us wants to do the right thing and all that stands in the way for most of us, is the human condition. We get caught up in the desire to be in control, to be liked, to be loved; or, we are protecting our good name; or, we may be lazy, fearful or uninterested.

I believe there is that inner quality in each one of us to strive after what is best within us and it is for that reason that many of us are drawn into TV and cinema productions that depict heroes who are willing to give up everything, even that which they hold most dear for the greater good of the whole people.

Last Sunday, April 17 was the World Day of Prayer for Vocations (I’m a little behind, but it’s a prayer we can always be praying!) –a prayer for those called to priesthood and religious life. The intent is to pray for vocations for men to the priesthood and for women to religious life.  I have the vocation prayer that was updated this year to include that Pope Francis be open to the priestly vocations of women, so I would invite you to pray that prayer often.  I have copies for you today and shared it with our board at our April quarterly meeting. I will get it on the website too.  Never underestimate the power of prayer to bring about the changes so needed in our world.

The Second Vatican Council, more than 50 years ago marked the first time that we began as the People of God to proclaim that, “We are Easter People.”  Easter, all those hundreds of years ago, when Jesus walked the earth, called us all to something new through his life, death and resurrection.  Through Jesus, and his Spirit; we have all that we need to effect change within our world in all the places where people are hurting most.  In Jesus’ wonderful name, I say, let’s begin!