Deacon Cornellís Homily


Acts 8:5-8,14-17
1 Peter 3:15-18
John 14:15-21


April 30 Ė May 1, 2005 Sixth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

As Catholics we celebrate 7 sacraments, seven outward signs that make real for us the unseen grace of God. One of ways of classifying the sacraments is into 3 groups: 2 sacraments of healing and forgiveness (Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick), 2 of vocation (Marriage and Holy Orders) and 3 sacraments of initiation. Who can tell me what those 3 sacraments of initiation are? Baptism and Confirmation are the first two sacraments that most people think of first when asked about the sacraments of initiation. In todayís reading from the Acts of the Apostles we hear a very early experience of those two sacraments. Philip, one of the first seven deacons we heard about last week, travels to Samaria. He proclaims the good news of Jesus Christ and crowds were initiated into the community by baptism in the name of Jesus. Then Peter and John came over from Jerusalem and laid hands on the newly baptized, calling down the Holy Spirit, which we recognize as confirmation.

Often when we think about initiation, we think about what is received by the one being initiated. But almost all initiations that I can think of are a two-way movement. They involve gifts or benefits received by the one initiated but they also involve a commitment by the one initiated to live up to the ideals of the organization and to help further its mission. In many cases, some of things received by the one initiated are given to help that person fulfill that commitment

So how many people are here today to be initiated? Why did the rest of you come here today? Letís talk about that third sacrament of initiation: Eucharist. I would have thought that most of you came here to celebrate and participate in the Eucharist, a sacrament of initiation. At first glance, it may seem strange that we would call a sacrament that we receive over and over again a sacrament of initiation. But if we remember that initiation into the Church involves a commitment to the goals of the Church, it is not so strange. What do we commit to in baptism? All three of our readings today talk about that commitment. We commit ourselves to spread the good news about Jesus Christ. As the author of that first letter of Peter says, we must be always ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope. And in the reading from Acts we see first Philip and then Peter and John doing exactly that.

We are given the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, and in Confirmation, so that we might have the courage and the wisdom to do that, sometimes in the last place we would expect to be listened to. In that reading from Acts, we hear that Philip, a Jew, is in Samaria. A few weeks ago, when we listened to the story of Jesus meeting the Samarian women at the well of Jacob, the author of Johnís gospel told us that the Jews and the Samaritans have nothing in common. They were enemies. Philip probably ended up there in his haste to flee the terrible persecution of the Christian community that took place in Jerusalem following the stoning death of Stephen, another one of the first deacons. But there he is, a Jew among Samaritans, and lo and behold Philip has the courage to speak the gospel, and the Samaritans listen and are drawn in.

A second thing that we commit to in baptism is to become part of the body of Christ. This is one way of visioning Jesusí prayer that we become one with him and with each other as Jesus is one with the Father. This is the part of initiation that needs renewing again and again and again. Like any body, the Body of Christ is constantly being renewed. So we come together week after week after week to be initiated into that oneness with Christ, where we become Christ, with Jesus as our head and us as the arms and legs and heart and hands. Again it is the Holy Spirit who makes this possible. The Holy Spirit is that human experience of God that draws us out of ourselves into union with God, and communion with each other. In a few minutes, we will approach the table, some for the first time, some for the multiple thousandth time, to be initiated into this oneness. In eating the flesh of Christ and drinking his blood, we become Christ. Part of the way we signify this unity ritually in our community is that we all remain standing while all of us receive communion, and when all have received, we all then kneel to reflect on what we have done.

Then at the end of mass we will be sent forth, as the body of Christ, to proclaim the good news and to fulfill a third commitment we make in baptism, to keep Jesusí commandments. Now I know when most of us hear that passage from Johnís gospel we think of the ten commandments. But the gospel of John is pretty clear about what Jesusí commandment is, and it is only one: we are to love one another as Jesus loves us. To be able to do that we need to be strengthened and renewed again and again.

So let us celebrate this sacrament of initiation with all our heart and mind and soul. Let us gather at the altar to become more fully the body of Christ, and then let us go forth to love one another, as Christ loves us.

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