Deacon Cornell's Homily


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


April 26-27, 2008, Fifth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

There is a tribe of Indians in South America that has among its customs a rite of passage for boys turning into men. When a boy reaches a certain birthday, he is taken out into the jungle for a night with nothing. If he survives the lonely night in the jungle, he is judged ready to become a man in the tribe.

So there was this boy who reached the fateful birthday. As the afternoon turned into evening, he was prepared for his night in the jungle with chants, and dancing, and anointing with strange smelling ointments, and incantations by the village medicine man. As evening turned into night, he was blindfolded, and led deep into the jungle. The blindfold came off; he was stripped and left standing by a tree. As the torches of the tribesmen faded quickly into the dense jungle the dark became complete. With no vision, his hearing and smell seemed to heighten in intensity. He could hear every leaf falling to the jungle floor. He could hear every rustle of the brush, and smell things he had never smelled before. His imagination would not let him relax. Every minute seemed to take an hour as he waited for the dawn. Second by laborious second the night dragged on, filled with sounds and smells of danger and menace. It seemed that morning would never come, but his eyes never blinked, and he couldn't even think of relaxing. Finally, after what seemed like several years, the dawn started to penetrate the umbrella of the canopy. And as the black of night turned to the barest hint of grey, he saw something move over by a tree. His heart rose into his throat as he imagined that after surviving the whole night he was about to be attacked as dawn broke. But he was frozen in place and as the grey lightened he recognized the silhouette of his father next to a tree not 20 yards away, his gun ready to ward off any danger to his son.  The young man's first thought was, "If I had only known, I could have slept peacefully through this night." 

Have any of you ever felt completely alone, in the dark or in the daytime? Jesus realized that this is how his disciples were going to feel after he was gone. So repeatedly in this Last Supper discourse He tries to tell the disciples that he will still be with them but in a different way.

Jesus also tells them how he will be with them. He will send this other Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to them and on them and through the power of the Holy Spirit, when two or three of them gather in Jesus' name, he will be present. He will be physically present; as real as that South American Indian boy's father was even though the boy could not see him in the dark. How does this work? I haven't a clue, any more than I understand the mystery of Christ's real presence in the consecrated bread and wine works. But just as the early disciples somehow experienced that presence, I have experienced it. It is as real to me as any other experience of love that human beings have.

And Jesus did not promise this presence just to his early disciples but through the power of the Holy Spirit, he promised it to all of us who come after the disciples, until the end of time. We call this gathering of people in Jesus' name to make Christ present, the Church. The function of the Church is to make Christ present so people here and now can encounter Christ, or deepen their encounter with Christ. And as the local incarnation of the Church here in Stow, it is the function of St. Isidore parish to make Christ present so people here, both members of the parish and those who are not members, can encounter Christ. Being baptized does not guarantee that we will have this personal encounter with Christ. It makes it possible but like all sacraments, it requires a response on our part. There are Catholics who were baptized at birth and who have gone through their whole lives going to mass, saying prayers, supporting the works of the church, and have not personally encountered Christ. The parish's mission is to provide as many opportunities for people to encounter Christ, in liturgy, in our whole community religious education program, in service projects, like the St. Isidore garden or the St. Vincent dePaul Society, but again to make this successful we need to respond to the invitation.

Jesus also gives us the clue as how to recognize an opportunity to encounter Christ. We are at the end of April which is Child Abuse Prevention month. As you have seen in the bulletin and on the website, St. Isidore parish will be running a Stay Safe program for PreK through 4th grade ages and their parents in June. We strongly urge you to sign up and attend these two short sessions on June 1st and 15th. As part of our training the leaders for these sessions, one of the techniques that is popular for protecting young children from abduction is to share a secret code word or phrase with your child. And then whenever some change in plans requires another adult to pick up your child, they are taught not to go with anyone who doesn't tell them what the secret code is. When you send someone to whom you have given the code, you make that person your agent, able to act in your stead.

Jesus does the same thing with us. He tells us in this Gospel passage how to recognize the ones who are his true agents. Those who have his commandments are his true agents. And in the previous chapter of John's Gospel, Jesus has reminded the disciples and us that he has given us only one commandment: to love one another as he loves us. When ever two or three of us gather in love then Jesus is in our midst and it becomes an opportunity for others to encounter the living Christ. I know I must sound like a broken record lately but that is why we come to Mass, to become this communion in one another that gathers in love so that Christ becomes really, physically present. If we are just showing up to fulfill an obligation, and we rush in and rush out without connecting to one another and becoming a loving community then what we say we are doing sacramentally is empty, it is stillborn, yielding no life. We are called to a personal encounter with Christ but not a private one. We can only encounter Christ in communion, in a community

Study after study in the past 15 to 20 years has shown that in America people are becoming more and more isolated, and that this is the root of so many of our societal ills. The Church has the answer for this epidemic; it is God's answer and who knows better what we need as humans than this Jesus who is both God and human.

As Peter urges us, always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope. But as St. Francis of Assisi is reported to have said, preach always and if necessary, use words. When we love one another as Jesus loves us we are loved by the Father, and Jesus will come us and love us and reveal himself to us.


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