Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Acts 1:15-17, 20a, 20c-26
1 John 4:11-16
John 17:11b-19


May 23-24, 2009 Seventh Sunday in Easter - Cycle B

 Along with Deacon Bob and Nancy Dome, I have had the pleasure of interviewing some of the confirmation students in our religious ed program over the past few weeks. I have to compliment Adam Tocci, Laureen DeBenedetto, and Nancy Dome because these young men and women were clearly more interested in and informed about their faith than any in recent history here.

But one of the things that is consistent across conversations with confirmation candidates, parents bringing their children for baptism, engaged couples coming for marriage prep, and our breakout sessions in Generations of Faith is people's trouble answering the question, “What is the fundamental reason for being Catholic?”

It is easy to reel off the generic answers: because it is important to have a moral guide, you have to have something to believe in, it is good to belong to a community, and so on. But why are any of those important? There are certainly a whole bunch of people and movements in our world that would suggest that none of those are important. To understand why it is important to be Catholic, we need to understand God's plan for this world. What is surprising to me is that when you start reading scripture, and listening to the prayers we say, God's plan is simple and clearly laid out. Humans tend to complicate things because the more twists and turns in a plan, the more likely it is we will find a way out, a reason for not participating fully. But God keeps reminding us again and again of the very simple plan for salvation.

Take today's Gospel passage. This is taken from the middle of Jesus final discourse as it is called. It is the prayer he offers in John's version of the last supper that sums up his work on earth, explains his paschal sacrifice and lays out what he is sending his disciples to do. John's Gospel is often understood to have a trial motif. The world is on trial and Jesus is the accuser, the witness, and of course the advocate and judge all rolled up into one. The final discourse is Jesus summation speech. In it he lays the final charge against "the world" and also lays out what God's response is: salvation based on forgiveness and serving one another.

When we hear the phrase "the world" in the Gospel it is not to be understood in a dualistic manner as opposed to heaven, or physical versus spiritual. That phrase is used by the author of John's Gospel to stand for the hatred and persecution his community was experiencing. We can hear it as a code word for the inhuman aspects of our time: violence, oppression, consumerism, division. So when Jesus is talking about not being of this world he is not saying that he is not physically present or part of the world we live in. He means that he lives in this world as if the kingdom of God were already present. His life is not tainted by the fear and violence and hatred that surrounds us.

This portion of the final discourse is sometimes compared to the teaching of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew and Luke, Jesus teaches us how to pray by telling us; here he models it for us. Jesus starts by addressing God as Father. He then prays for unity which will bring complete joy. In the Our Father, Jesus tells us to pray for the kingdom of God to come here on earth as it is in heaven; that God's will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. He then prays that his disciples will be protected as they witness to him. In the Our Father he tells us to pray for strength (in our daily bread) and protection from evil and temptation. The disciples are not sent out of the world but to remain in the middle of it to bring about this unity and joy. In the Our Father we are to bring about this salvation based on the forgiveness of sins by actually forgiving sins done to us.

Notice that neither the Our Father nor this prayer from John's Gospel contain anything about getting to heaven or living a moral life or converting everyone to Catholicism. As Christians we believe that Jesus is God, and that the bible contains exactly what God wants us to hear. So if getting to heaven or living a moral life or converting everyone to the same religion were the point of our religion, we would expect Jesus to include them in the one prayer he gives us verbatim or in this intense prayer he models for us as the summation of his life. But we act as if Jesus must have woken up the next morning and did one of the “I should have had a V8” slaps to the head, saying, “Darn it, I forgot to put that thing about getting to heaven in the Our Father!” And we try to put it in for him.

God's plan for this world is simple. Paul summarizes it eloquently when he says that God's plan is to bring all things into one under Christ. God's plan is to transform the world so it images God more truly. God is love; the world's destiny is love. Love is unifying. Love is transforming. The reason it is important to be Catholic is that the Church is the instrument God uses to transform the world by loving it into unity. We are the sacrament of Christ on earth. We are to love the world into paradise by modelling how wonderful it is to experience God's love, and then to act out of, to live in that love in return. There is no other means of salvation given to the world. There is no other name than Christ, of whom we are the body, given to humans for salvation. If we don't live it, then it means that world of peace and love is delayed. It will get here eventually, because this is God's plan. But why would we wait?

We are sent as those first disciples were 2000 years ago to make God's love present by remaining in that love ourselves. The Church's mission is not to convert everyone to Catholicism. It is not, primarily, to teach morality, or even dogma. It is to make real, to image, to BE God's love here and now, until the end of time. It is to be the incarnation of God's love so that the rest of the world can see that love, feel that love, respond to that love. All the other stuff has one purpose only and that is to help us as a community remain in God's love so that God's love remains in the world to transform it.


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