Deacon Cornellís Homily


Acts 6:1-7
1 Peter 2:4-9 Gospel:
John 14:1-12


May 22, 2011, Fifth Sunday in Easter, Cycle A

What a wonderful month of sacraments we have been celebrating here at St. Isidore. Starting with the initiation of Benita Ricketts at the Easter Vigil, the celebrations continued with the First Communions of the boys and girls of the parish over the past few weekend, Confirmation yesterday, 2 babies baptized and 1 more today, and another 3 the first weekend of June, one wedding and one marriage validation. Phew! And in at the Cathedral yesterday 6 men were ordained to the priesthood. And of course, week in and week out we celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Today's readings touch on the sacraments of initiation and ordination in ways that I suggest challenge us to go beyond our understanding of what they mean. Either implicitly or explicitly they remind us how easy it is to misunderstand what the sacraments are all about.

The first reading from Acts 6 is most often pointed to as the origin of the order of deacons. From the start, the church was not without internal tension. On the surface, this reading is about the Greek (or non-Hebrew) speaking members of the community feeling that their widows were not getting equal treatment to the Hebrew-speaking ones. All of the members of this early church community were Jewish so it is an ethnic tension not a religious one. The apostles respond by lifting up some of the Greek speaking community as leaders, to help ensure equal treatment. If we stopped reading there we might think that the Diaconate is for those involved only in the distribution of charitable goods, working at food pantries or in Catholic Charities. And of course, many deacons do just that. But if we read on, the only thing we hear of these 7 deacons are the stories about Stephen and Philip preaching and teaching. Stephen preaches the Gospel so charismatically that he draws the anger of the leaders of the Jewish community who end up stoning him to death, making him the first Christian martyr. Of course I don't worry about being stoned for my charismatic preaching; I worry more about boring some of you to death! And Philip leads an Ethiopian court official to conversion by explaining scripture and proclaiming the Gospel to him. The heart of the diaconal ministry is service, at the table of the liturgy as well as the table representing charitable goods. And like all sacraments it is a ministry to be lived out rather than just understood. This first reading makes it clear that the early Christian community was not just about learning a creed or professing belief in Christ; it was actively loving one another so that no one went hungry.

The second reading from the first letter of Peter is my favorite first reading for baptisms done outside of Mass. It challenges us to think about baptism and the other sacraments of initiation more in terms of a call to live life a certain way than a one time event that is celebrated and forgotten. How do so many of our young men and women celebrate Confirmation and then walk away from active participation in the Church. It is like being crown king and then never taking the throne. By our baptism, confirmation, and frequent communion we are commissioned as a holy nation, a royal priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. We are to be living stones not just plaster saints. For most of us, the acceptable sacrifice is the way we live our everyday lives so they give glory to God, and preach in actions that God loves us and forgives us. If we get this wrong, the living stone becomes a stumbling block instead of a stepping stone.

A sad example of what this reading is talking about is what is going on down in West Palm Beach Florida. It is really scandalous to see people characterized as Catholics and parishioners telling reporters that it is sacrilegious to pray for Bin Laden. Have these people no idea what they have been baptized into? What does it mean to be the body of Christ and speak words so opposite to what Jesus commanded us to do, and showed us to do by his life. Have these people not read in Scripture that Jesus forgave those who were killing him, as did Stephen as he was being stoned. Or as Jesus reminded the Pharisees who complained about him hanging around with people of ill repute, Christ was sent to heal those who are sinners. If we are Christ how can we reject anyone for being a sinner?

I pray that no one here misunderstands our baptism mission that way. We have been praying for Bin Laden and many other notable "sinners" for a long time now when we pray for "those who consider us their enemy".

In the Gospel, Thomas and Phillip and the other apostles completely misunderstand Jesus' metaphor. It shows how easy it is to miss what is right in front of us sometimes. The apostles had been with Jesus pretty much day in and day out for 3 years and they still don't understand what he is calling them to. This passage occurs right after Jesus has responded to Peter's bravado by telling him that he will deny Jesus 3 times before the cock crows. And then Jesus says: don't be troubled. Easy to say. They keep looking for something other than the person Jesus standing right in front of them. You want to see God, look at Jesus. You want to know where heaven is, look at Jesus; heaven is a person, not a place. The real challenge for them and for us is that Jesus says that we have been given the power to do all that Jesus did and more. The early Christian community experienced a real participation in the eternal life of God, every day. Do you believe that? Do I? Does my life bear that out or am I looking around for where the Father is, so He can do what is my responsibility and within my capability?

We have been initiated into a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people of God's own. The question that challenges me is: can anyone tell?