God Shows Us the Way to Life

Jesus Saves

The Eucharist Strengthens Us to Live the Life of Love

“We Are One Body…”

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity: Reflecting on God’s Love for Us

Opening Our Hearts to Receive the Holy Spirit

Msgr. Joseph Prior

(Readings of the Holy Mass – Fifth Sunday of Easter)

The song Ghost has a couple lines that read: “The Mississippi’s mighty, it starts in Minnesota, at a place that you could walk across with five steps down.” When we look at photos of or visit the Mississippi in some of the urban areas it runs through or by such as Minneapolis, Dubuque, Saint Louis, Memphis, Vicksburg, Baton Rouge or New Orleans, we see a vast and wide river – a “mighty” river. The song lyric reminds us that the great river starts as a small stream and then grows into a river. There’s a similar image in Ezekiel 47:1-12.

In this passage Ezekiel has a vision of an angel taking him to the Temple. He shows Ezekiel a small stream of water flowing out of the threshold. The angel leads him, step by step, to other spots.  As they move further and further away, the small stream turns into a massive river. When the river gets too high to wade across the angel calls him to the bank. There he describes the abundance of life that comes from the river. The great trees, the plants and vegetation, the fish and sea creatures all coming from this river of life.

These images come to mind today as we continue our celebration of Easter. The river of life image can readily be applied to the waters of baptism. On Easter Sunday we renewed our baptismal promises and were reminded of our own baptism through which we received the gift of life through the forgiveness of sin. It is through the waters of baptism that we are also made one with Christ and each other – we are “incorporated” into the Body of Christ, the Church. The “river” image may remind us of her growth.

Jesus is the source. Everything comes from Him and through Him everything has life. He reminds us of this in the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy. The passage, beloved by many, begins with Jesus’ preparing the disciples for his departure. He tells them not to fear. He will return and take us to His Father’s house where there is a room waiting for us. He tells the disciples: “Where I am going you know the way.” Then Thomas asks: “Master, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” To which Jesus replies: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He then speaks to them of His relationship with the Father. The Father and He are one. The Father sends Jesus, His Son, to make manifest His love and mercy and to gather all into one. This is the mission. The mission is accomplished in what is called the Paschal Mystery, Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and ascension. The mission continues in the life of Jesus’ disciples, in the life of the Church.

Jesus sends the apostles out to proclaim the message. They do so empowered by Spirit which we celebrate at Pentecost. The first readings of the Easter season liturgies remind us of this mission. These readings, like today’s, are taken from the Acts of the Apostles. We have been hearing how the apostles went forth from Jerusalem and traveled first to the region of present day Israel/Palestine, then to Lebanon/Syria. Eventually, the “Word” is carried and proclaimed in the region of Asia Minor (present day Turkey), then into Europe, first in Greece and ultimately it arrives in the capital of the world, Rome. In today’s passage, we hear of the Church’s growth. Many people heard the Word proclaimed and responded in faith by being baptized so much so that the apostles could not manage all their growing responsibilities. They needed help and the diaconate was instituted. The deacons would serve “at table” leaving the apostles to focus on the proclamation. As the Church grows, we see the pattern continue. Many people, particularly the poor and those in need finding a loving, caring and compassionate community to which they are invited. The encounter Christ here, place their faith in Him, are baptized and become part of the living Church.

The river image may help us to imagine this growth. Jesus is sent from the Father. He begins to gather disciples to himself. From these he chooses twelve for a special role, but all are called to participate in the mission. After his death and resurrection, He sends them out. As the gospel message moves further and further away from Jerusalem, the Church grows larger and larger. The proclamation increases, the invitation increases, the number of believers increases, the care for the poor and needy increases, compassion increases, forgiveness of sin increases, healing increases, courage increases, hope and love increase. As the Church grows, peoples from around the world come to know Him as the “way, the truth and the life.” The abundance of life that He provides, He does so through the work of the Church – through all of us.

The First Letter of Peter speaks of this mission in terms of priestly mission of the Church. In this case he is not referring solely to the ordained ministry but of a mission in which the entire Church shares. He writes: “let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” He then writes: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his own wonderful light.” The author’s point is that the proclamation of God’s love, made known to us in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, is to be made by all. We are all called to bear witness to this life because we all share this life. This is the work of the Church.

When we see statistical analyses of the current state of the Church in the United States, Canada and Europe we may get disheartened. So many identify themselves as “former” Catholics or “former” Christians. There is an even larger group of practical agnostics. In some senses its hard to believe but there is even a growing portion of the population who do not know much about Christ Jesus or His Church. Likewise, there is another growing portion of the population who are ignorant of the Scriptures, even the basics stories and figures. This may be a cause of consternation, concern or even heartbreak – especially when family members start to fall into one of these groups. Jesus, as he has done many times over the past two thousand years, comes to us in His Word and says: “Do not let your hearts be troubled, you have faith in God, have faith also in me.” Jesus started the Church with small group of disciples and apostles. He starts the renewal of the Church with a small group of people. And just as that river starts as a small stream that could be walked across, so the renewal of the mission starts.

***

Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

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