Homilies for May 2019

For May 5, May 12, May 19, May 26, and May 30 (Ascension).

Third Sunday of Easter – May 5, 2019

   Readings: Acts 5:27–32, 40b–41 • Ps 30:2, 4–6, 11–13 • Rev 5:11–14 • Jn 21:1–19 (or Jn 21:1–14)

He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.

As the Church journeys through the Easter Season, we continually celebrate Jesus’s Resurrection. But it’s important to keep in mind that the point of this joy is the feast celebrated at Easter’s end: the holy feast of Pentecost. Pentecost, celebrated on the fiftieth and final day of the season of Easter, is a celebration of God the Holy Spirit flooding the hearts, minds, and souls of those who wish to live as members of the Body of Christ.

So Pentecost is the end of Eastertide in two senses. Pentecost is the final day of the Season of Easter. But more importantly, Pentecost is the end of Easter in the sense of being the goal of Easter.

Each Sunday of Easter in its own unique way helps us prepare for Pentecost. Jesus’s appearances in His Risen Body alert us more and more to the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, of which God calls us to be full members.

Last Sunday, we heard that on the very evening of the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to the apostles — except Thomas — and breathed upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that they might be able to forgive the sins of fellow human beings. Just days earlier Jesus had died on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins. Yet on the evening of the Resurrection, by giving to the apostles what St. John in the Book of Revelation calls “the keys of death and the nether world,” Jesus gave the apostles the power to free men and women from the prison of sin.

Today we hear how Christ extended the gift of reconciliation to one of the apostles in a very particular way. Like all the gifts that God gives, this gift of reconciliation was given to Saint Peter so that he would be a better disciple of Christ Jesus in his own particular manner. After commanding St. Peter in regard to the miraculous catch of fish — itself a symbol of the apostles’ ministry to be “fishers of men” — Our Risen Lord asks Peter a very simple question. This questions aims at reconciliation.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” The fact that Jesus addresses this question to “Simon, son of John” instead of to “Peter” is significant. St. John the Evangelist, before the answer to Jesus’s question is given, refers to this man as “Simon Peter”; after the answer is given, the evangelist refers to him simply as “Peter.” We know that the name Peter means “rock,” and that it is upon this rock that Jesus built His Church. Nonetheless, until Peter repented publicly three times, in order to make up for his three-fold public denial of Jesus, Peter could not serve as Jesus wanted.

Only by assuring Jesus that he loved Him could he accept the name “Peter.” But notice also that in Jesus accepting Peter’s repentance, He also gives Peter a new command. Jesus commands him not only to be faithful to proclaiming His Name, as he had failed to do after the Last Supper. Jesus’s new command for Peter was something greater: “Feed my sheep.” Peter was not only to be “rock-solid,” so to speak, in preaching the Gospel. Peter was to be the Rock at the very heart of the Church, upon which the entire Church would rest. Just as the Israelites in the desert struck the Rock and found a source of living water, so the Church finds in the Rock of Peter the assurance that the words the Church teaches are the words of Jesus Himself.

This reconciliation between Jesus and Peter had to take place before Jesus could ascend to Heaven. Without the Rock of Peter to rely upon, the Church could not begin its mission at Pentecost.

Why is this office of Peter — the office of the pope — so important? Many Christians find the office of Peter a stumbling block to Christian unity, but in fact it is an assurance of the Church’s unity, because at the heart of this office is love. The Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son. Only this love can unite the Church here on earth. This love is the key to living out the Gospel, and is in fact the key to the kingdom of Heaven.

In reconciling Peter to Himself, Our Lord shows us that only the love of the Holy Spirit can heal all the wounds present throughout the world, in our hearts, and even within the Church. For as Saint Paul tells us in the famous thirteenth chapter of his letter to the Corinthians, the greatest gift of God is love. Forgiveness is a form of love, given to someone who does not deserve it, in order to make earth more like Heaven, and to lead each soul along the path that leads to Heaven.

Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 12, 2019

   Readings: Acts 13:14, 43–52 • Ps 100:1–3, 5 • Rev 7:9, 14b–17 • Jn 10:27–30

My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He left the paradise of Heaven to seek out and save us who are lost sheep, who have mired ourselves in our sins. The entire Season of Easter is about celebrating Christ’s victory over sin and death. But on this Fourth Sunday of Easter in particular, we reflect on what this means for you and me on a daily basis.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” This name stems from today’s Gospel passage, taken from the tenth chapter of John. We Christians, although justified in the Sacrament of Baptism, continue throughout our lives to stray from God. We need the Good Shepherd each day.

For the sake of our need, the Good Shepherd reveals Himself to us today not only through the Gospel Reading. He also proclaims who He is in the responsorial psalm: “Know that the Lord is God; / He made us, His we are; / His people, the flock He tends.”

We need to ponder the words of this psalm. After all, we don’t usually think of a shepherd as having “made” “the flock He tends.” A shepherd might be involved in bringing together the ram and ewe that actually “make” sheep, but how could you say that a shepherd “makes” his flock? But that’s what the Bible says in today’s responsorial psalm.

The unusual fact that this Shepherd “made us” reveals our destiny, which is a loftier destiny than most sheep. For your average sheep, its destiny is to provide wool, mutton, and milk. The sheep is a means towards protection from the elements and nourishment.

But it’s foolish to think of us as sheep along these lines, because God needs neither protection nor nourishment. So that begs the question: why are the images of the Shepherd and His flock fitting to describe God and us? What are we for? For what end did this Shepherd make us? In the venerable King James translation of Psalm 23, we hear:

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Here is why this Good Shepherd made us. “For His Name’s sake” He made us: for His sake, not for our own sake. He made us for His life in Heaven, not for earth. Unfortunately, too often, you and I not only live in this world. We live for this world, and for ourselves, as well. The imagery of the Twenty-third Psalm evokes the reality of God’s life in Heaven: “green pastures,” “still waters,” a table prepared by the Lord, and a cup that “runneth over.”

There’s a stark contrast here. On the one hand are the natural differences between God and us fallen sinners. On the other hand are the tender intimacy that the Shepherd has for, and wants for, His flock. This is a closeness that we don’t deserve, but that the Shepherd desires for us. The Good Shepherd will go to great extremes for His flock. He will give up His life for His sheep. In the same chapter that today’s Gospel passage comes from, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd . . .  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep” (Jn 10:14-15). But Jesus will do even more.

In today’s second reading, from the Book of Revelation, we hear St. John the Evangelist describe a vision that he had. He points out that “‘the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water’.” In fact, three times in today’s second reading — and forty times in the entire Book of Revelation — the word lamb is used by St. John. But in this sentence from today’s second reading, he uses this word in an unusual way. This “lamb” is also a “shepherd”: “the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water.”

This “lamb,” of course, is the Risen Jesus. This lamb is our Good Shepherd, the God who chose not only to become man, but also to offer His Body and Blood along with His soul and divinity on the Cross for you. This crucified and risen God-man is a sheep like you, but also your divine shepherd.

Here is the source from which we must draw the strength to live the Christian life of self-sacrifice. That strength is our Good Shepherd, who became the Lamb of God to take away your sins, and who calls you to the fullness of His Supper.

Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 19, 2019

   Readings: Acts 14:21–27 • Ps 145:8–13 • Rev 21:1–5a • Jn 13:31–33a, 34–35

“‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.’”

Today’s Gospel passage takes place within the setting of the Last Supper. That seems a little strange: backing up to Holy Thursday when we’re now at the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 28 days after Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. Why is the Church proclaiming today this passage that’s set during Holy Week?

If we were to pick one sentence that makes this passage fitting for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, it would be the one in which Jesus says, “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.” Like so much in Saint John’s account of the Gospel, this sentence has a double meaning. On the one hand, Jesus is referring to His arrest and death, which will happen shortly after the Last Supper. At the same time, Jesus is also referring to His Ascension to the Father’s Right Hand in Heaven, which will happen forty days after His Resurrection.

Holy Mother Church is encouraging us to prepare for the end. We need to prepare for the end of the Easter Season. During the final ten days of Easter, the Church will celebrate the Ascent of Jesus to Heaven, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit from Heaven. Those final two mysteries of Easter — the Ascension and Pentecost — reveal to us the goal of Jesus’s mission on earth. This goal is His Church.

Reflecting on what the Church at heart is helps us to wrestle with a seeming conflict between those words of Jesus at the Last Supper — “My children, I will be with you only a little while longer” — and the words that He spoke at the moment of His Ascension: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). Is Jesus with us always? At all times and in all places? In all our suffering, and even in our sinfulness?

Jesus’s Church is His Mystical Body on earth. She is the means by which He continues to be present in this world after His Ascension to Heaven. The Church is referred to as “she,” of course, because the Church is the Bride of Christ. It’s for her that Jesus sacrificed His whole self on the Cross, so that she might have life, and have it more abundantly. The Church is our Mother, because it’s through her that you and I have a spiritual life, and continue to receive grace throughout our lives on earth.

Jesus’s Church is the way in which Jesus continues to walk this earth, preach, and serve the spiritual and corporal needs of those without the ability to help themselves. As Saint Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, / no feet but yours, / yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion / is to look out to the earth, / yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good / and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.”

Throughout the Sundays of Easter, our first reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles, while the second reading comes from the Book of Revelation. Both of these New Testament books have the same focus: namely, the Church. But both of these books look at the Church from very different perspectives. Acts gazes at the Church in her first days on earth after Pentecost, while Revelation gazes at the Church as she dwells eternally in Heaven.

The Church we hear described in Acts is one we can easily relate to, because it’s a lot like our own daily lives. Throughout the chapters of Acts, the various members of the Church argue with one another, work at cross purposes, are persecuted for striving to be faithful, and seem often in their acts of building the Church to take two steps back for every one step forward. It’s a lot like your average parish, your average extended family, and your average diocese. This is why in today’s first reading Paul and Barnabas exhort the disciples “to persevere in the faith, saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.’” That’s just as true for you and me, and will be until the hour of our death.

Our Savior is forming us in these last few weeks of Easter. He’s preparing us for the coming of the Holy Spirit, Who is the divine love of the Father and Son for each other. In this love Who is the Holy Spirit, you and I can grow as disciples of Jesus’s Church. We can grow more dedicated and persevere in living our earthly lives in God’s love: a love that is universal, and a love that seeks what is truly good for the other.

Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 26, 2019

   Readings: Acts 15:1–2, 22–29 • Ps 67:2–3, 5–6, 8 • Rev 21:10–14, 22–23 • Jn 14:23–29

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit . . . will teach you everything. . .”

After His Resurrection, Jesus could have remained in Jerusalem instead of ascending to Heaven. Through His divine power, Jesus could have kept His resurrected, glorified body from ever aging, so that even today, He would still be just 33 years old. From Jerusalem He would be still ruling the earth, settling disputes, and working miracles to dispel hunger and disease.

“Would not that have been a better world?,” we might ask. Why, instead, did Jesus ascend to the Father’s Right Hand in Heaven, and establish in His stead a Church whose members have demonstrated in every century an ignorance of the Gospel in mind and will? The answer points our attention to the divine virtues of faith, hope and love.1

“Christ’s Ascension into Heaven, [by which] He withdrew . . . from us, was more profitable for us” because it can “increase our faith, which is of things unseen.” The apostle Thomas stands as a contrast to such a life of faith. Doubting Thomas would not believe until he saw the Risen Lord. Jesus calls us, instead, to fit our lives to His words: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20:29).

“Christ’s Ascension into Heaven . . . was more profitable for us” because it can “uplift our hope.” We might like to imagine that the earth would be a perfect place had Jesus never ascended, remaining to guide us through this world. But it’s not for this world that Jesus became incarnate by the Virgin Mary, was crucified and rose again. One of Jesus’s miracles in particular — the raising of Lazarus — reminds us where Jesus wants us to direct our hope.

Lazarus was raised from the dead, but not resurrected as Jesus was. Lazarus was raised from the dead, but he later died again. Jesus did not raise Lazarus in order to give him immortal life in this world, because God did not create Lazarus for this world, but for the next. Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead was not finally about Lazarus, but about Jesus: to reveal Jesus’s power over sin and death. Jesus does not use that power to grant people unending life on earth, but to inspire hope in us for immortal life in Heaven.

“Christ’s Ascension into Heaven . . . was [also] more profitable for us” because it can “direct the fervor of our charity to heavenly things.” In other words, we need Heaven to focus all the many different forms that virtue can take. Every virtue is meant to culminate in the virtue of charity, and all charity is meant to culminate in an eternal share in God’s life in Heaven. But here below, in our own day, each of the virtues often wanders alone, degenerating into its own end. One of the greatest apologists of the twentieth century, the English convert and journalist G.K. Chesterton, put it this way:

The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. . . . The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. [And so, for example,] some scientists care for truth; [but] their truth is [without pity]. [Also,] some humanitarians only care for pity; [but] their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.2

In the twenty-first century, also, we see the virtues isolated from each other. For example, there are scientists who would like to clone human beings, or even make hybrids between humans and lower animals. This search for truth is divorced from the need for ethics: specifically, from the need to respect the unique dignity of human nature. Also, there are strict federal laws in our nation protecting the eggs of certain birds that are endangered species. Yet this desire to have compassion for an innocent unborn bird is divorced by many from the need to have compassion for an innocent unborn human being. In each example, a desire to pursue a good is divorced from the larger picture, and leaves another, also needed virtue out in the cold. Looking to God — the Maker of all creatures and the origin of all Truth — focuses human efforts to do good, and helps us neither to do bad, nor to do good inconsistently.

Looking up to Christ’s Ascension, then, directs all the virtues towards Heaven. Christ ascended to Heaven so that each of us could carry out our own part within His Mystical Body, the Church. You and I and all the rest of the members of His Body may not carry out Jesus’s mission as well as He would had He remained, but even in our attempting to do so, we can grow in all the virtues, and open our selves more fully to the life of God the Most Holy Trinity.

Ascension of the Lord – May 30, 2019

   Readings: Acts 1:1–11 • Ps 47:2–3, 6–9 • Eph 1:17–23 (or Heb 9:24–28; 10:19–23) • Lk 24:46–53

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,
and you will be my witnesses. . .”

The Church reflects upon the Glorious Mystery of the Ascension through her Sacred Liturgy. She does this first through the Scriptures, prayers, and antiphons of today’s Mass. These include the preface that the priest chants or recites right before the Sanctus. There are two prefaces for the Ascension. In the first, the priest professes our belief — that is to say, the belief of the entire Communion of Saints — that “the Lord Jesus, the King of glory, / conqueror of sin and death, / ascended today to the highest heavens” “not to distance Himself from our lowly state / but that we, His members, might be confident of following / where He, our Head and Founder, has gone before.”

That preface makes it clear to us that the Church’s celebration of Jesus’s Ascension is about the virtue of hope. It’s about you and me and every other member of the Church on earth living the virtue of hope in our daily lives: at home, at work, and among our family and friends.

Hoping for Heaven is challenging because for most of us, Heaven is still a long ways down the road. After all, on the practical level, for most of you, your “tomorrow” is going to look pretty much like your “today.” Regarding your hopes for “tomorrow,” you likely hope for sunny skies and 72°. You likely hope for your investments to show at least a modest gain, or your boss to give you a raise, or your grown child to call to see how you’re doing, or your husband to take you by the hand, look into your eyes and say, “I love you. Thank you for being such a wonderful mother to our children.” All of these are perfectly natural things to hope for.

But we tend not to hope for Heaven tomorrow. That is to say, unless you are in the last years of life upon this green earth, there are probably a whole lot of tomorrows left to you between “today” and the end of your road. So practically, we put our hope in things that lay closer to hand. As a result, Heaven becomes not so much an object of hope, as a vague and fuzzy ideal far, far off on the horizon.

But our Blessed Mother Mary can help us to hope more realistically. We have honored her throughout this month of May that ends tomorrow. But Holy Mother Church — through the writings of her shepherds and the examples of her saints — teaches us that Christians need to foster their devotion to the Mother of God during every month of the year, day in and day out. For she, more than any other disciple of Jesus, can show us and help us to place our hope each day in her Son: her Son Jesus, who is the Way of true hope for your daily life.

When you pray the Rosary on Tuesdays and Fridays, imagine the scene of the Crucifixion from Mary’s point of view. When Jesus was hanging on the Cross, He spoke to few persons, but Mary was one of them. “Woman, behold your son,” Jesus said, nodding his crowned head towards St. John, the Beloved Disciple (Jn 19:26). After Jesus’s Ascension, Mary gathered with the Apostles in the Upper Room where Jesus had given the Eucharist at the Last Supper. But why was Mary there? Why was Mary still on this earth? Wasn’t her vocation over? Wasn’t she just — so to speak — treading water until her Assumption? Of course not.

In Mary’s earthly life, she lived for others, not for herself. She lived with the hope that St. Paul wrote about to the Christians in Philippi. We can imagine Mary pondering the Mystery of her Son, and saying in her heart, “I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, (for) that is far better. Yet that I remain (in) the flesh is more necessary for your benefit” (Phil 1:23–24). When St. Paul wrote those words, “your benefit” meant the benefit of the Philippians. But we might ask: for Mary, for whose benefit would she have meant these words?

Mary is the Mother of the Church. During her earthly life, she hoped to be with her Son in Heaven, but the way — the daily path — by which she lived out that hope was by being with the Beloved Disciple and all those whom Jesus had entrusted to her care, those who were and are her sons and daughters because they’re members of her Son’s Body, the Church. Mary is your mother also, inasmuch as you are one member of her Son’s Mystical Body. This is important for us to reflect upon as we prepare for Easter’s conclusion on the feast of Pentecost. Mary is “our life, our sweetness, and our hope,” because she gathers with us just as she did with the Apostles during the ten days after her Son’s Ascension. During these days leading up to Pentecost, we pray to receive the power of the Holy Spirit, in order to be Jesus’s witnesses in this world.

  1. See St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III, 57, a.1, reply 3.
  2. G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, in The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, vol. 1 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 233.
Fr. Thomas Hoisington About Fr. Thomas Hoisington

Fr. Thomas Hoisington was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Wichita in 1995. He earned the STL in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 2001. His daily reflections can be found at reflectionsonthesacredliturgy.com.