Homilies for May 2022

For the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Sundays of Easter, as well as Ascension Thursday

Third Sunday of Easter – May 1, 2022

Readings: Acts 5:27–32, 40b–41Ps 30:2, 4, 5–6, 11–12, 13Rev 5:11–14Jn 21:1–19 or 21:1–14  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/050122.cfm

Probably many of us are familiar with this scene: Christ’s thrice-repeated question to Peter, and Peter’s thrice-repeated response here at the end of John. Preachers sometimes make use of the original Greek’s different words for love — agapas and phileis — noting that the former, agapas, which we translate as Christ’s asking “Do you love me?” signifies a stronger, a holier love than mere phileis, which is all that Peter seems to be able to manage. Benedict XVI, along these lines, interprets this to mean that Christ is very willing to work with whatever we give him; that is, he’s willing to meet us where we’re at. Other readers, of course, disagree with the approach. They think the words agapas and phileis are equivalent in meaning, which is to say, they are used interchangeably for, probably, stylistic reasons. Both words mean “love”; they’re used for stylistic variety, they say.

More or less, I read along the lines of Benedict XVI: there seems to be rich meaning embedded here. I think the whole of the Gospel of John prepares us to think so; when we read carefully, attentively, with our hearts in our ears, we hear it. For this — John’s gospel — is the Gospel of Friendship. “I call you friends . . .” “You are my friend . . .” “No one has greater love than this . . . than to lay down one’s life for his friend.” Friendship is a deeply personal, intimate, equal-making love, especially in John’s gospel. It makes a brother or a sister of a stranger; it makes a self of another; it joins souls together in a mutual pursuit of holiness and God, of life, unending life with God.

Having drunk from the deep well of Christianity these twenty centuries, we’re nourished by its strong theological meat, and so are apt to use its rich and developed language wherever possible. Agape, as a theological term, means divine love; philia, or friendship, while a good love in itself, is subordinate to this greater, this Godly agape. This is how many theologians use the terms today. But John’s Greek is not necessarily terminological; maybe we’d say it’s theological without being either formal or specialist.

I suggest, for this gospel here, that we refrain from hearing it in a specialist sense. I do not think Christ is contrasting human with Godly love, or friendship with charity. I think, instead, Christ is saying, all throughout John’s gospel, and here particularly at the end of it, that God’s love is a deeply personal, equal-making love. Philia does not pale before divine agape; instead, agape, the Greek word for love, seems to take on the semblance of philia, friendship. Agape, as Christ means it, becomes deeply, richly philial, personal and intimate. The play on words in John is, then, Christ’s: he has infused philia into agape; he has blended both meanings together; he speaks of love as personal and intimate, and thus of love for God as personal and intimate.

Love for God: no abstraction that. And I think it is worth saying, for charity often sounds cold, bloodless, selfless to our religiose ears. Yet charity is not a selfless, emptying kind of love; it is a self-full love, it is full of self. The wisdom of Christianity, the wisdom of Christ, holds that love, true love, is neither selfless nor unemotional; rather, it’s self-full, passionate; shaped by the virtue of persons.

It is with this in mind that, at the end of John’s gospel, Christ is able to ask Peter: “Peter, do you love me?” And Peter responds twice saying, “Yes, Lord, even as a friend, even as you have taught me to love.” And so finally, a third time, Christ does ask Peter: “Do you love me, then, even as your friend, Peter?” This question he asks of each of us. Do we love him purely enough, ardently enough, in order to love him even as our friend, as he taught? Is our friendship pure enough, soulful enough, Christ-like enough? Our friendships, if they’re true, can show us how to love God, just as God in the figure of Christ can show us how to love as friends. This is the key here at the end of John’s gospel: the meaning of gospel friendship. Love Christ — indeed — as our dearest, our most intimate friend, but then let’s let this love teach all our loves to bear more fully, more self-fully the semblance of Christ’s love, Christ’s kind friendship.

Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 8, 2022

Readings: Acts 13:14, 43–52Ps 100:1–2, 3, 5Rev 7:9, 14b–17Jn 10:27–30  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/050822.cfm

In this gospel of friendship, in John’s gospel, it is a friend only who realizes or reveals the identity of Christ. This friend, he knows the patterns of the Lord’s mind: his generosity, his mercy. Just as, at the catching of so numerous an amount of fish from the gospel of last week, the friend very decidedly, or matter-of-factly, says, “It is the Lord.” Indeed: he is not for a moment in doubt; he acknowledges it to Peter, having remembered, having recalled the Christ’s generosity and abundance. It is characteristic of Christ to be so overflowing, so generous. It has become his signature or trademark. Nevertheless, it takes a friend to see it — to recognize the Christ, to read the contours of his mind, and see the personality behind the words, behind the actions. It is in this spirit that Christ says: “They know my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

We experience this with people we love most. We know how to read a gesture, a tone, a slight motion. It is more than just being able to read body language; it’s knowing how to interpret accurately and exactly what we see or hear in a given situation. It is reading the other within the context of that other’s entire life. What gives us such accuracy, such interpretative power, except this intimate experience, this experience of other who has become “another self,” a friend? It is essential for interpreting all our friend’s behaviors, this key. While others might be apt to misinterpret, being without the interpretative key, we are not inclined toward misinterpretation; yes, we read things aright. We say things like: “Yes, but I know him,” “I know her,” “He’s my friend.”

Something happens when we read Scripture. We are meant to become acquainted with Christ, with his personality, his mind, in the way we become acquainted with people at the beginning of friendship. Indeed, they teach us, don’t they, how to interpret who they are, what they say, what they do. Without the key, friendship is not possible. Rather, misinterpretation follows on misinterpretation, and hidden misunderstanding, like a yawning grap, grows. One can go a whole life committed to such false interpretations; one can live alongside another for a great amount of time, and still not understand, still not know that person, still read that person falsely. It is tragedy when it happens between brothers, between family, between spouses; but every time, it is born of the same sickness: a resistance in us to seeing the whole person. The temptation is always to see in part only.

For us Christians, the beloved disciple is the role we are cast into. We must step into the part of the beloved disciple from these stories; we must presume an intimacy with Christ, our dearest friend; we must search for the generosities that surround us in order to point out, to ourselves and each other, Christ’s handiwork in our lives, in order to interpret his largesse, to foretell his donation, in the midst of life. This friendship enables us to interpret, not only the sacred scriptures, but also the world. It becomes the fundamental and only hermeneutic: the lens through which everything is seen. Friendship with Christ is the fundamental key; it is the lens through which everything must be measured, weighed, interpreted. We must each become beloved disciples — friends — of Christ, so that, in the midst of our own lives, we too can say with confidence and certainty, wherever we are, in whatever experience: “It is the Lord.” And Christ too will say: “They know me; I know them.”

Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 15, 2022

Readings: Acts 14:21–27Ps 145:8–9, 10–11, 12–13Rev 21:1–5aJn 13:31–33a, 34–35  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/051522.cfm

Why is it so important what others know, what others see? Christ says, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” It is because love is the fundamental existence; it is the only activity; we are either doing it or not doing it, loving or not loving. This kind of love is neither a feeling nor just a frame of mind. It defines who we are, what we say, what we do. Christ is saying, “If you really are what you are, they will see it. It will leave no one in any doubt.”

The problem for many of us, rather, is this word “love” — we hear it, and all our misunderstandings of such a word become obstacles to hearing what Christ is actually saying. Let us forgo, then, such misunderstandings here. Let us know that “love,” in Christ’s use, is a word meaning some heroic self-gift, the gift of our entire self to another, at any given moment. I say it is a heroic giving, and it is heroic because it is so demanding, and so scandalously generous. This is why Christ says, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples.” Such a giving of self seems outrageous to the human eye; so encrusted by selfishness and so prone to seeing selfishness in others, the human eye is stunned, is scandalized at the sight of — not selflessness — but total self-gift.

When Christ says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another,” this is the kind of love he is talking about. He is not talking about anything less. We should worry that the word “love” as we use it often amounts to something generally far less. Love is not easy, it is often very demanding; it requires a heroic effort, a heroic strength, a heroic courage to carry out, to live. It also requires that we ultimately see our lives within the context of the Cross; that everything is meaningless unless lived according to such self-gift.

We remember the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. “Feed the hungry,” “Clothe the naked,” “Counsel the doubtful,” “Comfort the sorrowful.” These are not happy options for Christians to live on some faraway day. They are mandates; they are imperatives; they are characteristic of the kind of life, the kind of love Christ is talking about here. He is not giving us an alternative. We are either bought in entirely, and are offering our lives to each other in heroic self-gift constantly, or we are not loving as he has commanded us to. We either love as Christians or cease to be what we are, or what God calls us to be.

Some might say such a love is unnatural for us, or for the state in which we now find ourselves. Who is capable of this kind of love, we might worry? Maybe, yes, the saints; somehow — goodness knows how — they have this heroic virtue, this heroic ability to give themselves so earnestly, so consistently, so entirely in gift. But not I, I say surely. That’s not who I am. If only I could be!

But it is a great lie; it is the lie of the Evil One, in fact, who wants me to live in the deception that I am less than what I am. He wishes to cheapen all the goods that God made; he wishes to spoil them, and undervalue them, in order to undermine their worth. It is like in the boyhood story of St. Augustine, horrified at the sight of his friends despoiling the pear tree; he felt that satanic urge within himself, that sick delight which for a moment he gave into in seeing the ruin of good, of worthy things. It horrified him, this urge in him, as well as the wanton waste of such goodness, such wealth. Of course, I speak here in terms of worth and gold, but it is an analogy only; for the wealth of God and the goodness of things far outrun our imaginations and measurements. You and I — we are capable of such love — we are capable of it, because it is what God calls us to, it is what he makes us to be. “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” He means it, and nothing less. 

Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 22, 2022

Readings: Acts 15:1–2, 22–29Ps 67:2–3, 5, 6, 8Rev 21:10–14, 22–23Jn 14:23–29    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/052222.cfm

The Advocate of whom Christ speaks here is among us even now. He is here, among us, guiding us, propelling us, strengthening us toward ever greater holiness. We do not perhaps always feel this Presence; but we may be sure of it; sure as we are of anything. For Christ himself tells us so.

When we think of “Church,” our minds, our imaginations are perhaps inclined to think of some body of men, generally older men, ruling the roost from Rome. That is, maybe, a friendlier thought than what many might today think when they hear this word “Church.” Perhaps they hear in the word an institution riddled with corruption, deceit, abuse, scandal. It is unimaginably sad; and sad, because, in too many ways, so justified. But even in such cases, persons only see in part; only a very smallest part; they see some deeply troubled human beings in some of the humanity of Mother Church; indeed, they do not see the Church whole, or the Church Entire. Perhaps we ourselves — we Catholics — are inclined to forget, as well, what “Church” is; what the Church means fully. Perhaps, often, we too only see in part. For sure: seeing in part is very easy to do; the success of scandal ensures it.

The Advocate, the Spirit reminds us what “Church” means. The Church, though, is much broader than we often imagine. The Church stretches between time and eternity, and so includes the children of earth and the children of heaven, and the Trinity above all. Therefore, even when we say something like “the Church is humanly flawed,” we have to remember what we are actually talking about. Often we are not talking about the Church Entire; we are not talking about the Church at all; we are talking about the children of the Church. Often what we are only talking about are the many Catholics or Christians who have gone against — even far against — the sacred teaching of the Church’s innocent founder, Christ himself. But “Church” is actually far bigger than even the sum of these human beings along with their sins heaped one on top of the other.

If Christ is the founder, the Advocate or the Spirit is the sustainer of our Holy Church. The Spirit reminds us, not just of those central truths of our faith, the truths of Christianity from the beginning, but what it means to be a community, what it means to be “Church,” even now in the 21st century.

Christ says: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not,” he says, “let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” What words for today’s Church! Too often the temptation is toward fear. Fear of loss, fear of pain, fear of inconsequence, ostracism, exile. It is understandable to be afraid of these things; for these things bring suffering and loneliness. But our mission has not, for all the troubles of the world, changed. In two thousand years it has not changed. Love Christ and keep his word, as the gospel says. The endless variety of human experience demands new braveries, new ingenuities, but the mission itself is simple. It is rooted in an experience of love for God; and from this love, Peace comes: the Peace of the gospel; the Peace that returns to us whenever we turn back to such love.

This Peace is just another name for the Spirit, the Advocate. In praying for Peace, pray to Peace himself; pray to Peace the Advocate, who teaches us what we need to know, and who reminds us of what matters most, including what our faith is. Let us then remain untroubled by the many fears; let our hearts exult in Peace; and in this Peace, we will know what we, as Church, are required to be for our times, for this our age. And from this Peace, too, shall strength be given to us; given to us in order to bear it — the times, the age — bear it for Christ.

Ascension Thursday – May 26, 2022

Readings: Acts 1:1-11 • Ps 47:2–3, 6–7, 8–9Eph 1:17–23 or Heb 9:24–28; 10:19–23Lk 24:46–53  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/052622-ascension.cfm

Before Christ ascends into heaven, we already have the promise of his return. Jesus, we hear, “who has been taken up from you into heaven, will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” Just as the Passion and Death anticipated the Resurrection, so does Christ’s Ascension anticipate the Second Coming, Christ’s Return.

But do we anticipate it? We live, we Christians of the last two thousand years, in the time of the Holy Spirit, the age of the Advocate. Are our thoughts, in any case, enough turned toward the Second Coming of Christ? Does his Second Coming direct our thoughts frequently enough? For the Church anticipates, has anticipated, continues to anticipate Christ’s Return, longs for it, strives for it. All our good work presupposes it. Christianity without Christ’s Return is no Christianity at all; for then it is an empty promise. The Age of the Spirit makes no sense if it is not an age that works toward the Second Coming.

Some people, critical of Christianity, critical of the idea of religion, or afterlife doctrines in religion, criticize the Church for being too other-worldly in focus. Partially, the criticism is just; for we Christians sometimes too quickly treat this world and its troubles as insignificant. The world becomes a shoddy interim-place, an in-between place; we treat it roughly, treat it as a commodity, and think nothing more of it. It’s the wrong way to look at our world; it is the wrong way to think of Christianity. This time, this hour, this place, — all of it it is gathered up into the Now. And the Now anticipates Christ’s Return, prepares for it, yearns for it. All the ages of this world have anticipated such a Return, and to disregard the holy teaching is to disregard Christ’s promise, is to disregard Fulfillment.

The Return is not some metaphor, no more a metaphor than the Cross was. It is a historical event waiting to happen; rather than looking into the past for this event, we look to the future. We await it as the Jews must have waited long years for the Savior. In this age of the Church, we have forgotten or are tempted to forget the urgency of Christianity, what was keenly felt by our ancestors, those first Christians. Bible scholars tell us that the early Christians all expected Christ to return in their lifetimes; they never even expected to die; the idea was that Christ would come before then. The slow realization that Christ would not return as soon as was thought ushered in a new experience: complacency — or indifference for, or disregard of the Return.

We are too tempted by this complacency today, this lack of urgency. Our realizing still that we know neither the day nor the hour should not then teach us to disregard the urgency that Christ, two thousand years ago, taught his disciples to feel. This urgency is extremely important for the Christian experience. It does not teach us to hope in vain; to hope for something that, when the moment passes, did not happen. Rather, it teaches us to live in a Now suffused with Then; a Now entirely wed to Then, a Now Then-oriented, Return-focused.

What is this urgency, which Christ taught us, meant to make us feel? Hopeful and brave; zealous for Fulfillment, eager for the coming of all good things. If it inspires in us thoughts of gloom or retribution, we know it is not the Return we seek, but something else. Here on the Ascension, we are given the opportunity to cherish one of our faith’s deepest truths: the Return of Christ, the Fulfillment of his promise, the coming of all good things. Indeed: He who has been taken up into heaven will return in the same way he was seen going into heaven. 

Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 29, 2022

Readings: Acts 7:55–60Ps 97:1–2, 6–7, 9Rev 22:12–14, 16–17, 20Jn 17:20–26  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/052922-sunday.cfm

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you. But I know you, and they know that you sent me.” The foundation for Christ’s theological vision is Fatherhood, a Father-focused vision. We are inclined, maybe, to think around this fact, except it is everywhere in the gospels. It is the bedrock of Christ’s teaching. Here in the Gospel today, we experience a prayer, the words of Christ to his Father in heaven, spoken on our behalf. We learn some of their discourse; we overhear the sorts of things the Divine Persons say to each other.

Christ’s vision of Fatherhood may be very different from how we experience fatherhood on earth. Our own experiences may have taught us to be quite suspicious of our fathers, and skeptical of earthly paternities. Even still, we ought to try to enter into his notion, into his idea of Fatherhood, in order to cherish the vision he has for us.

“I have given them the glory you gave me,” Christ says. This glory draws us together; it draws us toward Christ; it draws us into the Father, into the love of the Father and the Son, into their intimacy. “I have given them the glory . . . that the world may know you loved them, even as you loved me.” The Father, as Christ understands him, is full of gentleness and sweetness; he is patience itself, intimate and kind. This is not a stern or foolish father, but a generous, a gift-giving Father.

“Father, they are your gift to me.” We are the Father’s gift to the Son; the Father gave us to the Son in order that we might see how the Father loved the Son, even from the foundations of the world, in order to know that we were and are loved by this Father in heaven, loved in the same way. Our Father in heaven is wise, endlessly wise, patient and wise, patient in his love, wise in his patience. From the beginning, the Father and the Son sought to renew our love, to strengthen our relationship with them. For it was the Father who sent the Son; the Son responded to the urging of the Father; the Father desired our reconciliation, our communion with him.

“Father, I made known to them your name and I will make it known.” The name of the Father is this: Christ’s Father — this is his name. Christ speaks to the Father with intimacy and utter trust; we are being taught, from his speech, to know the Father in the very way Christ himself knows him, to speak of the Father in the very way Christ speaks to him; to speak with him, to trust him with whole hearts. Our prayer, just as Christ’s prayer, should embody this Christ-love for the Father. To pray as Christ means to pray to our Father, Christ’s Father, the Son’s Father.

The Father can seem a hidden figure in the gospels, can be read that way; yet he is not really so hidden. Such is Christ’s intimacy for the Father, that if we listen carefully to Christ’s words, we learn the very mind and personality of the Father, we feel his heart. We get a glimpse of the Father at various times in the gospels; there is, not a hiddenness, but almost a shyness, a quietness about him. Our Father, he does not presume to invade our lives; he is patient and understanding, and he waits for us to go to him.

It is to such a one that the Christ calls us to be in communion; Christ wants to gather us up into the very folds of the Father’s love; into the divine intimacy of the Persons, into the embrace of the Father and the Son. “Father,” then, Christ’s Father, the Son’s Father, is not just a metaphor, a mere adoption of an earthly dynamic, an animal paradigm, but is the name for an intimacy in which we are all called to share; he is your Father, he is my Father. He is not just “Father,” he is “Our Father.” His name communicates belonging; our belonging and his.

Fr. Adrian McCaffery About Fr. Adrian McCaffery

Fr. Adrian Patrick McCaffery, O.P. is a Dominican friar of the Province of St. Albert the Great. Currently, he is finishing his doctorate in Philosophy at Saint Louis University, and serves ministerially throughout the St. Louis area.

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