Homilies for May 2023

For the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Sundays of Easter; the Solemnity of the Ascension; and Pentecost Sunday

Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 6, 2023

Readings: Acts 6:1–7Ps 33:1–2, 4–5, 18–191 Pt 2:4–9Jn 14:1–12      bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/050723.cfm

Let’s look at the recent history of our Church: On a chilly winter day, January 25, 1959, Angelo Roncalli, guiding the Barque of Peter known as John XXIII, stood at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, and gathered members of the Roman Curia, and called for a Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. The church historians Giuseppe Alberigo and Joseph Komonchak describe the reactions of most as “stunned silence.” And, on October 11, 1962, the first session of Vatican II began, a work which John XXIII did not live to see completed, but a work that has profoundly influenced not only the Catholic Church, both Western and Eastern, but the Orthodox Church, most of the Protestant ecclesial communions, and indeed, the course of history. This is an act of the Holy Spirit.

On July 25, 1968, John’s successor, Giovanni Battista Montini, steering the Barque of Peter known as Paul VI, released an encyclical that proved to be prescient, Humanae vitae. Paul consulted and consulted, asked and took advice, and then decided that the condoning as an acceptable act the use of artificial birth control would be an act that would cheapen human life and that a contraceptive mentality would lead to an abortive mentality. He was right. New York State legalized abortion in 1970 and in 1973, the scourge of abortion was released in the whole United States of America. Thankfully, as of 2022, the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision is beginning to help turn the tide of a culture of death in the United States. Pope Saint Paul’s decision to follow the consistent magisterium of the Church, the fonts of Divine Revelation — Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition — as well as natural law, was a brave act, and it was an act of the Holy Spirit.

On October 16, 1978, the Cardinals elected Karol Wojtyla, the first non-Italian pope in centuries. This vigorous younger man, only 58 years old at the time, stood in the central balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica and uttered the words, “Do not be afraid.” It was his influence, his steadfastness, his insight that guided the Church and the world away from the horrors of Communism and began the New Evangelization. His pontificate as John Paul II was an act of the Holy Spirit.

On February 11, 2013, Joseph Ratzinger, navigating the ship that is the Church as Benedict XVI, at a private consistory of Cardinals gathered to approve canonizations and beatifications of some saints, at the very end of the meeting, announced, for the first time in centuries, that a pope would resign and that he would retire and spend his remaining years in study and prayer. His catechesis, his writings, his gentle presence, and yes, even his resignation, was an act of the Holy Spirit.

Now we have Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio as our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Elected on March 13, 2013, Francis has brought the Church and the faith into the public eye in a new, exciting, and yes, challenging way. He has, in his ten years to date, reintroduced to the forefront of our minds concepts that have Mother Church had never really forgotten: mercy, accompaniment, option for the poor, and Gospel joy to a world that often has forgotten. His election and his papacy are an ongoing act of the Spirit.

It is the Holy Spirit of God, that bond of love and knowledge that exists from all eternity between God the Father and God the Son, that is active and present in the Church and the world. This Spirit is so much more than just the natural progress and decline that exists in the course of history, as is thought of in the work of some modern philosophers. No, the Holy Spirit is a Divine Person. The Holy Spirit is love and knowledge and it is the same Holy Spirit that guides the Church throughout all the ages.

Do we believe this? Do we trust in this saving truth? Yes, there are problems and difficulties, fears and anxieties that perplex the Church today. To list them would extend this already long article. We know the threat of a secularized culture against our faith; we are aware of the many challenges to the reality that is natural law that come from attacks against a traditional understanding of marriage, family, and gender. Sadly, we know the stories of the modern martyrs, our brothers and sisters whose blood is shed out of hatred of the faith. We know that to the world the Church can appear divide at times on issues like divorce and remarriage without benefit of declaration of the invalidity of marriage and other issues of pastoral practice. And yet, in all of this, the Spirit is the principal operating agent.

On May 8, 2017, in a homily given at his daily Mass in the chapel of the Domus Santa Marta, His Holiness, Pope Francis said: “The Spirit is the gift of God, of this God, our Father who always surprises us. The God of surprises . . . Why? Because He is a living God, who dwells in us, a God who moves our hearts, a God who is in the Church and walks with us and in this journey He surprises us. It is He who has the creativity to create the world, the creativity to create new thing every day. He is the God who surprises us.”

This is a call to trust. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Our Blessed Lord tells us today. The Holy Spirit, God, is in charge of the Church and the world, not us. It is our task to discern with the Church the movement of the Holy Spirit so that we can see his action in the world. Pray about this concept on this Sunday in Easter, that the Holy Spirit of God, so that Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, will flood our minds and lead them to insight that we can bask in the sure and certain knowledge that He is in charge of steering this ship, not us, and He alone will guide us into our true port, Heaven.

Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 14, 2023

Readings: Acts 8:5–8, 14–17Ps 66:1–3, 4–5, 6–7, 16, 201 Pt 3:15–18Jn 14:15–21      bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/051423.cfm

St. John the Evangelist is a fascinating character. He was, tradition tells us, the youngest of the Apostles. The brother of James, the son of Zebedee the Fisherman, he was a “Son of Thunder,” who had his mother ask the Lord if he and his brother could sit one on his right and the other on his left.

John was the Beloved Disciple, so close to the Lord that he rests his head on the bosom of the Lord Jesus at the Last Supper. John is not only blessed to be part of the Apostolic Band, but is part of the “inner circle,” as it was, with the Lord Jesus (and with Peter and James) at crucial parts of his earthly life, like the Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is John to whom the Lord Jesus, as he hung dying on the cross, entrusts his Virgin Mother, Mary. Called to be an Evangelist, one who was divinely inspired to write, John is the author of the Fourth Gospel.

John was the only one of the Apostles who did not suffer martyrdom, as did the other 11. That was not for lack of trying on the part of his enemies. The stories go that in 92 AD, the Roman Emperor Domitian commanded that the Evangelist be boiled in oil, but even that torture could not kill him, as it was said that he still was preaching from within the caldron. The Church of San Giovanni a Porta Latina in Rome is thought to be the place of this attempted murder. In another instance, the chalice used by St. John was poisoned, but, miraculously, he was able to recognize this and knew not to drink from it.

Finally, in an attempt to stifle the preaching of this last remaining Apostle, in the year 97 AD, it is said that this Beloved Disciple was exiled to the island of Patmos. And even that did not stop him.

The Christian community moved there to be with the Apostle and to learn from his wisdom, the wisdom born from basking in the presence of the Eternal Word, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is on the isle of Patmos that John composed his Apocalypse, his Book of Revelation. Toward the end of his life, it is said that, at every celebration of the Eucharist, this last of the Apostles would deliver the same homily again and again. They say that this wizened man would stand up and look at his congregation and simply say: “My dear little children, let us love one another.”

Why would he do that? Why would John again and again reiterate this rather simple statement? I believe it is for one reason and one reason only — it’s easy to say and hard to do.

How many times do we encounter people who claim to be “people persons”? It’s easy to love “people,” isn’t it? As a generic concept, right? But it is downright hard to love individual people, those who annoy us, those who have hurt us, those who have ideas and opinions radically different than us. And yet, it is what we are called to do.

We cannot like everyone whom we encounter, and, sadly, no matter what we do or don’t do, say or don’t say, not everyone will like us. But we are not called to “like one another.” We are called to love one another.

What does it mean to love another person? According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the Doctor Communis, it means to have the constant, effective desire to do good to another. The goal of a true Christian friendship is, ultimately, to make God become the object of one’s friendship, what we call the virtue of charity.

Our Lord Jesus says these words in the Gospel we proclaim today from the 14th chapter of the Evangelist John:

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me,
but you will see me, because I live and you will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father
and you are in me and I in you.
Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.”

Recall the context in which the Lord says these powerful words — during the Last Supper. At the moment before his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, at the instant that he gives his True Body and Blood to us as a perpetual memorial in the Eucharist, it is then that he doesn’t just simply urge His apostles, but indeed commands them to love one another.

The Eucharist we share at Holy Mass is the exemplification of God’s love for us. As he opens his arms wide on the Cross in an embrace of love for us, giving us his broken body and drenching us in his blood, flowing from his glorious wounds, we eat and drink deeply of God’s charity. When we ourselves receive Holy Communion, we are called, in our own limited, earthly way, to share God’s love, his divine charity with all those whom we encounter.

When we receive Holy Communion, we receive God’s love. At Mass, we are being reminded again and again exactly what it is that John the Evangelist said on that island of Patmos — “My dear little children, let us love one another.”

There is a reason why the Church, in her wisdom, has placed the sign of peace at Mass before the reception of Holy Communion. We must be in charity with one another on the natural level, before we go to the table of the Lord’s sacrifice. We are not called to like everyone; we are called to love them, to will their affective good. At the Eucharist, we must put aside our differences and live in the sacrament of charity. “My dear little children, let us love one another.”

Solemnity of the Ascension

Readings: Acts 1:1–11Ps 47:2–3, 6–7, 8–9Eph 1:17–23Mt 28:19a, 20b      bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/051823-Ascension.cfm

Just a few days ago in the Gospel we were proclaiming from the Evangelist John, we were told something that, if I were one of the Apostles, would have driven me up the wall. “I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear to hear it now,” Our Lord proclaims. This, for me, at least, would be unacceptable. I know my own biggest fault — I lack patience. I want to know everything right away. I want to know all the plans and I want to see all the plans that are made go through, no matter what.

So, when Jesus says this in the Upper Room to his disciples, I don’t think I would have really liked that at all. What could he mean? What more does he have to tell us that we can’t bear now?

What Jesus had to tell the Apostles that they could not bear at that moment was the experience of the Paschal Mystery — the Passion, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost. If the Lord had told his Apostles everything that was going to happen in the Upper Room, they would not have grasped it. They might have been confused, perhaps even scandalized. They had to wait, to go through the events of this sacred time of Easter, to experience the joy and the fear, the lows and the highs of the entire paschal mystery, so that they could understand, through the eyes of faith, these central events in the life of Christ.

Perhaps at times you, like me, can be impatient. Not just impatient with others or with ourselves, but even with the Lord. What’s going to happen next? What’s at the root of this impatience in our lives? I think that, at its essence, it’s fear and a lack of trust. Fear that the Lord is not reigning triumphantly in our world and that by his resurrection and ascension, he has not truly conquered this fallen world. Lacking in the trust in the plan for the Lord in our lives, we look to ourselves or to others to provide that security and to be that safety net. And, as the Lord says: “It cannot be that way with you.”

Only when we see everything in our lives in and through the complete Paschal Mystery, not segmenting it by placing the Passion in one box, the Resurrection in another, the Ascension in yet another and so on, will our lives make sense. Ultimately, it is the gift of the Spirit, he who will lead us to all truth, he who is coming at Pentecost, who will grant us the grace to bear what it is we cannot hear and understand right now. As Christ ascends in glory to his Father and Our Father, may we have the security and consolation of knowing that things are, ultimately, going to be OK, and will go, ultimately, according to God’s plan for our lives.

Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 21, 2022

Readings: Acts 1:12–14Ps 27:1, 4, 7–81 Pt 4:13–16Jn 17:1–11a      bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/052123-Sunday.cfm

The Church is very wise in the planning of the liturgical calendar. It seems like we are always in preparation for the next big thing in the cycle. As you will no doubt recall, the liturgical year begins with the season of Advent, a time of preparation for the coming of Christ. However, even in Advent, this holy time can be viewed as a kind of two-part season, beginning with about the first three weeks, the focus is on the figure of Saint John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord Jesus, and the coming of Christ in glory at the end of time. Following this remote preparation for the Lord, from December 17 onward, we kick into high gear with the proximate preparation for the recalling of the events of the Incarnation and Birth of the Messiah, marked with the use of the “O” antiphons in the Liturgy of the Hours.

The Christmas season, although among the shortest liturgical seasons, takes us in about two weeks from the infant Christ to the Christ beginning his earthly ministry following his Baptism. We then go for a short period of time into the season of Ordinary Time, this post-Epiphany season, in which we are fully immersed in the ministry of Christ.

The great and holy season of Lent, the time of penance and preparation before the yearly commemoration of the Easter mysteries can be seen as logically flowing from this time of Christ’s earthly ministry and can even be seen to be in two parts, in a similar way to Advent. The time of remote preparation for Easter can be seen from Ash Wednesday and the first three and a half weeks of Lent (in which the Lord Jesus gives us all those rich parables basically on prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and forgiveness) all the way to around the end of fourth week of Lent, at which time we begin to engage in our Gospel with the confrontations which led Our Lord to suffer his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

Following the time of the Sacred Triduum (which, truth be told, is its own liturgical season, clearly differentiated from Lent), we have the Easter season, which is, outside of Ordinary Time, the longest of the seasons. However, we can view even this Easter season, one in which we bathe in the light of His Risen Glory, Christ Our Lord, as a season of preparation. We can view all of the liturgical season of Easter as a remote and proximate preparation for the coming of the Holy Spirit in Pentecost. (And, if I may be candid, I find it a real shame that we do not have a season of Pentecost in the liturgical calendar; imagine how nice it would be to have around two weeks of red vestments at the start of Ordinary Time . . .)

Beginning this week, we begin the proximate preparations for the coming of the Holy Spirit in Pentecost. It is said that, in many ways, the Holy Spirit is the forgotten Person of the Most Blessed Trinity. Perhaps this is because, in many ways, He is the most intangible. We can envision the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, in his Sacred Humanity, due to the Incarnation. We can even kind of envision God the Father, the First Person of the Most Blessed Trinity (or at least an anthropomorphized view of Him)! However, that Third Person of the Trinity, well, that’s the hard one to really grasp!

Make no mistake, though — the Holy Spirit is God. He is the Lord, the giver of life, as we profess each Sunday and solemnity in the Nicene Creed. But how do we experience the Holy Spirit? The sure and certain guide that is the Catechism of the Catholic Church can serve as a guide for us.

In the Catechism (#688), we read the following:

The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit:
– in the Scriptures he inspired;
– in the Tradition, to which the Church Fathers are always timely witnesses;
– in the Church’s Magisterium, which he assists;
– in the sacramental liturgy, through its words and symbols, in which the Holy Spirit puts us into communion with Christ;
– in prayer, wherein he intercedes for us;
– in the charisms and ministries by which the Church is built up;
– in the signs of apostolic and missionary life;
– in the witness of saints through whom he manifests his holiness and continues the work of salvation.

That’s a lot of places where we find this Holy Spirit whom we are preparing to welcome liturgically in two weeks on Pentecost Sunday. He’s with us all the time, if only we have the eyes to perceive Him. Let’s examine just a few of the ways listed above by the Catechism, so we can know where to find the Spirit!

First, we can find the Holy Spirit in the Deposit of Divine Revelation, meaning we can see the hand of the Holy Spirit guiding the Bible and the Sacred Tradition of the Church. Do we recognize that the Sacred Scripture’s true author is ultimately God? Yes, God works through the divinely inspired authors, so that correctly conceived, accurately expressed, and truthfully composed the Bible in its Canon, but never forget that God is the author of the Bible. In our preparation for Pentecost, perhaps we might wish to read with open hearts and minds the book that we have been reading throughout the entire Easter season — The Acts of the Apostles. In many ways, this book is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke and they share the same author. Read Acts and look for the stories of where that Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity is the protagonist.

Second, we can find the Holy Spirit in the Sacred Liturgy. When you attend Holy Mass, look for the number of times that the Holy Spirit is invoked, especially during the Eucharistic Prayer. The Epiclesis is an essential part of the Mass and, in the consecration, the Holy Spirit is actively involved.

Third, we can find the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Saints. Try to learn about some of the saints, blesseds, venerables, and the servants of God and look to where the Holy Spirit was clearly guiding them throughout their lives. Some figures whom you might want to examine include Saint John Henry Newman; Venerable Mother Catherine McAuley, the Foundress of the Religious Sisters of Mercy; and the Servant of God Romano Guardini, the great twentieth-century spiritual writer.

The Holy Spirit is coming soon in Pentecost, but He is actively present, powerfully showering us with his sevenfold gifts. Use this remaining time in the Easter season to prepare for the Holy Spirit!

Pentecost Sunday – May 28, 2023

Readings: Acts 2:1–11Ps 104:1, 24, 29-30, 31, 341 Cor 12:3b–7, 12–13Jn 20:19–23    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/052823-Day.cfm

Imagine, just picture in your mind for a moment, what it would be like to be one of these disciples, locked away, as we read about in today’s Gospel from the Evangelist John. You are frightened, no, you are terrified. The Master, the one whom you believe to be Lord and God, Messiah and King, is gone, murdered, killed by the Romans. And you could be next. Even though you ran, despite the fact that you scattered like a frightened child, not the leader of men who thought you were, the Jewish authorities are looking for you. They know who you are. They know that you are a follower of that man, that one whom they humiliated and killed. And these Jewish leaders are still so angry and outraged, they have the Romans, the invaders, in on it with them. And they will have no mercy. What they did to the Master, stretching him out and nailing him to a tree, no doubt they will do to you, and maybe even worse, like flaying your skin off! And here you are, surrounded by your friends, scared to make a move.

And you have just heard the news, some incredible news, news that made your heart leap with joy from one of the Lord’s female followers, this Mary, the Magdalene, a friend of the Lord. She claims that she was at the tomb, that borrowed burial plot of Joseph of Arimathea, and she saw it empty. And not only that it was empty, the Magdalene says that she saw and spoke to the Lord. He is not dead; he is alive. And he said he is coming to his brothers. And yet, this news also fills your heart with fear.

If this is true, what would Jesus say? What words would he utter to his brothers, these chosen ones, this apostolic band, each of whom in his own way betrayed the Lord? He had every right to have righteous indignation. The Master could have rightfully reprimanded the Eleven. They had all run and left him to suffer and die, all except John, the Master’s Beloved Disciple, Mary, the Lord’s Mother, and the women, including the Magdalene. Whom should you really fear more, as you are behind these locked doors— the Romans? The Jews? Or perhaps, the rebuke of the Master, the Innocent One, whom you denied, denigrated, and ditched, all in a vain attempt at coming to your own safety? If the Lord is really risen and, if he is, as the Magdalene stated, coming to you all, his brothers, what would he say to you?

The Lord appears, instantly recognizable, yet changed, glorified, appearing almost like Peter, James, and John said he looked on that mount a few months prior. There is no doubt it is the Master; in fact, he bears the horrible marks of the nails on his hands and feet and clearly has the wound from the soldier’s lance, that gaping hole from which the Beloved Disciple witnessed blood and water flowing.

You are so happy to see the Lord. All that you knew, all that he taught you, it is true. He has done it, as he said he would. The Master has conquered death and, as he said to you, he will share this with you. And yet, you are still nervous. He has not spoken as of yet.

Finally, issuing forth from those lips which have the words of everlasting life, the Master speaks. He says not words of anger and correction, words like you would have spoken if you had been betrayed by your closest friends. The Word of Life himself, in his Divine Mercy, simply, clearly, calmly, lovingly says: “Peace be with you.”

The Lord’s gift to us this Pentecost Sunday is the gift of peace. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, that Third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, who appears to the disciples as tongues of flame, peace is given to us.

Peace is not merely the absence of conflict. It is living in the tranquility of order that can only come from the presence of God. Peace is that gift of serenity that only the Lord can give us this Eirene, this shalom.

Many of us are blessed to live in areas that are not war-torn. Many of us, sadly, in our modern age, are not that blessed. But even those who live not under the shadow of violence are conflicted, perhaps externally, but also in many ways internally.

Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, give to the Lord our internal conflicts, that which weights us down. Through the Spirit’s gift of peace, hear the Lord’s words to you personally — “Peace be with you.” As we carry our crosses, recognize him right next to you helping you bear the burden. As we suffer on the cross, often of our own making, see him remove the nails and take our place there. As we huddle frightened in the upper room, see the Lord Jesus appear to you, his contemporary disciple- “Peace be with you.” Live in that peace.

Rev. John P. Cush, STD About Rev. John P. Cush, STD

Fr. John P. Cush, the Editor-in-Chief of Homiletic and Pastoral Review, is a professor of Dogmatic Theology at Saint Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie) in the Archdiocese of New York. He is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Fr. Cush holds the Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, Italy. He is the author of The How-to-Book of Catholic Theology (OSV, 2020), Theology as Prayer (IPF, 2022) and is a contributor to Intellect, Affect, and God (Marquette University Press, 2021).


  1. Avatar Deacon John Cruz says:

    Fr Cush,
    I just finished your reflection on the Fifth Sunday and I can say you are filled with the Holy Spirit! Thank you!