Homilies for April 2024

For Divine Mercy Sunday, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the Third Sunday, Fourth Sunday, and Fifth Sunday of Easter

Second Sunday of Easter (Sunday of Divine Mercy) – April 7, 2024

Readings: Acts 4:32–35 • Psalm 118:2–4, 13–15, 22–24 • 1 John 5:1–6 • John 20:19–31    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/040724.cfm

What does it mean to “bear witness” to something? If we witness a crime, we can report that to the police, and they will take a witness statement to record what we’ve seen or heard. If we witness an event, we might be called upon to give an interview for a news story about our experiences.

In a spiritual sense, this concept of bearing witness to something means that we are not only called to believe in what the Lord says and does and teaches; as his followers, we must also bear witness to those truths and testify, share, and make visible those encounters. In other words, bearing witness to something is more than simply knowing or understanding; it’s about an outward expression to share what we’ve experienced.

In this weekend following the Resurrection of the Lord, we see the effects of how others have shared their witness of the events of Holy Week and the Resurrection of Jesus.

Our Gospel today comes from John 20. The chapter begins with the encounter of Mary of Magdala seeing the stone removed from the empty tomb. Shortly after, Jesus appears to Mary and asks why she is weeping. She soon recognizes Jesus and follows his instruction to share her witness, and she later announces to the disciples “I have seen the Lord,” bearing witness to what she experienced. Then we come to today’s passage, another encounter of the risen Christ, this time Jesus appearing to the disciples through the locked doors.

Thomas, of course known as the one who doubts, needs more proof before he can believe and share his own witness. Jesus invites Thomas to feel the wounds in his side, feel the wounds in his hands, and Thomas’ unbelief subsides into a statement of undeniable belief: “My Lord and my God,” and now he is added to the list of those who can witness to the resurrection of Christ.

As disciples of Christ, as ones who have recently witnessed the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, the crucifixion of the Lord as he died to offer us redemption, and his triumphant resurrection from the dead, we are constantly called to bear that witness to all we meet. Bearing witness to the resurrection requires us to open the doors of our hearts and allow the light of Christ to infiltrate our lives. It means embracing the reality of His victory over sin and death and allowing this truth to permeate every aspect of our being. It means living with a profound sense of hope, even in the midst of trials and tribulations, knowing that Christ has conquered all.

Our first reading today also includes passages about the apostles bearing witness to the resurrection of the Lord: “With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all.” Bearing witness to the resurrection, although difficult at times given our current culture, should be part and parcel to the post-Easter routine as we mimic the apostles’ actions to bear witness with great power.

In parishes throughout the world, we have people this weekend who are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ for the second time, the first being last weekend during the great Easter Vigil. As our communities have prayed for them, supported them, encouraged them, these new members of the Catholic Church are indeed some of the greatest witnesses we have to the working of the Holy Spirit in their own lives. What better way to witness to the love of Jesus than to learn about him through Scripture and the teachings of the Church over these past months and finally encounter Him in these powerful sacraments? We know converts to the faith are some of the most powerful witnesses in our parish communities.

Our second reading teaches us how to be a witness to Christ. To love God means to keep his commandments, commandments that we know are not burdensome; rather, they lead us to love God and love our neighbor. Simply living the commandments is a powerful witness in itself. So many times people ask “what can I do to bring my family members back to the faith” or “what can I say that will make someone come to church?” Well, maybe it’s not so much about what we do or say, although our actions and words are very important; maybe it’s about how we live. Our way of life, whether public or private, is an indication of how we bear witness to God’s loving commandments at work in our own lives.

We are at the beginning of this Easter season, may we be emboldened by the example of the disciples and their unwavering faith in the resurrection. Without their witness to the faith and courage to evangelize, our own lives may have looked very different. May we open our hearts to encounter the risen Christ in our midst and allow His transformative love to work within us. And may we, in turn, bear witness to His resurrection to all we encounter with courage, conviction, and joy, so that all may come to know the true power and glory of our risen Lord Jesus Christ.

Solemnity of the Annunciation – April 8, 2024

Readings: Is 7:10–14; 8:10 • Ps 40:7–8a, 8b–9, 10, 11 • Heb 10:4–10 • Lk 1:26–38    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/040824.cfm

By Rev. John P. Cush, STD

In the northern Italian city of Padua, Enrico Scrovegni, a wealthy landowner, built a chapel on his property in order to ask Almighty God for forgiveness for the sin of usury (lending money out for interest). Scrovegni constructed the chapel in a grand, ornate style that caused some in the neighboring monastery to think it garish. He hired one of the finest artists of his day, Giotto (Ambrogio Bondone, 1267–1337), to paint elaborate frescoes about the life of Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother, Mary. Among the first in a series is a famous one of the Annunciation, which we read about in the Gospel pericope given to us in the liturgy for this Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary from the Evangelist Luke. The Angel Gabriel, in this famous painting, is to the left bringing the Good News to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who sits at the right in a remarkably beautiful manner, signifying openness and receptivity.

This famous fresco of the Annunciation has shaped much of the Western world’s visual understanding of this key event in the history of salvation, Whether we know the name of Giotto or not, most of us probably have the image of the winged archangel appearing before Our Lady, telling her that she will conceive and bear a child who will be named Jesus. Even in my grade school Nativity play back in 1983, that’s how the scene was set. (I was chosen by my teacher at Holy Name School in Brooklyn to play Saint Joseph. This was the pinnacle of my acting career.)

An alternate way of thinking about the Annunciation that has always shaped my visualization of this great and joyful mystery comes from Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth (1977). In this stunning film, Olivia Hussey portrays the Blessed Mother. In the scene of the Annunciation, we see no angel and we do not hear any heavenly voices. All we see is the remarkably expressive eyes of the beautiful actress who speaks aloud to someone or something that we cannot see. Her eyes tell the entire story — not only fear, surprise, apprehension, but also remarkable openness and burning, intense love for God and the things of God.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, in the Gospel passage, in Giotto’s fresco, and in Zeffirelli’s film, shows remarkable receptivity. Our Lady had no concept of what would be happening to her. Probably the day of the Annunciation was to be a day like any other ordinary day. No one would have ever guessed that this would be one of the key days in the history of the universe. Mary is presented with a remarkable gift and with a remarkable challenge. Obviously, as the Evangelist expresses so well in the Gospel, perplexity reigned. Perhaps Our Lady thought: “Why me? Is this for real? Should I say yes?” Her “yes” continues the plan of salvation that was begun long ago. The Word of God that has existed from all eternity, conceived in the mutual, self-giving love of the Triune Godhead, continues in the Virgin womb of her who is the Immaculate Conception.

So, a question for us then: are we open, attentive, reasonable, and loving before God’s plan in our lives? Do we listen in discernment of spirits for the message that God wishes to grant us? Would we have been able to reply as Mary did, despite her fear and anxiety? Mary is the model of openness for each and every one of us as Christians. She gives birth to the Eternal Son of the Father. Her intimate relationship with the Trinity allows us to call her, not only the Daughter of God the Father, not only the Mother of Christ, not only the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, but truly the Mother of God. On this feast day of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may all of us, women and men, married and single, clergy, religious, or laity, be able to give birth to Christ by our openness to the plan of God for our lives. Things are tough and may at times even seem impossible, but we need not fear — “For nothing is impossible for God.” (Luke 1:37)

Third Sunday of Easter – April 14, 2024

Readings: Acts 3:13–15, 17–19 • Psalm 4:2, 4, 7–8, 9 • 1 John 2:1–5a • Luke 24:35–48    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/041424.cfm

It’s been said that the more you get to know someone, the more you realize that there is so much more to know about that person. If I learn tomorrow that my friend is a rock climber, all of a sudden more questions pop up: When did you start? Where do you go? How do you train? Learning this one fact makes me realize there’s a whole lot more I don’t know about the person.

What does it mean to actually know someone, not just know about them, but to actually know them through and through? Although my parents, married for over 35 years at this point, certainly know each other very well, they are still learning new things about each other.

Today’s passage occurs just after Jesus’ appearance on the Road to Emmaus. Two of them were walking on the road discussing all of the things that had occurred, namely the death and reports of the resurrection of Jesus, and Jesus himself began to walk with them. But, as Luke recounts, they “were prevented from recognizing him.” Only after they invited Jesus to stay with them did the recognize him as he broke bread for them at the table.

We are in this year of Eucharistic Revival, a time for parishes throughout the country to preach and teach about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Jesus Christ is fully present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist, a gift freely given to the Apostles and indeed to each of us. And it is so often through this gift of the Eucharist that we come to encounter Christ, especially at Mass. We share the experience of the early Christians by how we recognize Jesus as the one truly present when we receive Him at the altar.

In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we are invited into a profound encounter with the living Christ. It’s not merely a symbolic gesture or a remembrance of past events; rather, it’s a sacramental reality where the divine intersects with the human. This profound mystery of faith enables us to not only remember but to actively participate in the salvific work of Christ. As we partake of the Eucharist, we are united with Christ and with one another in a communion of love and grace, echoing the intimacy experienced by the disciples at Emmaus. The Eucharist becomes a pivotal moment where our encounter with Christ transcends the ordinary and leads us to a deeper understanding of his presence among us.

Yet, although the disciples know who Jesus is and they have experienced him first-hand, they are still “startled and terrified” in the presence of Christ. He has to reassure them, inviting them to feel his wounds. He has to teach them that he indeed is the fulfillment of the prophets, he is the Christ who suffered and died and rose on the third day for the forgiveness of sins.

How do we get to know Christ? We can know a lot about him and develop a laundry list of facts and figures that describe things about Jesus, but can we claim, like the Apostles did, to know him? Not know about him, but know him? John’s letter speaks about this in our second reading, he says “those who say, ‘I know him,’ but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them.” Meaning that we learn to know Christ through his commandments, through what he teaches us about how to act.

Understanding Christ involves more than intellectual knowledge; it encompasses a personal, lived experience of his teachings. This experiential knowing is rooted in our daily interactions with his commandments, where we align our actions with his teachings. It’s in the moments of applying his principles to our lives that we truly grasp the essence of who he is. By embodying his love, compassion, and mercy in our actions, we not only understand Christ intellectually but also connect with him on a deeper, spiritual level. This transformative process allows us to move beyond mere acquaintance to a profound intimacy with the Savior, shaping our relationship with him in profound ways.

Our relationship with the Lord is an ongoing one, and we continue to know Him and know about Him. We pray that the Lord continue to shine his face on us, continue to answer us in prayer, to have pity on us and place gladness into our hears. We can know Christ in any number of ways, yet the most powerful is just as his early followers recognized him: through the breaking of the bread.

Fourth Sunday of Easter – April 21, 2024

Readings: Acts 4:8–12 • Psalm 118:1, 8–9, 21–23, 26, 28, 29 • 1 John 3:1–2 • John 10:11–18    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/042124.cfm

I used to be a babysitter for several young children when I was a teenager. I took the certification classes, I knew basic first aid, I was comfortable with the parents, and I landed a few babysitting jobs and had the opportunity to earn a few dollars. And although I did indeed care about the children I babysat and we had some fun playing games, I obviously could never be a replacement for their parents. In that sense, I was the “hired man” to take care of the child.

This weekend is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” because of the images in today’s Gospel. Jesus uses the terms “good shepherd” and “hired man” to clarify the relationship he has with his flock, a flock that includes you and me. Just as the babysitter is by no means a substitute for a parent, a hired man is no substitute for a good shepherd.

What’s the difference? In the babysitting situation, it’s the parent who has true love for the child, they’re raising the child, they have finances invested in the child, they’re educating the child. With a babysitter, although they certainly care for the child, there’s a limit to their involvement. They’re most likely not going to be there at the child’s wedding or dropping them off at college.

Jesus, depicted as the Good Shepherd, epitomizes the profound intimacy between the divine and human. His knowledge of his sheep extends far beyond mere acquaintance; it delves into the depths of our being, encompassing our joys and sorrows, our triumphs and struggles. This intimate knowledge echoes the divine intimacy shared within the Holy Trinity itself, where God the Father’s knowledge of Jesus the Son transcends mere awareness to a profound understanding of his essence. Likewise, Jesus intimately knows each one of us, from the intricate complexities of our hearts to the smallest details of our lives. His love for us surpasses our comprehension, embracing us in our entirety, flaws and all. In his unwavering devotion, Jesus desires nothing more than for us to remain within the safety of his flock, under his watchful care. His promise to never forsake us stands as a testament to his boundless love and mercy, offering solace and reassurance in the midst of life’s uncertainties.

In contrast to the steadfast devotion of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, a hired man lacks the deep-rooted commitment that characterizes genuine care. When faced with adversity, the hired man’s allegiance falters, and he swiftly abandons his post, leaving the flock vulnerable to danger. The Gospel passage vividly illustrates this as the hired man flees at the mere sight of a wolf, prioritizing self-preservation over the well-being of the flock. In such moments of crisis, the flock is left scattered, devoid of guidance and protection, gripped by fear and uncertainty. However, Jesus stands in stark contrast to this portrayal, exemplifying unwavering dedication and selflessness. Instead of retreating in the face of adversity, he remains steadfastly by our side, his voice resonating with reassurance and compassion. In times of fear, trouble, grief, or pain, Jesus does not shrink away; rather, he emerges as a beacon of hope and strength, leading us forward with unwavering love and guidance, ensuring that we never walk alone in the journey of life.

John’s letter confirms this relationship between us and God: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” “Beloved, we are God’s children now . . .” What a gift! Being known as a child of God means that we feel the unconditional love of a parent despite the times when we might stray away from that relationship on account of our own sins. God does not abandon us in these moments; rather, he continually leads us back to the one flock with the one shepherd of Jesus Christ.

The relationship that Christ, portrayed as the Good Shepherd, shares with us, his beloved flock, transcends the confines of mere transactional exchanges. Unlike a hired hand whose commitment wanes when faced with adversity or challenge, Christ’s bond with us is characterized by an abundance of grace and unconditional love. His care for us extends far beyond the fulfillment of duties; it is rooted in the profound depths of divine compassion and selflessness. In every interaction, Christ embodies the essence of sacrificial love, tirelessly guiding and nurturing us with unwavering devotion. His presence in our lives serves as a testament to the boundless mercy and compassion that defines his character. As recipients of this immeasurable gift, we are enveloped in the warmth of his love, finding solace and security in his unwavering embrace. In embracing Christ as our Good Shepherd, we discover the true essence of love — a love that knows no bounds and endures through every trial and tribulation.

Let us rest assured in the knowledge that we are cherished and cared for, forever held in the tender embrace of our Good Shepherd.

Fifth Sunday of Easter – April 28, 2024

Readings: Acts 9:26–31 • Psalm 22:26–27, 28, 30, 31–32 • 1 John 3:18–24 • John 15:1–8  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/042824.cfm

Thinking back to when our neophytes were catechumens prior to the Easter Vigil, I always appreciate hearing their stories about how they came to the Catholic faith. For some, it was a spiritual conversion, maybe witnessing a healing or being directed in prayer. For others, it may have been more intellectual, asking questions and investigating the answers, leading them to the truths of the faith. Either way, the Holy Spirit’s presence is quite apparent whenever we examine the trajectories of these individuals.

And when people came into the faith, they ultimately had to give up something. Maybe they gave up a particular denomination as they entered the Catholic Church. Maybe they gave up a disbelief in God, or gave up an ignorance of Christ. Maybe they gave up a sinful behavior and took on a spiritual devotion.

Making a decision to go in one direction naturally means making a decision not to go in any number of other directions. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” comes to mind immediately. When we choose to come to church to worship God and receive Jesus through the Scriptures and in the Eucharist, we are choosing not to ignore Jesus. In that sense, we are choosing to remain on the branch of Christ, remain connected to him so we can grow and be nurtured from him.

The first reading from Acts concludes with an encouraging statement: “the church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.” We did indeed see our Church and our parishes grow in numbers at the Easter Vigil as people were baptized and confirmed into the faith. Through these sacraments, especially through the Eucharist, those people connected themselves to the vine of Christ.

The initial connection to the branch, although a critically important step, is far from the last step. Each and every day we must remain on the branch, remain on the vine, because Jesus says, “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” Jesus never departed from God the Father who is the vine grower, and thus we should never depart from Jesus the vine.

The question of how to remain steadfastly connected to the vine of Christ is one that often occupies the hearts and minds of believers. John offers a clear answer in the second reading, emphasizing the importance of obedience to God’s commandments as the key to abiding in Christ. By conscientiously adhering to the teachings and example set forth by Jesus, and by partaking in the spiritual nourishment provided through the sacrament of the Eucharist, we solidify our connection to the vine. It is through these intentional actions that we cultivate a deep and enduring relationship with Christ, allowing his life-giving presence to permeate every aspect of our being.

The Church, as the mystical body of Christ, experiences continual growth and renewal with each passing day. This growth is not merely numerical but is also characterized by an ever-deepening spiritual connection among its members. As more individuals actively seek the grace and guidance offered through the sacraments, they are drawn into the loving embrace of the vine, finding sustenance and strength in their union with Christ. Moreover, as new souls are engrafted into the vine through baptism and conversion, the Church expands its reach, encompassing an ever-widening circle of believers. The ongoing building up of the Church is not merely a static process but a dynamic journey of spiritual transformation, wherein each member contributes to the flourishing of the body as a whole.

Granted, we’re a long way from next year’s Easter Vigil, but that shouldn’t stop us for praying for those will becoming connected to Christ and his Church next year. Just think of the countless number of baptisms that will also happen between then and now, each one a new leaf on the vine of Christ. And although we may not yet know their names, we may not yet know their stories, God already does and the Holy Spirit is at work, nourishing us, keeping us connected to Christ.

Fr. Matthew Duclos About Fr. Matthew Duclos

Fr. Matthew Duclos is a priest in the Diocese of Albany, NY, currently serving as Parochial Vicar at the churches of St. Thomas the Apostle in Delmar, Christ the King in Guilderland, St. Matthew's in Voorheesville, and St. Lucy/St. Bernadette in Altamont. Ordained in 2021, he completed his Licentiate at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Safeguarding and currently assists with efforts in the Office of Safe Environment and the Hope & Healing Committee in the Diocese of Albany, as well as other national and international safeguarding initiatives.

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).

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