Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter 2008
Both the World Youth Day and our new Parish Centre are pretty exciting things. There is much energy and enthusiasm around them. At one level they are both about ourselves. The WYD is about being Catholic today and the Parish Center is a facility for St Joseph's Parish. Both are no small achievement. However, if that is the only thing they are then they would be a waste of time and effort. They could just be us saying how great we are, look at us!
But, if they are a means to give courage and nourishment in our personal journey of faith, then they are more than an achievement. They are part of the way that gives truth and life. And if they are a means by which we become more aware that we are a community of disciples who are given the power to witness to the gospel in our families, in our work places, and in our social life, then they help us fulfill our mission as a Church. In this way they enable us to be Christ for the world.
The passage from the letter of Peter we read (1 Peter 1:4-9) is telling us that we have been called by God and set apart through faith and baptism to be that sacred presence in the world. The Israelites had a great Temple in Jerusalem where sacrifices were offered. They saw the priesthood which served in the Temple as an institution set apart for things pertaining to God. These Hebrew priests were the go-betweens in the relationship of Israel with God. The Christian church itself, Peter says is a holy priesthood. The Church is that royal priesthood that offering praise and thanks to God on behalf of all humanity, and on behalf of all creation. That is a priesthood we engage in wherever we are and what ever we do. And we do that by following Jesus. He is the way.
There is even more to it. Jesus tells Philip in our Gospel today that his disciples will continue the ministry he was carrying out (John 14:1-12). But, he says, they will do even greater works than he does. The Christian Church will do greater works than Jesus! That is amazing. So the Church is not a static entity destined just to repeat only the things Jesus did. It continues to grow and develop as it discerns the implications of the Gospel for each age. An early example of this is the account in the first reading of how the first deacons came about (Acts 6:1-7). This event is the beginning of a structure for the new movement that would evolve into the Church we know today. The early Christians faced the problem of the needs of widows who were being overlooked. So the apostles did something Jesus never told them to do. They created a new office of deacon. So the Church is not bound to just repeating what Jesus did it must rise to meet new needs and challenges. It has always found itself free to create new ways of doing things and change some things even dramatically at times. Even the great actions we call sacraments took many years to be determined. Jesus had said to Peter and the disciples whatever you bind or loose on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven (cf Matthew 16:19 & 18:18)
This freedom to act is necessary, the Gospel says, because Jesus is returning to the Father until such a time when he can return and take us with him to his Father's home. In the meantime he is not with us as a physical person we can touch and consult with over everything. But he is always with us as the way, the truth and the life.
Jesus did not have to build a Parish Centre with wheelchair friendly toilets! Nor did he organize World Youth Days. Those are just a couple of the ways that the Church tries to respond to the needs of the time.