5th Sunday of Easter Year A / Mother’s Day

     There is no doubt, the coronavirus has brought death to the forefront of people’s minds. While nearly 75,000 people have died from the virus in the United States[1], over 2.8 million people died in the USA in 2018.[2] It shouldn’t take a pandemic like the coronavirus to make us think about death, because even without the coronavirus, the average life expectancy of a person in our country is only 78.7 years.[3] It seems then, that each of us, at some point, has to ask the question, what is next. What comes after our short time on this earth is over?

     While everyone grapples with this question in their own way, as Christians I think we have to agree that Jesus tells the truth. If we are truly Christians, if we believe that Jesus tells the truth, each of us should eventually come to a point where we believe Jesus when He tells us in today’s gospel that He has prepared a place for us and He will come back and take us to that place. It really is that simple, Jesus, the one who rose from the dead on Easter Sunday and proved definitively that He is God, has told us He has prepared a place for us, thus that place exists period. The question is not what comes next, the real question is how do we get to the what next. If you read the bible you see clearly exactly how He plans to lead us to that place.

     For you see, while Jesus no longer walks this earth He did not leave us orphans. No, knowing that He was going to ascend to the Father, He gave His apostles, under the guidance of St. Peter, the command to “make disciples of all nations”[4] and to “go to the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”[5] He told St. Peter “you are Peter an on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail.”[6] Simply put, Jesus established a Church to carry out His saving work in the world down through the ages. “The Church is sent by Jesus Christ as the sacrament of salvation offered by God.”[7] If we want to get to that place prepared for us, we simply have to live out our Catholic faith. Not just the parts of the Catholic faith we like or that make us comfortable but the whole life. For since this Church leads us to heaven, why would we even think to be so stupid to try to follow only half-heartedly?

     Now this claim that Jesus left us a Church to lead us back isn’t some new idea. No, the early Church took these commands and promises of Jesus seriously. In the Acts of the Apostles, we see how the apostles and elders came together under the leadership of St. Peter to decide a matter of faith[8] and even St. Paul “went up to Jerusalem to confer with Peter.”[9] As the faith spread, the Apostles knew that they needed help in their ministry and so, as we hear in today’s first reading they went and laid hands on the other men, giving them particular authority to exercise certain ministries in the name of Christ. While today’s first reading talks about ordaining of deacons, the apostles also ordained bishops, the successors to the apostles, in the same manner by laying hands on them.[10] Those men in turn ordained successors by laying hands on them, who in turn laid hands on their successors right down until today.

     If you walk into my office you will see a framed document written in Latin hanging over my desk. That document is the most valuable piece of paper I own, because it is a letter signed by Archbishop Carlson attesting to the fact that he ordained me a priest. It’s important because it traces my ministry back to Archbishop Carlson, which then traces it back to the bishop who ordained him a bishop and back to the bishop who ordained that bishop, all the way back uninterrupted to one of the apostles and thus ultimately back to Christ’s command, which means that though unworthy, I can minister as Jesus’ priest. This link back to the apostles is essential because Jesus promised the apostles that He would be with us “always to the closing of the ages.”[11] Outside of the Catholic church there is no church that even claims to have this link all the way back to the apostles. Thus, if we truly want to be guided to that place that Christ has prepared for us, we need simply to stay within in the teachings and practice of the Catholic Church.

     One of the most formative teachers I ever had, was a world-famous philosopher who was probably the first person to really challenge me to think on my own and form arguments that were clear, logical, and faithful to the church, but also my own. He used to frequently quote scripture to me saying, “Peter, remember in my father’s house there are many dwelling places.” In quoting today’s gospel, he was reminding me not to be too narrow minded in my understanding of the Church. Yes, one must stay in the mansion, one must believe and practice all that the Church teaches, but within the mansion there are many different authentic variations of living out our Catholic faith. While there is room for authentic diversity, those of us who are trying to live out our Catholic faith know how hard it really is to be Catholic. There are many things that can easily pull us from the safety of our Church. Some of us may struggle with friends who scorn our faith, others of us struggle with some sort of habitual sin like drugs or alcohol. Others of us may have relationship issues or be facing the pain of tragedy. Perhaps some of us struggle with a dislike or lack of understanding on certain controversial teachings of the Church or maybe others have been treated poorly by a priest in the past. Regardless of whatever or whoever may be causing us to struggle to stay in the Church, I think that struggle becomes easier when we begin to see our Church as our mother.

     Friends, the Church is truly our mother and just as mothers often have to put unpopular limits on their children and teach them unpopular truths, so too, the Church must speak truths that are unpopular and call us to a life that will not always be easy. Yet even when we don’t see it, like all good mothers, our mother the Church only challenges us in the ways she does because, like our own mothers, She knows that it will lead us to remain in God’s love and lead to that place He has prepared for us. Just as our mothers force us to do things we don’t like to do because it is good for us, the Church continues to hold out to the way given to her by Christ, because that is the way that leads to what is ultimately best for us, eternal life.

     So today, as we honor our mothers, let’s also take this opportunity to rededicate ourselves to our mother the Church and allow her to lead us to that place God has prepared for us. Friends, find your safety in this Church. Come to your Mother the Church, have life and have it abundantly.

 

 

[1] CDC, Coronavirus Disease 2019 updated May 7th 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/cases-in-us.html

[2] Mortality in the United States, 2018, NCHS, Data Brief no 355.

[3] Mortality in the United States, 2018, NCHS, Data Brief no 355.

[4] Mt 28:19

[5] Mk 16:15

[6] Mt 16:18

[7] Pope Francis Evangelii Gaudium. Washington DC: USCCB. (2014) Pg. 57.

[8] Acts 15

[9] Gal 1:18

[10] Acts 13:1-3

[11] Mt 28:20

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