Journey to Hope Week 6

(Homily for Sixth Sunday of Easter - Year A)

Message: We bring people to Jesus (to hope) by humility - a sense of humor about ourselves - and by deep compassion.

Today is the Sixth Sunday of Easter. We continue on our journey to hope. St. Peter tells us, "always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope."

What do we say to that person? As we have seen in recent weeks, it's important to make clear is that our hope is not based on human perfectibility or (God save us!) on our our own righteousness. No, we hope in God's mercy given through Jesus. And because of our union with him we are connected with every other believer. That is our hope: union with Jesus in the the Communion of Saints - the deep connection we have with all who believe in Jesus.

At this point a person might object: But Christians have done so many bad things! We readily acknowledge that. Even though people sometimes exaggerate about how bad we have been, we do admit the basic point: We have made many blunders; We have done things bad, even terrible; we are sinners.* But the hope we have and the hope we offer is not in our goodness, but in Jesus.

Our hope is in Jesus. With that point fixed in our minds, I'd like to talk how we offer that hope to others. The best starting point is humility. That means to have a sense of humor - not to laugh at others, but at one's self.

Let me speak personally. Sometimes before I preach, I pray, "Lord, don't let me make a fool of myself." But then I think about St. Philip Neri. People flocked to hear him preach and they hung on his words. If he sensed that people were focusing on him, not on God, in the middle of his sermon he would fall over and start drooling. I don't need to do that. I can make a fool out of myself without even trying.

Philip Neri sometimes dramatically used humor about himself. Once he was visiting a prominent Roman lady and her family. She wanted to put on display her connection with the great man. Philip Neri did something fairly atrocious. He showed up with half his beard shaved off! I wouldn't imitate that specific action, but you get the point. Philip Neri took literally what St. Paul writes about becoming a fool for the sake of Christ. (I Cor 4:10)

The point here is not that we should carry out stunts that draw attention to ourselves, but that we should not be afraid of appearing foolish. We should pray for humility, for a sense of humor about ourselves. In a short time you and I will be pretty much forgotten. But what will last is our union with Jesus and the people we have helped come into that union. So we should pray for a sense of perspective - which for us humans is a sense of humor, humility.

Besides a sense of humor, we need something else to help other come to Jesus: Compassion. Here's why compassion is so important. For most people the greatest obstacle to hope - to belief in Jesus - is suffering. People look at all the suffering in the world - and in their own lives - and they conclude that either God does not exist or does not care about us. Our response is not to belittle suffering or to try to explain it away, but to show compassion.

Pastor Rick Warren faced terrible suffering - the suicide of his son - and he ministers to people who often experience great pain. He observed that Jesus did not say to the Father: Take this suffering away if you can. No, Jesus knew that the Father can do anything, but that it is not best to take away every suffering. Pastor Warren taught people to say this prayer:

"Father, if this problem, pain, sickness, or circumstance is needed to fulfill your purpose and glory in my life or in another's life, please don't take it away!" That prayer expresses genuine surrender.**

This does not mean we should seek out suffering for its own sake. No, the cross will come on its own and will be a daily part of each Christian's life. But with Christ we can embrace the cross and find meaning in it.

That's deep compassion - not only feeling the pain of others, but helping them take that suffering to Jesus. By showing that compassion we can help others find hope in Jesus.

So, we have seen today that while good deeds are important, people will not come to Jesus because of our righteousness.*** Rather we bring people to Jesus by humility - a sense of humor about ourselves - and by deep compassion. That's what Peter teaches us:

"Christ also suffered for sins once,
the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous,
that he might lead you God." Amen


*We should be ready to counter the most common exaggerations: That we are anti-science, that we want to impose our morality and (more recently) that we have done little about those (especially priests) who would sexually abuse minors. Anyone interested can find abundant material about how science developed in a Christian milieu and how many of the greatest scientist were believing Christians, even Catholic priests: e.g Stenno, the father of modern geology, Gregory Mendel, the founder of genetics and Georges Lemaitre, the discoverer of the Big Bang theory. As far the second exaggeration, we should know this quote from St. John Paul II, "The Church proposes, she imposes nothing." Regarding the third exaggeration, point people to the John Jay Study. In recent years the number of credible accusations of sexual abuse of minors have been in single digits (out 40,000 priests and 18,000 deacons). Most accusations go back to before 1986 when most of our bishops addressed the issue by removing many priests from ministry and placing others in restricted and carefully monitored ministries. In the Archdiocese of Seattle we do not have cases of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest that date from after the late eighties.

**St. Philip Neri is even more blunt: "Never try to evade the cross God sends you for you will only find a heavier one." Then he adds, "He who does not go down to hell in his lifetime runs a great risk of going there when he dies."

***Next week I will address how we can find hope in the midst of persecution. It's a good theme for the Ascension of the Lord.

Spanish Version

From Archives:

2011 Homily: A Reason For Your Hope
2008: Not Leave You Orphans
2005: Why Benedict?
2002: I Don't Love Her Any More
1999: "If you love me..."

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