HOMILY FOR SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (B)

Fr Michael O' Shea, Wexford


“You did not choose me, no, I chose you.”

I imagine that Gamaliel had many rabbinical students in his class in Jerusalem over the years. The Risen Lord appeared to one of them, Saul of Tarsus. At the Parousia his fellow students may well ask why Paul, and only Paul? It was an exercise of the Divine prerogative. It is said that what happened to Paul will happen to all of Gamaliel’s students at the Parousia. They will all directly encounter the Risen Lord, including Gamaliel himself.

Likewise, each of the Twelve Apostles was individually chosen by the Lord, “to be with him”, as St Mark tells us. Why Twelve? Because the Hebrew People, chosen by God from among all the peoples on earth, consisted of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Why the Hebrew people? That is God’s business. It is an extraordinary privilege for a human being to be chosen to be with the Lord. One is asked to participate in a more immediate way in the reason that God became man.

Likewise, Mary the mother of Jesus. God selected her. It is the nature of God to ask, to invite, and to await our response. The rich young man also was invited by the Lord.

When preparing for the funeral of an elderly woman, as I sit around the table with her sons and daughters, and as I ask them about their mother they often say: “she ceased to exist for herself, we were everything to her.” The image that comes to mind is that of the seed falling into the ground and dying, an image in John’s Gospel, so that others may have life. This is an experience many of us are fortunate to know from the life of our own mother.

When such a mother dies, she returns to the source of all love and life, God Himself. A mother’s love reflects the source of that love, God Himself. “God is Love” is proclaimed in the reading from John today.

One does not readily associate soldiers with religion. In our first reading today, we encounter Cornelius, a Roman centurion. St Peter is used to dealing with his fellow Jews. His food is kosher (despite what we read in Mark’s Gospel) and his companions are the circumcised. St Luke tells us that, in a dream, God prepares Peter for a big change in his life in relation to food and circumcision, and humanity, and the nature of religion. When Peter witnesses the Holy Spirit coming down on Cornelius and his household, we are at a pivotal moment in salvation history. It is appropriate that it is Peter who organises the baptism of these first gentiles.

The Scriptures, that is the Old Testament, are quoted in every book of the New Testament as testimony to what happens in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. “According to the Scriptures” is a phrase that occurs regularly. The same Scriptures speak of the food laws, circumcision, and the observance of the Sabbath on the seventh day (Saturday) as divine commands. These are the three markers of Judaism. Their observance ensures the survival of Judaism in Babylon during the Exile. Otherwise Judaism would have gone the way of the ten lost tribes after they were deported by the Assyrians in 721 BC. Jesus of Nazareth observed all three markers. All religious Jews today observe the three markers because the Scriptures ask them to. It was St Paul’s realisation, amply demonstrated in his own writings, that for Gentiles, making up the bulk of Christianity, such markers were no longer necessary. Faith in the Person of Jesus was now the key. This leads to two key doctrines in Christianity, God as Trinity, and the Incarnation. These are the Christian markers.

St Luke teaches us that it is the Holy Spirit who guides and directs the disciples in the present time. Our Responsorial Psalm today, Psalm 97 cries “all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God”. The Psalm was written long before St Paul’s time. His task was to begin the process of making the words of the psalm a reality. Ireland was then at the ends of the earth. It was hundreds of years after Cornelius and his household were baptised that the first inhabitants of this island were baptised in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit by St Patrick. At the funeral Mass the priest sprinkles the coffin with holy water to remind us of our baptism before we enter the next world. The Easter Liturgy prays, what is almost unimaginable, that we may attain in our flesh ”the incorruptible glory of the resurrection”.

Throughout this day we should pray quietly “Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit”.