These days are different. We have never been here before. These past two, now entering three months we have not been able to physically gather with one another to celebrate Eucharist. Yesterday was the first day we were back in church for private prayer. We find ourselves so often in a “virtual” landscape, looking at one another on some screen, some device longing to physically touch one another.
So for those of you who are physically present with one another, I’m going to ask you to do something as I begin my homily.
Men, if you’re with your wife please do this together. Dads and moms, if your spouse is not with you, please do this with your children. If you are alone, think of someone very dear to you.
Draw physically close to that person. Look into their eyes without speaking.
Now lean in towards one another and kiss.
Kids, now do this with your mom, remembering that is Mother’s Day.
Mom and dad, if you are with your children, please do the same with them. For some families this is going to take a while. Don’t rush. Look into their eyes and then kiss them. If they are not at home with you, bring them to mind.
You may be wondering, “Why is Fr. Jim asking us to do this? Is this quarantine really getting to him?” Yes, this quarantine is getting to me—I hope in a good way.
At every Mass, what is the first and the last action that the priest and Deacon does? They kiss the altar, which for us Catholics is a physical symbol of Christ. That is why when we enter into the church, we bow to the altar in reverence.
At the end of the gospel, the priest or the deacon kisses the Book of the Gospels. Both of these are signs of intimacy, respect and love.
One of the reasons we kiss the Book of the Gospels is because as Catholics we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, written under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is God’s revelation so that we can come to understand the truth of who God is and in so doing discover who we truly are.
Jesus is the Word made flesh. Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of God.
“Beloved, come to Him,” is the invitation of St. Peter in our second reading.
Come to Him, come to Jesus, “a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God.”
“Jesus said, ‘You have faith in God; have faith also in me.’” This is Jesus’ invitation to us to believe in Him.
We are at the beginning of the 14th chapter of John’s Gospel. Chapters 14 to 17 are referred to as the “farewell discourse” at the Last Supper.
Jesus has just washed the feet of His disciples. He has said that one of His apostles, His closest friends would betray Him with a kiss. He has told them that He is going to leave them and that where He is going, they cannot follow.
Understandably they are upset. Peter even swears that he will follow Jesus and even lay down his life for Him. It will only be hours later that he will deny Jesus three times.
It is in light of these very human circumstances that Jesus uses this moment as an opportunity to teach, comfort, warn and inspire His closest friends who will flee and leave Him alone in the darkness of betrayal in the garden.
So Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me… If you know me, then you will also know my Father… Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”
And intimacy beyond human understanding. Holy Trinity intimacy into which we are invited.
“Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
“Come to him.” Come to Jesus so that you may know the Father who loves the Son, an absolute love who is the Holy Spirit. Divine life, Holy Trinity life into which we are invited.
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” says Jesus.
“Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house,” says St. Peter.
In the midst of this quarantine, this lockdown, this time when we are unable to gather together physically and celebrate holy Eucharist and to receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in holy Communion, Jesus tells us, “Do not let your hearts are troubled.” St. Peter tells us to go to Jesus and be built into a spiritual house, a dwelling place for God, and to make our dwelling, our homes a dwelling place of God, right where we are..
My sisters and brothers, let us not squander this opportunity to rediscover or maybe discover for the first time that Jesus is the way, and the truth and the life.
Let us understand, that is, to stand under with all humility, the mystery of God’s revelation of who Jesus is.
As a young seminarian, one of the Maryknoll priests told us the story of being in the jungles of Guatemala. He had been traveling with a native catechist for hours, and he felt totally lost. He asked the catechist, “What’s the way back to the village?” The catechist took his machete and began to cut a path through the bush and motioning him to follow, said “I am the way.”
Jesus did not say that he will show us the way or point us to the way. He clearly says, “I am the way.” In the world that is a confusing tangle of lies and half-truths, of thorny issues and seemingly impenetrable problems, Jesus is the way.
Jesus said, “I am the truth.” He didn’t say, “I have the truth,” or “I understand the truth,” or “this is my truth and you can have your truth and we can believe whatever we want as long as I don’t have to believe what you believe.”
No, Jesus said, “I am the truth.” We find the truth in the teaching of Jesus Christ and explicated through the magisterium of the Church. As St. Peter says in our second reading, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own, so that you may announce the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” We don’t believe alone. We are meant for community that is real and personal and not virtual.
It is in the light of his truth that we know the way to the Father and to eternal life.
Jesus said, “I am the life.” In the midst of this worldwide pandemic, in the midst of so much death and fear, Jesus says, “I am the life.”
Jesus is telling us unequivocally, that no matter how awful things get, how dark the night may seem, how lost we might feel, that He is life, death triumphed, victory won, resurrection and life eternal through, with and in Him together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
That’s why He can tell his apostles, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Put your trust, your hope, your very self in me.”
Let us not get lost in the fear of COVID-19. Let us not wander off to half-truths, made up truths, self-serving truths, and ego driven, illusory truths.
No, let us walk in the light of the truth, Jesus Christ who is life in abundance.
Let us hear Him speak to us once again, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
It is Jesus and He alone who saves us. Jesus.