By Father James Rodriguez
Over the past several weeks we have been walking with the early Church, from her birth from the side of Christ crucified to the bold proclamation of Peter and the others.
We heard the question posed to Mary Magdalene: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” We walked to Emmaus and ran back to Jerusalem in the figures who recognized Jesus in the breaking of bread. Just last week we heard John proclaim with poignant simplicity: “It is the Lord!”
What does this all mean for us? As the once-vibrant lilies in our churches start to wilt and fade, what is there for us to hold on to? As the joy of Easter Sunday becomes more distant, we might ask ourselves: What are we to do now?
In his Angelus address on Nov. 30, 1986, Pope St. John Paul II gave us an excellent answer: “We are an Easter people, and ‘Alleluia’ is our song.” All through Lent we refrained from using that word of praise, but now and forever our praise resounds. Our praise of the One who died once for all and rose again, the beautiful song that is a life well-lived, this is what we are invited to offer. This is what can outlast the lilies, the earthly joys, the problems and the sufferings that comprise every human life.
Rejected, But Rejoiced
This was the engine that drove men like Paul and Barnabas, who though rejected by their own people, rejoiced anyway. They understood that holiness of life does not depend on popular opinion or telling people what they want to hear. Nor did they believe that hedonism was the way to happiness. They knew that human passions tend to enslave us, that “doing whatever you want” is no freedom at all. They were unwilling to serve anything or anyone except Christ Jesus, and so willingly suffered for His name. It was the Spirit of God Himself, Whose coming at Pentecost we excitedly await, that filled these men and so many others, and countless holy women and children as well, through the annals of history to our present day.
Challenging the Times
Like them, we are called to challenge our times to meet the high standard issued by the Lord. How blessed we are to be alive right now! How blessed and privileged we are to face a world so hostile to the Gospel, for if we are triumphant, how glorious will the victory be! Think of the marvels that await us if only we trust in God and live by His word. We can proclaim His holy name through words and deeds, which together reveal the transformative power of faith in the One who shed His blood to set us free. Seeing our heroic virtue, many will come to adore the true God, finding in the holy Eucharist what we have found, or rather what has found us.
This is precisely what John saw in exile. He saw the throngs of worshippers at the throne of the Lamb, people from all different nations – too many to count – not unlike our very own parishes here in Brooklyn and Queens. John’s vision came true because of the action of the Holy Spirit in people just like us, which means that it falls to us to keep it going.
It is far too easy to think someone else will evangelize our young people and our country, that priests will continue to come from elsewhere and not our own families, yet this is precisely our responsibility. The fostering of a culture of holiness and sacrifice is for us to fulfill, but as the old saying goes, “You can’t give what you don’t have.”
Only when we are nourished by the bread of life in the Eucharist can we inspire hunger for God in the many – baptized or not – who do not yet know Christ. Further, we do not have to search far for these people as they live in our own homes and neighborhoods. They go to school or work with us. Sometimes, they even look back at us in the mirror.
They, and we with them, are the sheep of today’s Gospel passage. We know the voice of the shepherd, yet we often stubbornly refuse to respond. This Easter season – a time of renewal and life that endures well beyond the fading lilies – can be for us a time of internal growth, in which we can increasingly become more like that which we receive.
Let us be ever more attentive to the voice of Him who calls for He knows us each by name. Indeed, he changed our names on the day of our baptism, washing away the old and making way for the new people we were to become. May we never forget that we are an Easter people, and “Alleluia” is our song.
Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
Acts 13: 14, 43-52
Psalm 100: 1-2, 3, 5
Revelation 7: 9, 14b-17
John 10: 27-30
Father James Rodriguez is the associate vocation director for the diocese and teaches at Cathedral Prep and Seminary, Elmhurst.