• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

5th Sunday of Easter (A)

"I am the Way and the Truth and the Life."

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 98(97):1-2 — “O sing a new song to the Lord, for He has worked wonders; in the sight of the nations He has shown His deliverance, alleluia.”

First Reading: Acts 6:1-7 — “The chose seven men filled with the Spirit.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19 — “Lord, let Your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in You.”

Second Reading: 1 Pet 2:4-9 — “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood.”

Alleluia: Jn 14:6 — “Alleluia, alleluia. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, says the Lord; no one comes to the Father except through Me. Alleluia, alleluia.”

Gospel: Jn 14:1-12 — “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”

Communion Antiphon: Jn 15:1, 5: — “I am the true vine and you are the branches, says the Lord. Whoever remains in Me, and I in him, bears fruit in plenty, alleluia.”

Happy Mothers’ Day! I hope it is a good one for all of our Moms, Grand-Moms, and Great-Grand Moms … Happy Mothers’ Day to all of our God-Moms, Step-Moms, and Moms-to-Be. Happy Mothers’ Day to all those who watch out for us and lovingly care for us as if they were our Mom. And maybe we’re all grown up and don’t have to rely on our Moms as much as we used to, but remember we are who we are and we are what we are in part because we had a Mom taking care of us when we were little. And as I said in my Pastor’s column this week, if you still have your Moms with you … let them know how much you love them this weekend!

In these days and weeks following Easter, we visit with the early Christians … our forebears. We have heard stories of how no one lacked for anything ... of a farmer who sold his farm and gave all the proceeds to the Apostles ... of how the walls of their place of worship shook from the intensity of their prayers. Stories like these have caused some to refer to these days as the “honeymoon” time of the early church.

I hope that we hear these stories of the early Church and we are filled with admiration. But admiration has to take wings and become imitation. For that to happen ... to move from admiration to imitation ... we need to ask ourselves how we deal with the needs of others. We need to ask, for example, are there some people who are neglected because of language barriers or for some other reason? This was the issue faced in the early church that we just heard about.

Our parents and grandparents faced much the same issue as the early Christians. There were countless immigrants coming to our shores. Many of them were Catholics who didn’t speak English. They too, like the Greek-speaking widows of the First Reading, felt left out. In some cases ... in some places, the people who were already living there felt uncomfortable with them. One solution was to build separate places of worship. The result was a lot of brick and mortar which in some cases ... sad to admit ... was motivated more with desire to get rid of them than to welcome them. Another downside of this was that most resources were devoted to maintenance and little to mission. Now, many of those churches stand empty. Here in the Diocese we’ve merged churches and some are empty ... in places near where my grandmother lived, there were 15 or 20 churches in a little town where maybe only a couple thousand people lived. There was the German church, the Irish church, the Polish church, the Italian church, the Lithuanian church, the Hungarian church, etc. and today there might be in some cases only a handful of people who attend them, but back in the day, God help you if you crossed the threshold of the “wrong” church. Maybe if you grew up in Philadelphia, you experienced something similar to that. Today, in the Diocese of Allentown where those towns I describe are, they merged many of them and all of that work represented by all of those churches is for naught ... they’ve been merged and many of them stand empty.

As was talked about in the Second Reading, the solution is discussed. We need to build a living church, not merely one of bricks and mortar. There is such an abundance of needs today that it is easy to overlook them or be overwhelmed to the point of feeling helpless … maybe even hopeless. The COVID-19 pandemic has put an entirely new twist on problems, issues, and concerns as well. Church leaders have written much on the problems that so many of our human family face, and urge ways to respond. Unfortunately, many people dismiss their words as “mere politics.” And then there are some people who have sought to learn firsthand for themselves the living conditions of others. They have participated in various immersion, mission, service programs, parish twinning and so on. Almost without exception, they return enriched, enthused, enlivened by the experience. They have a new outlook and new energy that seeks to work toward a solution. Of course, the needs of the human family are not confined to one area or continent or population. They are universal. In addition, what happens in one location has an impact on other areas. We cannot be indifferent … thinking that the sad stories of others don’t affect you and me, because they do. We live in an ever-shrinking world.

There is no shortage of needs or of ways to address them. We look at the early church and regard their enthusiastic, creative response as resulting during those honeymoon days. Our faith communities come alive when every member has a ministry, something that is not only possible ... but desirable ... and probably most of all needed. If such is the case, then I think there will be so much enthusiasm, so much helping others that it will be a second honeymoon. I think that perhaps many of us have heard the Boystown slogan, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” The same dynamic kicks in when we help others. How do you suppose Pastors would feel in such faith communities? It would require more time than we have to describe the high on which they would be floating.

So for a moment, let’s imagine that the early Christians look in on our worship as we did theirs. What do you think they would notice and comment on? (And for the sake of this illustration, I'm thinking about our pre-COVID world.) They might remark on how many actively participate in various roles. For example, there are greeters, a cross bearer and altar servers, a lector, Eucharistic ministers, the priest, maybe a deacon, at most Masses ... the choir ... ushers and bulletin distributors, and art and environment committee to mention some.

They would probably report on how good it is to see so many helping to make the worship meaningful and alive. Today’s church walls are probably sturdier than in the time of our forebears so they don’t shake but they do reverberate. The abundance and diversity in our worship is a pattern of all the ministries that respond to the needs of others. Think, for example, how many people it requires to have an effective religious formation for our youth, be they elementary age or high schoolers. The same is true of a whole gamut of ministries. There is something for everyone and there is a need for everyone to take some part or ownership in a ministry.

We so miss the call of what it means to be Christians if we only think that being a Catholic ... being a Christian is primarily believing in and following a collection of dogmas and prohibitions ... rules and regulations ... that we have to follow. We are supposed to be Jesus for one another by what we say and what we do and who we are. In the Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples that, if they know Him, they also know the Father. So think about it. ... Can we stretch that idea? Might it be also true that if someone knows me and I call myself Catholic or if I call myself a Christian, then if they know me or if they know you ... shouldn’t they know Jesus ... know Him by what we say ... know Him by what we do ... know Him by how we act ... and know Him by how we treat others around us?

We celebrate the liturgy in a community ... knowing that our prayer will help us to hear God’s call to respond to our brothers and sisters. We know that we receive strength to be Christ for others as we share in the meal he gives us. We as Catholic Christians receive strength from Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. We become Christ by receiving Him in the Eucharist. Our challenge today ... our challenge this week ... our challenge always ... is to truly be Jesus in what we say ... in what we do ... and in how we act for those we meet.

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