Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 25th 2021
This week I had to do a burial service at Glen Abbey. when I got to the chapel they had the man who died laid out in the open casket, and there was a little bundle on top of the casket. it turns out that it was the remains of his two twins that had died at childbirth. I didn’t understand what was happening at first, but later at the gravesite, I saw the twins’ memorial plaque, dated 1957, so I asked the funeral director what was going on, and she told me that the father, the man that had just died, it was his desire that his twins be with him in the casket when he was buried. so the son, who knew the father’s desire and wanted to honor it, made the arrangements for the twins to be exhumed and put into the casket with him. I know it seems a little strange, but It also made me kind of emotional, thinking about how this father loved his children so much, and had missed his children ever since their birth and death, and wanted his children to be with him.
In the same way our heavenly father loves us and wants us to be with him in Heaven for all eternity. In the second reading today John tells us: “see what love the father has bestowed on us, that we may be called the children of God… He also says: we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” And that’s why the God the father sent his Son to make the arrangements to save us, to forgive us our sins, and set us on the right path to Heaven.
St. Paul tells us in Romans: if we are buried with Christ through a likeness to his death, then we shall also rise with him to eternal life.” Just like those twins were united in death and burial with their father, so through baptism we are buried with Christ so as to rise with him to New Life with our Heavenly Father.
In the First Reading, Peter said to the people: there is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved. That’s no less true today than it was two thousand years ago. Our Catholic Church continues to profess Jesus Christ as the one savior of the world. With due respect to all other religions, we believe Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, who became man and by his teaching, passion, death and burial, and Resurrection, he opens for us the door to eternal life, for us to be with our Heavenly Father.
Following the mandate of Jesus himself, we proclaim baptism as the means of salvation. Those who are not baptized, or in other religions: we don’t know what happens to them, we leave that judgment to God: if they will be saved or not – we don’t know. All we know is that our faith is in Jesus Christ. So if you, or someone you know, is not baptized, whether children, youth or adults, we encourage you to invite them to come to our Church, to believe in Jesus Christ and to be baptized, and to receive the Eucharist, because he is the one savior of the world; there is no other name by which we are to be saved.
That’s also why we are planning to put in the new baptismal font: to remind us of our new life which began at baptism and is the means of our salvation.
Now having said that, as Catholics we also believe that we live in the real world, which is imperfect. for whatever reason some people may not have heard the gospel preached or at least in the way they can understand it, or maybe the actions of Christians: Popes, Bishops, priests, lay people, maybe their words, or actions, or the attitudes of some Christians turn people away from believing in Jesus. so for that God will have to be the judge. we don’t know what will happen to them, or to those Christians whose bad example turns people away from Jesus and his church.
In addition: because we live in the material world but are spiritual people, we have to deal with the real world we live in and that’s part of the meaning of our sacraments: we believe in the sacraments as outward physical signs which give us the inner spiritual grace of God. the Eucharist we believe is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. a simple piece of bread and a cup of wine which, when the Holy Spirit comes upon them during the Mass when the priest says the words of consecration, they truly become the Body and blood of Christ. But even when receiving the Eucharist, we are still subject to the material effects of this world and that’s why, when we give Communion, we use the precautions in this pandemic era: we have to wear our masks, etc. Because it’s still a material element and we don’t want the sacred species of the Body of Christ to be the means by which the disease is spread, nor people spreading the disease when they come to Communion, through their breath.
So we remind you when you come to communion to put your hand out, one hand flat under the shield, to minimize the possibility of touching the priests’ or Minister’s hands, step aside, lower your mask, communicate and put your mask back on. and then before you leave the church use the hand sanitizer to keep your hands clean. All these are the sanitation principles we follow to respect the material world we live in but our reason for gathering is because we believe in Jesus and his Real Presence in the Eucharist. And through the spiritual life he offers us we’ll continue to be protected from the spiritual viruses of sin, evil and temptation, and from eternal death.
Similarly some people say they don’t want to get the vaccine because they don’t believe in it and that God will protect them. But God is the one who gave us medicine. He gave us science and medicine to find remedies to these diseases and problems that we have.
it’s like the story of the man stranded on the deserted island. he said: “God, save me”. then a boat came along and then a helicopter and then a raft. But each time the man says, “no, thank you: God’s going to save me.” but then he died, thinking God had abandoned him, because he wouldn’t take the means of salvation that God had offered him.
In the first reading Peter says: the stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone. Jesus Christ revealed himself as truly the son of God, who died and rose again. That’s how he is the cornerstone of our faith and our church. Similarly, God has given us a number of vaccines that are shown to be effective and reasonably safe. this is the cornerstone of our returning to “normal”, to the things we like to do and that we need to do. But some people are still afraid to take the vaccine.
In the gospel Jesus says I am the Good Shepherd. A Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. So shepherds, or pastors, like myself, all priests: we are called to lay down our lives for our sheep, to take care of them and minister to them. When we are asked about going to visit someone in the homes or in the hospital: that’s a calculated risk we take. As a priest I am not afraid of contracting the virus or even dying, especially if I do it ministering to others: that would be a blessing to me, if I was to die while ministering to others. But that doesn’t mean I have to be foolish about it. I still use the precautions that the medical experts are telling us, and why I require it here in our church, the flock entrusted to my care: wearing the mask, washing her hands, keeping the distance. We follow and respect the science of the material world, while in our hearts, our motivation is to connect with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and to offer ourselves to God and to others. We take the precautions so that we don’t just minister to one person and get the virus and die, but rather that we live and can keep ministering to many.
Since Jesus is the Good Shepherd, he was ready to lay down his life for us, but only when the time was right; that is, as it says in the Gospel of John: ” when the hour had arrived.” So, we don’t have to be foolish about the virus and disregard the science, not should we be afraid to take the vaccine: that’s the gift God is giving us to protect us.
So in conclusion, as Catholics we believe in the body and the spirit. We believe in faith and reason. We believe in our spiritual life and in respecting Medical science.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now. what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” By respecting the spiritual life and the material life, caring for ourselves and others both physically and spiritually, we prepare for the final revelation of who we are in God’s eyes, and to be with our heavenly father for eternity.
Fr. Brian Hayes