April 18, 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday of Easter, April 19, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

He stood in their midst and said to them,
"Peace be with you." (Luke 24: 36)
(Click here for today’s readings)

Isn’t this the Easter season? Isn’t Lent over? Why, then, is there so much talk of sin and repentance in today’s readings? In Acts we are told, “Repent, and be converted.” St. John says in his Letter: “I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin.” And Jesus mentions “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

The point of mentioning these things at Easter time is to show that forgiveness is possible thanks precisely to the Risen Christ. St. John calls Jesus our “Advocate” and adds, “He is expiation for our sins.” St. Peter promises that the sins even of those who crucified Jesus could be wiped away. Jesus himself speaks of forgiveness of sins being preached in his name. In other words, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is the source of our salvation. That is what we believe.

Personal belief is a good thing. Is it enough? Not always. Jesus tells the disciples: “You are witnesses of these things.” Peter proclaims: “Of this (i.e. of the resurrection) we are witnesses.”

When we think of “witnesses” we usually think of a court of law. Witnesses are called to testify before a judge, or a jury, about what they know.

Eye witnesses and ear witnesses, also called “Percipient witnesses” are those who testify about what they have seen or heard or known through any of their senses. That would be the case of the Apostles and those disciples and evangelists who knew Jesus personally. In fact, St. John’s First Letter begins as follows: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands... we proclaim now to you.” Even among such witnesses, however, as we see in the Gospels of Matthew and John, perceptions and recollections can be very different.

The next category of witnesses, not always admitted at a trial, are the “hearsay witnesses.” These would be those who heard the preaching of the first group of witnesses and committed them to writing. St. Luke begins his Gospel in this way: “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence.” To this day, our faith is based on this “hearsay” evidence.

The only way this can be justified, however, is to think of those witnesses also as “expert witnesses.” In our world, “expert” means having specialized knowledge, usually of a scientific, medical or psychological kind. But the root word underlying the notion of expert is “experience.” And in fact, over the centuries, the best “witnesses” to Christ have been those who have truly experienced Christ and have been able to translate that experience into their way of life. Think of any of the saints of any time. Think of your favorite saints. They are saints because they witnessed to Christ, sometimes even to the point of shedding their blood. In fact, the Greek word, “martyr” originally meant “witness,” before it took on the meaning it has today.

Then there is the reluctant witness. I have a funny feeling that this is the largest category today. Maybe it always has been. We live in a multicultural society, in which any kind of proselytizing is frowned on. We all know how contentious religious issues can be. So we tend to prefer a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach.

But Christian life can sometimes issue a subpoena. The reluctant witness can be compelled to testify. We all hope that won’t happen, of course, but we need to be prepared, just in case.

The way to prepare is to become an “expert” witness, the kind mentioned above. Experience the Risen Lord in as many ways as possible: whether through prayer, or Scripture, or service — whatever best draws you to him and draws him into your life. Then, possibly without even realizing it, you just might become the ideal witness, the witness that is perfectly credible.

1 comment :

Geno said...

As usual, Fr. Butler captures attention by questioning some of the points in the texts and the season we are celebrating. He then proceeds to provide the context, often with solid scriptural references. He also has the knack of scattering recognizable, everyday sayings or occurrences that make us nod our heads and sweep us into familiarity and trusting what he has to say. He has been a true companion in his homilies.