An Identifiable People

5th Sunday of Easter (A) – May 10, 2020

St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS

Acts 6:1-7; Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 18-19; 1 Peter 2:4-9; John 14:1-12

It has been a strange several weeks, a challenging several weeks—and it doesn’t look like things are going to look or feel “normal” anytime soon. I do hope that these weeks have been a time that have helped you to wake-up, to begin to see all of life in a new way. The worst thing you could do, I think, is to sit around praying that things will go back to the way they were. And you may say, “Well, maybe not everything will go back to normal, but at least being able to go to mass and the store without fearing for my life.” And while I understand that…the devious side of me thinks, “Well, maybe even that isn’t a good thing.”

I was talking to a friend recently and he mentioned how being comfortable makes it really difficult to want to change anything; how there are a lot of things he wants to do and could do, a lot of opportunities open to him…but life is comfortable right now, and so it is difficult to want to change that. And I think we can relate to that. We like the comfort of predictability and not fearing for our life. We like being able to wake up, go to work, take kids to school, go to the store, go to mass, and on and on, and just lead a nice comfortable life.

But this crisis has exposed, in a lot of ways, how our “comfortable life” isn’t necessarily a good thing. We may be comfortable, but others are not. For instance, this crisis has exposed the great inequality in this country. For example there is an “unequal toll of COVID-19 on the poor, the underrepresented minorities, the marginalized, the incarcerated, the indigenous peoples.” For example, “in Chicago, 30% of the population is African American, but they account for 68% of the COVID-19 deaths” (Berwick, “Choices for the ‘New Normal’,” JAMA).

But, this has also exposed how willing we are to be in solidarity with others! We are applauding healthcare workers, realizing the importance of jobs in foodservice, farmers, meat packing, teachers and schools—I saw one post where a mom said, “Teachers are amazing. Give me a list with literally anything on it and I will make sure you have it for your classroom next year.” All of a sudden, we are asking neighbors what we can do to help them, taking care of the elderly and the sick. All of a sudden, this crisis has brought our a side of us that many of us didn’t think we had.

Yeah, life may not be as “comfortable” or “normal,” a lot of people are suffering, losing jobs…but again, maybe there is something greater at work.

Here in this parish, as Catholics, we have struggled a lot with public Masses being suspended. Again, the “comfortable” and “normal” was gone. Immediately everyone began asking, “When will everything go back to normal?” People began discussing how to keep everything going until things “went back to normal.” But again, what if “comfortable” and “normal” isn’t what we want.

In the midst of all of this, talking about how to open churches and schools and adoration and everything again, one of my friends asked this: “What if, instead of a virus, this was a church-building-eating bug? It just destroyed all church buildings and schools.” His point was, “What if all the building were just gone? What if we couldn’t have all of these huge gatherings? Would the Catholic Church fail? Would we all be doomed?”

As we go through this Easter season, we constantly read from the Acts of the Apostles. We read about how the Way of following Jesus from Nazareth exploded throughout the world. Three thousand people baptized in one day, families and cities converted, people risking their lives to follow Jesus, people being killed for following Jesus. Where were their buildings? I didn’t read about the Catholic schools in the Acts of the Apostles, maybe I missed something. They had no buildings, they didn’t have big churches, they weren’t worried about dying from a random virus but about dying because they followed Jesus. Talk about unpredictable, uncomfortable, and not normal.

How did the Way spread? How did people follow Jesus?

It’s because people saw a people who lived a life that they wanted. In the face of the horrors of the world, people started to encounter this new group of people. As St. Peter says in the 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” (1 Peter 2:9). We are a chosen race, priesthood, nation, people, that God calls his own, called out of darkness. In other words, we are an identifiable people. People can see us! People knew who the Christians were. They were easy to identify. Notice again, in the Acts of the Apostles, people didn’t see their buildings and their schools…they saw a people, a group, a community—a people that lived life in a different way. Families lived the faith intensely in their home. Friends gathered in homes to share the faith. People loved one another.

This time is the perfect time for evangelization. And we don’t preach a prosperity Gospel where if you follow Jesus you will get out of this crisis alive and financially stable. Nope. We preach the Way of Jesus Christ. Jesus says clearly, “I am the way.” The way to what? Fulfillment, life, and peace. What is the way? The way of love, the way of self-emptying love, total gift of yourself, even to death. We don’t preach a prosperity Gospel, but a Gospel of love—we preach the cross. And the cross seems like foolishness and not like a good idea. But if we say “Amen” to communion, we are saying “Amen” to that. The Truth of Jesus, the Life of Jesus, the Way of Jesus—this is a way that is crazy joyful. And this joy fills our hearts, and can be seen by others. Others can identify us as the people who follow that “Way.” They see how we face these challenges, and face them with a hope and a joy that doesn’t make sense.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just too idealistic. But to me, it seems like this time of being thrown out of the comfortable and normal has given us a chance to go back to the origin, go back to the essentials, and embrace the Way that Christ gave us. Not a life of comfort, but one that forces us to beg each day for the Holy Spirit’s help and guidance.

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