Message for 6th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Joseph Levine; May 17, 2020
Readings: Acts 8:5-8,14-17; Ps 66:1-7,16,20; 1 Pe 3:15-18; Jn 14:15-21
Even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not fear what they fear, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. I quoted not only the opening of today’s 2nd reading, but the passage that immediately precedes it in the 1st Letter of St. Peter. That preceding passage sets the stage for today’s reading and is particularly relevant to our present circumstances.
The world today is filled with fear, fear of disease, fear of suffering, fear of death. We must not be afraid of any of these things, but sanctifying the Lord Jesus Christ in our hearts, we must bravely follow him on the path of righteousness, through suffering and death, seeking true life, eternal life.
It is not a matter of ‘staying safe’ but of laying down our lives. He who seeks to save his life will lose it, while he who loses his life for my sake will save it. (Mt 16:25)
Unfortunately, we have been paralyzed by a powerful, but false moral argument. The argument runs like this: you might have COVID-19 and not know it; in your ignorance you might contaminate someone else, someone who is ‘vulnerable’; that person, being infected by COVID-19, might die; therefore you will have been responsible for his death; you would then be guilty of murder. Therefore, unless you are willing to be a murderer, you must stay home and stay safe. We are told that it is not just a matter of putting our own life at risk, then we might choose to go out, but that we are putting the lives of others at risk; therefore, unless we wish to be counted among the murderers, we must ‘stay safe’ and ‘stay home’.
The fallacy of the whole argument lies in three big ‘mights’. Unless you are in a known hotspot the first ‘might’ is what is called a remote possibility. We could even say that unless you are recklessly entering the territory of a ‘vulnerable’ person, the second ‘might’ also indicates a remote possibility. Even the third ‘might’ indicates something that is far from a certain conclusion.
Remote possibilities have little moral significance. Life is dangerous and we take risks every day, risks that have a remote possibility of leading to other people dying. Whenever you drive a car there is a remote possibility that, even if you are driving with care, you will be involved in a fatal crash, fatal to someone else, not yourself. Many people work at jobs where there is always a remote possibility of being involved in a fatal work accident, fatal to someone else, not yourself.
My point here is not to encourage reckless behavior, reasonable precautions are indeed necessary, but to counter the intense propaganda of fear to which we have all been made subject.
Obviously if we all stopped living then COVID-19 would be vanquished, but we can’t live in quarantine indefinitely. Now that in Wasco County the “reopening” has begun we can also question whether a “2nd wave” should merit the same sort of shutdown. At the outset it might have been reasonable to give the benefit of the doubt to the civil authorities, but as time goes on we will have to learn to break through the walls of fear and learn to live our lives more less “normally”, taking account of one more ‘risk factor’ that has become a part of human life.
Do not fear what they fear, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. That means we must not be afraid to act in true righteousness, even if the world in its ignorance calls it wickedness. We must not be afraid of men judging us as wicked, when Jesus Christ, the Holy and Righteous One, the Son of God, was accused of being possessed by a devil and was condemned to death for blasphemy and sedition.
Instead we must sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts. To sanctify Christ in our hearts we must call upon and invite into our hearts the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept. He is the sanctifier who teaches us to recognize, to know, and profess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (cf. 1 Cor 12:3)
In recent Sundays, during this time of pandemic and the shutdown of public worship, I have placed great emphasis on the need for public worship – it is truly essential – the truth and greatness of the Mass, the doctrine of the faith that comes to us from the Apostles through the sacred Tradition of the Church, and so also the visible, structured, institutional reality of the Church. I have not neglected to affirm that all of this visible, public, structured, historical, traditional reality of the Church serves, communicates, and guarantees the invisible interior reality of the life of grace, the real sharing in the very life of God, that sets us in relation to God through Jesus Christ, making us to be sons in the only begotten Son of God.
Consider the church building itself. It requires order, structure, solidity, and nobility, but all of this serves what takes place within, the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It also serves to house the tabernacle, the place of the abiding presence, real, true, and substantial, of the Body of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
Consider the tabernacle itself. This too requires, structure, order, solidity, and outward beauty because it must be a noble and secure place in which the Body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist can be kept for the adoration of the faithful, that his living presence might continue among us. The structure, order, solidity, and beauty of the tabernacle serves what is hidden
In the same way, we must take our place within the structure of the living temple, as living stones, offering spiritual sacrifices, through, with, and in Jesus Christ, our High Priest. Built into the structure of the temple, we turn to the interior where we must sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts.
That means we must recognize his presence within us through grace; we must honor him interiorly as Lord; we must attend to him; we must listen to him; we must obey him; we must let him rule our life.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us that the world does not see him, because it does not believe in him, but for us, we will see him through the eyes of faith. Through the eyes of faith we can see him present beneath the mere appearances of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist. He is the one we receive in holy communion. He is the Bread of life, the living one; because he lives we will live with the life of grace.
Elsewhere he said: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. (Jn 6:57) The one we receive in holy cmmunion is the Lord whom we must sanctify in our hearts.
We must not fear what the world fears; we must not let our hearts be disturbed or afraid. While there are many duties we must attend to in this world, duties of love, we must not let these cares preoccupy us. Rather, we must cast all of our care on the one who cares for us. We must sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts, putting all of our trust in him. “Jesus, I trust in you.”
If we do this, the world will rebuke us, will malign us, will make fun of us, will speak badly of us, because we do not care for the things they deem important. We must not let this distract us from what is most truly important: sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts.
Then we will be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us, with the gentleness and reverence of a clear conscience.
The reason we must give contains two aspects. First, we must profess the truth about Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, who died for our sins and rose again to give us the life of grace, the truth about the way of life in Jesus Christ and his Church, and the truth of his promise of eternal life and the resurrection of the dead. Second, this reason must not only be an external handing on of the Tradition that we have received, but must be supported by the witness of our life and our own intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ, our Savior, whom we have been given to receive in holy communion, whom we have sanctified in our hearts. We must not only bear witness to the one about whom we have heard, but we must bear witness to the one we have come to know as the Lord of our life.
Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.