Message for the 5th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Joseph Levine; May 10, 2020
Readings: Acts 6:1-7; Ps 331-2,4-5,19-19; 1 Pe 2:4-9; Jn 14:1-12
The Catholic religion, the religion of Jesus Christ, is very much a flesh and blood religion, a religion of physical presence and even physical contact through the sacraments. Virtual connection and virtual presence are not substitutes for the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
For this reason, the pandemic, or at least the ‘social distancing’ and ‘lock-down’ measures that have been the standard response to the pandemic, have struck at the very core of the Catholic religion.
Since Jesus Christ reveals to us what it truly means to be human, the enforced isolation is inhuman, especially the longer it is prolonged.
Still, few people seem to think what I stated about the Catholic religion really is true. Sure, if you happen to be Catholic and you like all that ceremonial stuff that is fine, but it is not really necessary so long as you have your personal relationship to Jesus. That personal relationship to Jesus, however, ends up being pretty much whatever the person wants it to be.
So let me return to some words I quoted last Sunday. Jesus said to the Apostles, after the resurrection: As the Father sends me, so I send you. (Jn 20:21) That means that the Apostles extend the mission of Jesus Christ; like Jesus and through Jesus, they too act as mediators. So also Jesus said to them, Whoever receives you, receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. (Mt 10:40)
Our personal and intimate relationship with Jesus is mediated by the apostolic authority and by the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, founded on that authority. This guarantees our ability to follow Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life and so behold the face of the Father.
We see the apostolic authority at work in today’s 1st reading. The Twelve are the ones who call the community together, set forth their decision, and order the life of the community. That authority continues in the Church through the Pope and the Bishops.
Jesus and the Church are inseparable; more inseparable than Bridegroom and Bride; indeed, their inseparability is ultimate foundation for the indissolubility of the marriage union. We cannot have Jesus without his Church.
Today’s 2nd reading gives us another perspective on the reality of the Church in relation to Jesus Christ. Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ himself is the ‘cornerstone’ of this edifice, through whom everything holds together. We do not build the temple, rather we let ourselves be built into the temple. Jesus Christ is not only the cornerstone, he is also the builder. Those who share in the apostolic authority are, to use an expression of St. Paul, “God’s coworkers”. (1 Cor 3:9)
A spiritual house does not mean an invisible house it means a visible temple, in this case a living temple composed of human beings. St. Paul tells us in various places what it means to offer spiritual sacrifices.
There is the fundamental interior attitude: Give thanks always and in everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. (Eph 5:20)
Gratitude, however, is not purely interior, but shows itself outwardly in word and deed. So St. Paul also writes: Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:17)
Finally, the offering must be the worshipper himself, his whole life lived in the body. So St. Paul writes, I urge you brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your reasonable worship. (Rm 12:1)
This self-offering includes the offering even of suffering and affliction, as St. Paul shows by his own example: I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church. (Col 1:24)
In the 5th century, St. Peter Chrysologus wrote in this regard: “How marvelous is the priesthood of the Christian, for he is both the victim that is offered on his own behalf, and the priest who makes the offering. He does not need to go beyond himself to seek what he is to immolate to God: with himself and in himself he brings the sacrifice he is to offer God for himself. The victim remains and the priest remains, always one and the same. Immolated, the victim still lives: the priest who immolates cannot kill. Truly it is an amazing sacrifice in which a body is offered without being slain and blood is offered without being shed. … this sacrifice follows the pattern of Christ’s sacrifice by which he gave his body as a living immolation for the life of the world. He really made his body a living sacrifice, because, though slain, he continues to live.” (Sermo 108, Cited in Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, Tuesday of the 4th week of Easter)
The offering of spiritual sacrifices is not a private, individual affair; the Christian is able to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God only in the measure that he is united to Jesus Christ, the cornerstone and in conformity with Jesus’ own sacrifice, offered always anew in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
This cornerstone was rejected by the high priests of ancient Judaism and has been rejected anew in our own time by the architects of the New World Order. They will stumble and they will fall, because there is no other cornerstone, there is no other building. Anything else can end only in ruin.
Integration in the temple, held together by the cornerstone, Jesus Christ, requires subordination to the apostolic authority, which makes possible participation in and conformity to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, offered in the Mass, and it also requires taking one’s place among all the other ‘living stones’ that belong to the structure of the temple. Our rough edges need to be polished smooth so that we fit well into the structure.
When Jesus says, Love one another as I have loved you, he is not talking about some vague sentiment. This love is impossible except we live in the Church beneath those in authority, even if they be unworthy of their office, and together with our brothers and sisters in Christ, whom we do not choose, whom we must accept, even when they annoy us, even when they sin, even when they wound the Church and Christ.
We must also love those ‘outside’ but there is an order: first love among brothers and sisters in Christ, then love for those we would have as our brothers and sisters, were they only willing.
Love for those inside the Church a big problem for us. Very easily what we see are human sinners, like ourselves actually.
Love for the Church herself, especially in her ‘institutional appearance’, is an even bigger problem. Very easily the Church appears as just a human institution with another impersonal bureaucracy. Worse, the business world and even the government can seem much more capable and competent than Church bureaucracy. Would that this were only because the Church, with her mind fixed in spiritual matters, was not at home in worldly affairs. Alas, it is often because of an appalling mixture of incompetence, stupidity, and malice that would never be tolerated in business nor even in government.
Last Sunday I mentioned the lack of vigilance on the part of bishops that has led to widespread heresy, the modernist heresy in particular. That would be comparable, for example, if we think back on the days of the ‘Cold War’, to the American government had it allowed Soviet agents to infiltrate every aspect of American institutions.
Yet, we must love the Church, the Bride of Christ, even more than we love our country. At the same time the Church never was, is not, and never will be a ‘democracy’. She is truly hierarchical in her structure. Authority comes from Christ through the Apostles. She does not receive light from the world; rather, she receives her light from Christ and her mission is to transmit that light to the world.
We must not complain and murmur against the authorities established by Christ, the way the people of Israel complained and murmured against the authority of Moses. We must not organize political ‘lobbies’ to advance our ‘agendas’ after the example of democratic politics.
The basic rule is that if you have a problem with a priest, look to the Bishop; if you have a problem with the Bishop, look to the Pope; if you have a problem with the Pope, the only recourse left is to God. In any case, you should be having recourse to God every step of the way, chiefly by means of prayer and penance, seeking in the first place to correct your own life.
That is it: our every action in the Church, as members of the Church, as ‘living stones’, must proceed from our own dedicated pursuit of holiness, which requires of us a spirit of repentance, conversion, and amendment of life, so as to be integrated into the structure of the temple, so as to offer our spiritual sacrifices, through, with, and in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, offered at every Mass.
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.