BELIEVING, BELONGING, & BEHAVING!
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflections / Sunday Worship Guide
2nd Sunday of Easter(B)
April 19, 2009
Today is called Easter octave, the “eighth day” after Easter Sunday of the Lord’s Resurrection. When the Church celebrates, she does so with passion and panache. And so the two greatest solemnities of the Church calendar, Easter and Christmas, both have “octaves,” which means both Easter and Christmas really last for a whole week and a day. Let’s put it thus simply … every day from Easter Sunday to today, was and is, Easter day!
We have come full circle today. But even then, we have not completed the cycle. We do not put a “finis” to what we do in Church, for what we remember, is what we also celebrate, and what we remember and celebrate is what we believe in. And what we believe in, is still the object of our strivings, the focus of our longings, and the eventual fulfillment of our hope.
But there are two interlocking aspects of the hope that is in us – the “already,” that is, what has taken place, what has happened, what has become history. This is what we remember. So we remember Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. But the other aspect is the “not yet” – the ongoing promise, the ongoing call, the glorious future that awaits us. The conviction of this glorious future that awaits us, the possession of the already of this glorious destiny unfolding in our lives, is what we gather together for to celebrate. But the two aspects – the already and the not yet - are glued together by our abiding faith that transcends the past, the present, and the future. What we remember and celebrate is what we believe!
But let us allow the readings of the day to sink in …
Two words stand out in the first reading (Acts 4:32-35): believing and belonging. We are told that “the community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own.” The witnesses to the resurrection of the Lord, those who “saw and believed,” or “heard and believed” for “faith comes from hearing,” (Rom 10:14), were people who believed – and belonged!
In what way did they show believing and belonging, you might ask? First, they gathered to celebrate and reflect on the WORD – the word of truth that they heard from the Risen One. Second, they went forth to bring WELFARE to the needy … “there was no needy person among them.” Third, they all became WITNESSES … “with great power the apostles bore witness.” Fourth, presumably, they all worked to provide WELCOME to everyone, for they were “of one heart and mind.”
But there was more … Our response (Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24) to the first reading gives us a clue to that more. For belongingness was not the end-all and be-all of the Christian dispensation. Christianity is not a mere call to a shallow and superficial egalite et fraternite. It was a call to the more, a call to the ultimate transcendence of more than just earthly liberte. It was, and is, and remains, a call to absolute union with Him who has “called us from darkness into His own marvelous light.” It is a call to WORSHIP – “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love is everlasting!”
WORD, WELCOME, WELFARE, WITNESS, WORSHIP … these are aspects of our belonging and believing. These are what we, as Christians, are called to live day-in and day-out, whether we “hard pressed and falling,” whether or not we are “stones that builders reject.” Through thick and thin, we “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his love is everlasting.”
But there is yet more … The second reading (1 Jn 5:1-6) calls believers to task. Believing is not a mere acquiescence to a material truth. It calls us to do more. It beckons all believers to a life-changing mode, for “everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God.” And check it out … the passage connects believing with behaving in a particular manner: “for the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments.”
Believing and behaving … This is what the Risen Lord told his disciples: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you … Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Merely believing is definitely not enough. It calls to a special mode of behaving – a life-changing mode of behaving. Thomas the doubter, was on the whole, a believer. But for a temporary while, he did not “belong.” He was absent when the Risen Lord showed himself the first time. He missed out for a while. And missing out meant he was an erstwhile doubter. He doubted, but he did not disbelieve! He doubted, but he kept on the belonging mode. He came back to rejoin the rest of the disciples. And when the Lord indeed showed himself once again, he didn’t care anymore for proofs. He went right on to believing and belonging: “My Lord and my God,” was all he could utter … five words that showed the depth of his original believing and belonging, and corresponding behaving.
Our daily life poses so many reasons for us to doubt so many things. We doubt the sincerity of politicians and so-called public servants – and rightly so, more often than not. We doubt our own capacity at times, to pull ourselves from our own bootstraps and chart a better destiny for our nation and people. In the midst of so much undeserved suffering, even righteous and just people can crumble under pressure and question God, as Jesus himself did on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This is my 27th year as a priest. No spring chicken anymore, gone are the days when idealistic dreams pervaded my days. I have become more sedate, at times a little more cynical, and less gung-ho about certain things I used to rant and rave about with passion and panache. But this does not mean I have given up in my believing and belonging. At some point, given the so many trials and challenges, one either does a Thomas, or one crumbles and does a Judas. Peter and Thomas and Judas had one thing in common. They all crumbled under pressure. But one fell in a heap and got out in the dark of night, never to belong anymore, never to be heard of and heard from anymore. But both Peter and Thomas went on belonging. Peter, in his old age, even did a marathon race to and from the empty tomb. No match for the young and sprightly John, Peter, nevertheless, ran, not for dear life, but for dear faith. He believed – and shored up his brothers’ faith and reined them in and exhorted them to keep on belonging.
Peter and Thomas – along with so many others – were tried and tested to the core. And they were found true, for they did not crumble into a heap of stale and static unbelief. They kept on their life-changing trajectory, ever-willing and ever-ready to change when challenged; to believe when confronted; and to answer when called. Wolfhart Pannenberg could not have put it better: "The evidence for Jesus' resurrection is so strong that nobody would question it except for two things: First, it is a very unusual event. And second, if you believe it happened, you have to change the way you live."
Believing, belonging – and CHANGING. This is what being, and continuing to be a Christian, is all about.
National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians
Paranaque City, Metro Manila, Philippines
April 17, 2009