This is a homily I prepared in case the bishop or other deacon did not have one for today. With so many services, we had a few moments of confusion and disarray, but all the clergy were ready with their parts regardless. What a weekend! Anyway, here’s what I put together yesterday when it appeared that I might have to preach.
Acts: 10:34a, 37—43; 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; John 20:1-9
What is the most absurd claim that we as Catholics believe? I mean, we believe in some pretty outlandish stuff: we believe that the water of baptism removes the stain of sin, that saints in heaven intercede on our behalf, that a priest consecrates bread and wine and they become the body and blood of Christ. These and so many of our other beliefs sound preposterous to people of today’s secular, materialistic mindset.
When I was making my way back to the faith, these individual claims sounded just that to me: absurd, preposterous. But the most preposterous of all was this: that God became man, was crucified, and rose from the dead. All of the other stuff was miniscule compared to this. Sure, I could accept that God existed, set everything in motion, and had some vague presence in the universe today. I could accept that a man name Jesus walked the earth and taught a new way of living. None of those claims is difficult. But our creed doesn’t allow us to slip by this central tenet of our faith: God became man through the natural birth from a woman, was condemned and crucified, and on the third day after he was buried, cold and in the ground, he rose from the grave and was seen by those who knew and had followed him.
The readings from Acts and the gospel today are all about witness: about reporting what has been seen and experienced. In Acts, Peter recounts Jesus’ deeds and the common knowledge everyone had of him: he came doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, those who were sick, blind, and dying. And everyone knew he had been put to death. Then he claims that this man, Jesus, was raised and appeared to them. And this Jesus sent them as witnesses to preach the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead. In early Acts, this witness of Peter and the other Apostles leads to thousands of conversions, even among the Pharisees and Sanhedrin, Jesus’ staunchest enemies.
In the Gospel of John, Mary of Magdala runs and informs Peter and another apostle that the tomb is empty. Peter and the apostle run to find an empty grave. This empty grave is the most compelling proof. Not everyone saw Jesus after death, though St. Paul says elsewhere that he appeared to at least 500 people at one time. But what no one could dispute was that Jesus’ body was nowhere to be found and that these apostles of Jesus were now doing all the same signs that he did: healing the sick, raising the dead, restoring those who were disabled.
The witness of the Apostles we have from the first 30 to 50 years of the Church. What we don’t have are a lot of contrary voices disputing their claims. I could go through some of that history for you, but I think most of you would find it boring and academic. But it’s easy for us to look back in hindsight and turn our noses up at these historical claims that scripture makes. We could look at the Church now and think, “Well, of course, these apostles were simply looking for power and wealth.” But what did the apostles really gain by their witness? What they gained was persecution, exile, and many of them, death. All but one of them, our patron St. John the Evangelist, were martyred for their faith. That doesn’t sound like a big motivation to me. Why would a bunch of fisherman, tax collectors, and other notorious outcasts put themselves at odds with other Jews and with Roman authorities at the risk of death and ostracism? How could anyone do such a thing for such a preposterous, such an absurd story?
There’s really only one plausible explanation: they believed what they saw with their own eyes. They were witnesses to the truth. It changed them, and they could not go back to how they lived before. No one could believe such things unless they were true.
Stranger than fiction but true
Contrary to common sense but true
Absolutely beyond our understanding but true
That’s what we come to celebrate today: something so outrageous that no one would ever have believed it, taught it, lived and died for it, unless it were absolutely true. That is the truth to which they are witness: something so mysterious, profound, and beyond belief that it has shaken the world to the core. It has torn the veil in the temple between us and God. It has wrenched human destiny out of the grip of Satan and repaired the rift we had with our Creator. After something like that, believing in the mystery of the Eucharist is a piece of cake.
What do we do with this fantastic, this audacious truth? What do we do with this incredible, life-transforming faith? We do what the apostles did. We become witnesses for it—martyrs for it. The word martyr actually means witness, so our witness is a martyrdom of a type, albeit not necessarily the kind of radical martyrdom that requires our death. St. Paul tells us what we are to do in his letter to the Corinthians. Remove the leaven of malice and wickedness, become unleavened. Shed the attitudes and attachments of this temporary life, and be unleavened bread for others. When we share in this Eucharistic mystery, we become this bread of life. We become the Body of Christ. We can then take our witness out into the world and feed it what it is lacking. Share your faith daily in your actions and sometimes even your words. Live your faith and show the world the joy of being a Christian.
Our preposterous faith
Our beautiful faith
Our Catholic faith