Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of April 26, 2009
Third Easter Sunday
(1st reading: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; Psalm 4; 2nd reading: 1 Jn 2:1-5; Gospel: Lk 24:35-48
I have always said, and today we have further confirmation, that those to whom the Lord gives the light of understanding of His words, know that the passages of scriptures suggested at feast days, on weekdays, but especially on Sundays, have a chronological and logic chain that does not comply with the arrangement as they are announced. But, within the liturgy, it is sufficient to change the order of the offered passages to have a clear, important and fertile homily. How do we place today's passages in order to recognize what the Lord wants us to understand? First comes the passage from the Gospel, where passion, death and resurrection of Christ are recounted. It is followed by the reading taken from the Acts of the Apostles, where it is explained the proclamation, through preaching, of passion, death and resurrection of Christ. Finally, the third passage, taken from the first letter of John: here you find the answer and the follow up of the events described earlier, which is to know God. Later we will see what it means to know God, but first things first.
Let's go back to the Cenacle. It is Sunday evening, the disciples of Emmaus came and told what had happened, and the apostles have the same attitude, even if motivated by different causes. At first they do not believe - and Luke underlines it - because they are afraid and amazed, and even after Jesus' appearance they still do not believe for the great joy. So the conclusion is that faith is a gift from God. Today, at the beginning of Mass, I said, and you have read it, that faith from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ is a gift, but beware, remember what Paul said and that was commented in Bible study sessions. Many of you have not yet understood the importance to attend the Bible study sessions; those who do not attend them think they know and discern, instead I must tell you that you do not know and do not discern. What is said in the Bible study sessions is extremely important for the understanding of Scriptures, and one day you will repent bitterly for not attending.
Let us go ahead. Jesus patiently, to get his disciples to believe, draws on experience. They have seen him on the cross and when He was put in the tomb with marks of passion still visible and fresh. Jesus says: "Behold my hands and my feet, that's me!" But they do not believe or even think He is a ghost. Then, patiently, Jesus asks to eat something, because according to common knowledge, ghosts do not eat. The importance of the mission that Jesus is entrusting the apostles is covered in the last part of the passage. The Spirit is needed to understand this and Luke says that Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. During his lifetime Jesus said it many times, but the apostles did not understand, they had also read in the prophets that the Messiah had to suffer, be crucified and rise again, but did not understand. This is why Jesus sends them enough light for the understanding of what he had said during the years of public life and what the prophets had foreseen, thus revealing the mission: to preach to all nations repentance and forgiveness of sins.
Now let us go to the second passage, the Acts, and to understand it I give you another hint. You are accustomed to read the proposed passages of Scripture without any reference, however, in order to understand, it would be important to know what happened before. This is challenging, but you can do it: procure a liturgical calendar, listing what are the passages that will be read during Mass and read what is written before it. In this case the speech of Peter must be placed in their historical and social context in which it happened. As long as it existed, the temple was the place of prayer par excellence, so in the temple, where he had gone to pray with John, Peter makes his second speech. When Peter meets the lame beggar, says the famous sentence: "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk" (Acts 3:6). The event occurred in the presence of everybody and brought enthusiasm by the people and Peter took advantage of this moment, first of all to accredit Christ with the miracle and then to put in practice Christ's command that was about preaching. Peter was not tender at all, in fact, despite having attention and sympathy from the Jews, he spared them neither remarks nor reproaches, even if eventually he sweetened them and we will see how. He says: you have crucified and made him suffer, you even got from Pilate, who wanted to free Christ, his conviction and the release of a murderer, a criminal, Barabbas. Since he was speaking to the Jews, Peter is using terms that are known to them as messianic claims and related exclusively or peculiarly to Christ. He talks about Jesus as a servant, and here the scripture is a real help: the servant of Yahweh. Isaiah wrote long and wonderful passages on the suffering of the servant of Yahweh. Also the other sentences he utters, "the holy one" and "the right one", and perhaps instead of the right one you could put "the innocent", are typical messianic expressions. Peter, therefore, while speaking, is aware that those listening to him, the Jews, members of his own people and his own religion, at least until the coming of Christ, know very well that he is speaking about the Messiah. Peter utters a strong and hard sentence: "You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead and we are witnesses of this". Such testimony, as you know, will not be believed by the Jews and unfortunately not even by many other people and not even by people, initially Christians, who later refused it.
At this point you are given the reason to understand why the One who was expected was treated so badly to the point of being killed: ignorance. Peter uses a beautiful parallel: he says to the Jews that they acted out of ignorance and recollects Jesus' words on the cross: "They know not what they are doing", then he is seeking the same excuse as Jesus'. Do you see how Peter absorbed the preaching despite having had his moment of weakness? Do compare the last passages of the Gospel where it is said that sins will be forgiven and there is the call to conversion. Peter is repeating the same things: repent, change your life so your sins may be blotted out, and be absolutely faithful to the teachings and preaching of Christ.
There has been talk of sin in both the first and second passage and now in the third passage John says: "I write this to you so that you will not sin". Do you see how he is stressing the need to avoid sin? If someone, out of weakness or frailty, should sin, he must not feel disheartened, because he has the defense lawyer by God, Jesus, who is not fulfilling its advocacy role, as common lawyers do, with words, but with facts. Jesus is a lawyer who is defending us by the Father through the infinite merits acquired by His suffering during His passion. Talk about passion is always coming back.
In the passage is written another important term: knowledge. After two thousand years we repeat again that those who know the preaching know God, but it is not enough: those who know God are the ones who accept His will, His teachings and Christ's law; and Christ's law is the law of love, hence those who love know God. So the speech that God is love is evolving, and with Him we have a filiality relationship and He a paternity relationship. Even John, the mild, the tender, the sweet, the confident resting his head on Jesus' shoulder, until the last moments of his life he kept preaching softly calling his listeners "little children"; he received this expression by our Lady who is addressing and calling us in this way. The apostles would meet her on their return from the missions to sort out with each other and Mary, turning to them, would call them "little children of mine". Just as she called the apostles, Our Lady is calling us too, showing the same love she had for them. John built up on this experience and in turn he used the same expression.
We must point out another statement. John says that those who claims to know God and do not keep His commandments are liars, in fact you cannot claim to know God if you do not respect His commandments. Why is this concept not preached today? Do you realize how many great news are preached in this small community? Have you ever heard in other places someone saying that those who claim to know God and obey not His law are liars? Yet it is in the Scripture. Priests plan to solve everything only through the proclamation, but they have to go from the proclamation to its application, trying to convince people to do the will of God. When God is constantly repeating to do His will, or when Jesus says in the Our Father "Thy will be done", He is telling us that this is the way to show that we believe in God. So long as we do not do the will of God we could be great theologians, great scholars, but we do not know Him.
At this point what do you want me to add, but to wish my best to the two down there (the Bishop is referring to two young people of the community who had given their commitment to God in preparation for their marriage which was going to be celebrated the following month) and join what Our Lady said today? To you the homily was delivered by her, and I would do nothing but repeat it in a bad way. It's just an invitation: you who are reaching marriage, you who have already reached it, greener or grayer, keep on putting it into practice so that you can actually claim to know God by continuing to strive, within your marriage, to do His will.
I must add, also recognizing my weaknesses, that we must do His will even when He surprises us, mystifies us to the point that, using the expression from the human point of view, we are scandalized. When we do not understand Him and we put ourselves in a perspective different from His, we can feel scandalized from what He says. I can confirm it to you by reflecting on my experience which can be summed up in this sentence God said to me a few days ago, talking about something I had not accepted: "You're right, I'm not wrong".