Tuesday, 13 May 2014

4th Sunday of Easter - Year A

Acts 2:14.36-41; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10

Today, at my first Mass in the parish, I would like to pick up some ideas from the rich feast of thoughts the Church offers us in the liturgy.

You may have been struck by the Collect which, in a few simple words, clearly points out to us the reason we are all here: Almighty ever-living God, lead us to a share in the joys of heaven....

A young man took me to task several months ago. He told me we priests, and I definitely think he was including me, had let him down. He rattled off a whole list of accusations about not keeping up with the reality of the modern world; living in the past; not adapting teachings to suit the present day and so on and so on. His coup de grĂ¢ce was that we were no longer relevant.

My answer to him was that a priest exists for only one reason – and that is – to help his people get to heaven. All his other expectations were unreal and unreasonable.

Almighty ever-living God, lead us to a share in the joys of heaven....

The next question presents itself quite naturally – How does a priest lead his people to heaven? The answer is simple – by leading them to Jesus – in his Church.

And how does he do that? Firstly by his preaching.

Look at the reading from the book of Acts which we have just heard proclaimed: On the day of Pentecost Peter stood up with the Eleven and addressed the crowd in a loud voice... 

Peter preached to the crowds the gospel he had been given by Jesus. And he preached so that he might win the crowd for Christ, to turn it into a congregation, into a communion of men and women destined to be saved. To put it another way, he was building up the body of Christ, the Church, so that these people would become the People of God.

So what did he preach? How did he preach? What were his tactics?

He began by speaking the name of Jesus to them. He announced to them that Jesus was Lord and Christ, and then, astonishingly, he reminded them that they had crucified him.

It never ceases to amaze me that the first public command both John the Baptist and Jesus spoke was: Repent – and since only sinners need to repent it was tantamount to beginning with the words: You are all sinners! No wonder the Pharisees got so upset; their basic refusal was precisely to see themselves as sinners.

Peter’s listeners were ‘cut to the heart’. In the gospel last Sunday the two disciples experienced their hearts ‘burning’ within them. Actually, this is really the only appropriate response to the preaching of the gospel.

Some, it seems, will always close their hearts. This is a perplexing mystery. But, fortunately, many of those who initially reject the gospel later come to accept it – and in some cases, even more fully and more passionately than those who accept it at once. Another mystery!

A further obvious question presents itself: Why must we repent? The answer brings us back to our beginning – so that we may be saved; so that we might get to heaven.

Save yourselves from this perverse generation ... 

Having preached the word a priest now employs the second ‘weapon’ in his arsenal – the Sacraments. Many were touched by Peter’s words: they accepted what he said; and asked: What must we do...?

Peter answered: every one of you must be baptised... 

Do you see? He offers them a sacrament! The Church has seven of them. They are the ordinary means by which grace is given to us; the grace which leads us to eternal life: Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Eucharist, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick.

Finally, to give the tripod its third leg we must add community. The Church's life, and yours, stands on these three legs – word, sacrament and community.

Peter preaches the word; then he confers the sacrament and then they join the communityabout three thousand were added to their number.

So, my dear friends, now you know what I am doing here. I am doing the same thing every priest since St Peter is called to do – to help you get to heaven by preaching to you the Word, offering you the Sacraments, so that you can be a member of the community of the Church - so that you can be saved.

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