I’m always curious what brings people to Mass on the Second Sunday of Easter. We had crowds of people here last Sunday, as you know, but things this Sunday are, perhaps a bit unfortunately, back to normal. The Easter duty is done, and most people go back to their normal Sunday routines, whatever they may be. But many of us still gather for worship this morning. What is it that brings us here today?
Maybe our motives are grand ones. We can’t get enough of the Word of God and his Real Presence in the Eucharist. Maybe we need to be together with the community in order for our faith to make sense and our life to be on trace. Maybe we know that our presence in the worshipping community isn’t just about us, but rather about all of us being together, that there would be no community without all of us present. Maybe you came to one of my Masses last Sunday and were struck with awe at the inspiring words I preached!
But maybe our motives aren’t quite so lofty. Maybe, at some level, we’re here because of fear. Fear that our lives aren’t going the way we’d like them to. Fear that family problems are not getting resolved. Fear that our jobs are unfulfilling or our relationships are in disarray. Fear that our lives are empty spiritually, and we don’t know where to find our Lord. Fear that missing Mass will lead us to hell. Fear that if we don’t get to Mass our parents will be angry. Fear that if we don’t get out we’ll be lonely. I think if we’re honest, there’s a little fear in all of us, and at some level, that fear leads us here.
And if you find that’s the case for you, you have ten patron saints locked up in that room. They too had a great deal of fear. Fear that they too might be led to the cross by the same people who took Jesus there. There was certainly some reality to that fear, and I think we can all understand it. But I also think it’s significant to realize that the Eleven, all of whom lived closely with Jesus for three years, were not yet able to overcome their fears and pursue the mission of Jesus. Instead, they gather in a locked room, mourning their friend, confused about the empty tomb and stories of his appearances, and fearful for their own lives. We whose lives are filled with fear at times definitely have the Apostles as our kindred spirits.
The truth is that, like the Apostles, it doesn’t matter what has gathered us here. The important thing is that at least we are here. At least in our fear we did not hide away and refuse to be brought into the light. Because there are many who have left us, aren’t there? Many have had enough of church scandals of sexual abuse and financial mismanagement and have decided to take their spiritual business elsewhere. Many have been hurt in all kinds of ways and have not found immediate healing in the Church. Many have been influenced by the allurements of the world and the false comforts of pop psychology and have given up on a religion that makes demands of them. Many have left us, but at least we are here, at least we have gathered, albeit in fear, albeit locked up in our own little rooms, but definitely in the path of our Lord who longs to be among us in our fear and to say, “Peace be with you.”
The peace that Jesus imparts is not just the absence of war or conflict in our lives. It is instead a real peace, a peace from the inside of us out. A peace that affects our body, mind and spirit. A peace that brings us into communion with one another and most especially with God for whom we were created and redeemed. The peace that the Ten had upon seeing their Risen Lord, the peace that Thomas had just one week later, is the same peace that our Risen Lord offers to all of us fearful disciples who gather together as a refuge against the storms and uncertainties of our own lives. That peace is a peace that invites us to reach out like Thomas did and touch our Lord as we receive his very Body and Blood in all his Divine Mercy.
That peace is not some passive greeting that rests upon us and goes no further. Whenever we are gifted with any blessing, it is never intended only for us. We who have been gifted and healed and transformed by the peace of our Risen Lord are called just like the Eleven to continue to write the story of Jesus so that others may see and believe. We now become the peace of Christ to reach out to a world that appears to be hopelessly un-peaceful. We must extend that peace by reaching out to touch those who are sick, or poor, or lonely, or despairing, or doubtful, or fearful, or grieving, or fallen away. Our own presence in and among our loved ones and in and among the world must be a presence that is rooted in the Risen Lord and steeped in his peace. We must be the ones who help a doubting world to no longer be unbelieving but believe.
We’ve been asked to do that today by reflecting on our own responsibility to continue the work of Christ through the Catholic ministries of our diocese. It would be easy, based on the doubt and fear that we all certainly must have these days as the result of scandal and mismanagement, to turn our back on this request. But doing that only turns our backs on those who come to Catholic Charities for assistance or counseling. Doing that turns our backs on those who turn to our diocese to prepare them for ministry as catechists or youth ministry leaders. Our parish benefits directly from these ministries, and we are called upon to support them.
Our parish also directly benefits from the ministry of the diocesan Vocation office. Your new associate, who looks something like me I’m told, was formed for five years at Mundelein Seminary which cost the diocese in excess of $150,000. I certainly hope he’s worth it! Seriously, I’d never have been able to pursue this vocation as a priest if I had to pay that myself. I am grateful to the people of this diocese for making that possible for me, and every single day I try to give back to this parish in gratitude for what I’ve been given.
We could certainly turn our backs on this request for whatever reason. We could let our fear or apathy or disbelief get in the way. But we who have been given so much through the peace of Christ are called upon to believe and make belief possible for every single person. Your support of the Catholic ministries appeal helps to make that happen.
We have come here today for all kinds of reasons. We may have come here in doubt and fear, but as we approach the Eucharist and receive the very Body and Blood of our Lord who invites us to reach out and touch him in all his brokenness and woundedness, as we go forth to love and serve the Lord this day, may we leave not in doubt and fear but instead in belief and peace.
Peace be with you.