26 April 2020

Homily - 26 April 2020 - The Third Sunday of Easter

The Third Sunday of Easter (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

The Psalmist sings today, “I set the Lord ever before me,” which is another way of saying that the focus of his thoughts, the focus of his attention, is the Lord; everything else – however important it might be – is secondary (Psalm 16:8). In an age of constant distractions battling for our attention, it is sometimes difficult for us to set the Lord always before us.

When we come to this recognition of ourselves, when we come to realize that we all too often put other things or people before us as the focus of our attention, it can be a moment of great grace. For in such a moment, the possibility of refocusing our lives and hearts opens before us. In such a moment, we would do well to remember the admonition of Saint Jerome: “Consider here that it is always in our power to set the Lord before us.”[1] But how do we do this?

Those two disciples who walked along the way to Emmaus were despairing. “But we were hoping he would be the one to redeem Israel,” they said; “and beside all this, it is now the third day since this took place” (Luke 24:21). Saint Augustine tells us the reason they despaired “was that they had seen him dead. He, however, opened the Scriptures to them, so that they would realize that if he hadn’t died, he couldn’t be the Christ.”[2] This is why the Doctor of Grace goes on to ask them, “Why have you given up hope, just because you have seen him crucified, because you have looked at him hanging there, because you have thought him weak?”[3] They saw his wounds, but they did not recognize their power.

Despair, of course, is always something to be avoided, because it “is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.”[4] Those two disciples despaired because they thought all was ended; they saw the Lord Jesus die, but they failed to understand what his death truly meant; they failed to remember his Resurrection. They did not keep the Lord ever before them.

If they had kept the Lord ever before them, they might have seen what Saint Bonaventure found in the Crucifixion of the Lord. He says to us:

If at times something sad happens, something bad, something tedious, something bitter, and certainly if sometimes a good thing happens by chance, then you should immediately look to the crucified Jesus hanging on the cross. Look there at the crown of thorns, the iron nails, the lance in the side; gaze at the wounds in his feet and hands, the wounds in his head, his side, and his whole body, and recall that this is what he suffered for you, what he bore for you, so that you may know how much he loved you. Believe me: after gazing in such a way [at the crucifix], you will find that everything sad becomes joyful, everything heavy becomes light, everything boring lovable, everything harsh sweet and soothing.[5]

It goes without saying that we cannot forget that “God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24). At the same time, however, to recognize him in his Resurrection is to know that he was Crucified for us. This is why he still bears his wounds, the marks of his love, on his glorified body; he does not want us to forget the unfathomable depths of his mercy.

When we no longer keep the Lord before us, when we take our eyes off of him and away from the signs of his love, we begin to sink amidst the storms of life, just as those two disciples did. Saint Augustine teaches us that

The Lord’s absence is not an absence. Have faith, and the one you cannot see is with you. Those two, even when the Lord was talking to them, did not have faith, because they didn’t believe he had risen. Nor did they have any hope that he could rise again. They had lost faith, lost hope. They were walking along, dead, with Christ alive. They were walking along, dead, with life itself. Life was walking along with them, but in their hearts life had not yet been restored.[6]

With so much extra time on our hands these days, how can we fail to keep the Lord ever before us? With fewer distractions vying for our attention, let us keep our attention focused on Christ Jesus and on the signs of his love so that through the glory of his Resurrection we may dwell in hope (cf. Acts 2:26; cf. Psalm 16:7). Amen.

[1] Saint Jerome, Homily on Psalm 15[16].
[2] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 236.2.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 236A.4
[4] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of the Lord of the Rings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 262.
[5] Saint Bonaventure, On the Perfection of Life, VI.6.
[6] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 235.2-3.

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