06 May 2023

Homily - The Fifth Sunday of Easter - 7 May 2023

The Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

It is a plea both meek and moving Saint Philip utters today: “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (John 14:8). With these words, he expressed the deepest yearning of the human heart, to look upon the Face of the Creator. David, the great King of Israel, recognized this longing and sang of it to God in words each of us can sing with him: “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’ Hide not your face from me” (Psalm 27:8-9).

The Lord calls out to each of us; he seeks us, even as we seek him! When Adam and Eve hid themselves from the Lord, he sought them, asking, "Where are you" (Genesis 3:9)? Does he not likewise still call out to each of us? Are these not the very words we so often use when we cry out to him? How often do we cry within our hearts, "O that you would tear the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake in your presence" (Isaiah 64:1)?

King Solomon, David’s son and heir, likewise sang words that may be both addressed by us to the Lord and by the Lord to us: "O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is comely" (Song of Songs, 2:14). Yet despite the Lord’s longing to see us and our longing to see him, he said to Moses, "[Y]ou cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live," so great is the glory of the Most High (Exodus 33:20). When the prophet Elijah heard the Lord in “a still small voice,” he “wrapped his face in his mantle” lest he see the Face of God (I Kings 19:12-13). Knowing all this, the Apostle said, “Show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Is it true? Is seeing the Face of God enough for us, or do we want something more? To look upon him who is Goodness, Beauty, and Truth, what more could the human heart desire?

Generation after generation longed to look upon the Face of God but none could because of the impurity of sin. King David knew only "he who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully" "shall stand in his holy place" (Psalm 24:4, 3). Even so, that ancient king sensed he would come to know the satisfaction of his – and our - deepest longing: "As for me,” he said, “I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding your form" (Psalm 17:15).

It cannot be forgotten that, “because of his transcendence, God cannot be seen as he is, unless he himself opens up his mystery to man's immediate contemplation and gives him the capacity for it.”[1] This is why, in the fullness of time, the only begotten Son of God took on our flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary; he who was invisible made took on a human face and said to Philip, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). Because of Jesus’ humanity, we can now look upon the Face of God and live, provided we receive his salvation.

Now that he has ascended to the right hand of the Father we still call out to him, "Your face, Lord, I seek!" He has left us the image of his Face in the Shroud of Turin - the linen cloth in which he was buried - and in the Veil of Manoppello - "the cloth that had covered his head" in the tomb and which Saint Peter found "not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place” (John 20:7). The one shows his Face in death; the other, his Face risen from the dead. In Jesus of Nazareth, who died and rose, the Son of God and Son of Mary, we can look upon the Face of God and live. In him, “the human face of God has burst into history to reveal the horizons of eternity.”[2]

In death, each of us will stand before him and see him as he is; we will look upon his Face and he will look upon our faces. What will we see? We know that

before his gaze all falsehood melts away… His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire”. But it is a blessed pain, in which the power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God… At the moment of judgment we experience and we absorb the overwhelming power of his love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy.[3]

This is why Saint Philip can say the Beatific Vision, the sight of the face of God, will be enough for us.

If the vision of God’s Holy Face will satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts, why does Jesus tell us today not to let our hearts be troubled (cf. John 14:1)? The reason is twofold:

In commanding them not to be troubled, Jesus placed them, as it were, on the threshold between hope and fear. This way, if they fell into weakness and suffering in their human frailty, the hope of his mercy might help them to recover. On the other hand, the fear of stumbling might urge them to fall less often…[4]

We should not let our hearts be troubled - so long as we acknowledge our sinfulness and confess our sins - because Jesus “is the face of the Father’s mercy” and there is nothing to fear in mercy.[5] Let us, then, seek to be so transformed through the power of his love that we desire nothing else than to see him face to Face knowing that he will deliver us from death (cf. Psalm 33:19). Amen.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1028.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Prayer Composed Following a Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Manoppello, 2006.

[3] Ibid., Spe salvi, 47.

[4] Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 9. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. IVb: John 11-21 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2007), 120.

[5] Pope Francis, Misericordiae vultus, 1.

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