Relishing the Newness of All Things
Establishing our true Catholic identity
As we delve into the Sunday Readings in this the 5th Week of Easter we observe Paul making yet more progress as Jesus' appointed shepherd, particularly as it relates to the formation of the infrastructure and hierarchy of the Church (Acts 13:14, 43-52 (51C)).
Modern-day Catholics might grapple with their understanding of how difficult and dangerous it was for the disciples to preach the word of God made manifest in the life of Jesus or to celebrate the Mass in remembrance of their slain and resurrected friend; perhaps the day is coming when we will encounter such persecution. But as the Apostles and their followers huddled when, where and as they could in order to avoid the wrath of the Sanhedrin, modern day American Catholics face no such tribulation....and we're typically afforded the opportunity to do so at 7:30AM, 9:00AM, 10:30AM or even Noon. For that we should be abundantly grateful.
In the 2nd Reading we pick up where we left off last week in the apocalyptic Book of Revelation (21:1-5a). John recounts his vision in glorious detail:
"Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I hear a loud voice from the throne saying "Behold, God's dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with then and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away." The One who sat on the throne said "Behold, I make all things new"
Tirelessly rich in symbolism, reflecting upon the Book of Revelation allows the enlightened reader to glimpse the divine fate that awaits the faithful. As I read the words ”and the sea was no more" I envision a Dwelling place free of danger peril, one in which evil is scribed and cleansed from the world as a result of God's triumph over sin; keep in mind that the sea had long been a symbol of all of those things in the typical Hebrew land-based way of thinking at the time). God has promised and willed a future of unlimited love and happiness. In fact the promise that "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" appears once again this week after being the featured subtext of last week's 2nd Reading, perhaps to underscore the power and beauty of the verse in equal measure.
The Gospel then provides all believers with the roadmap to this promised paradise, one earned through the blood and agony of Christ in the form of the new commandment:
"Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" - John 34-35
Simple enough right?
Not only are we to love one another as ourselves, but we must strive to do so in a way that emulates the way Jesus loves us. How did Jesus love us? Take a glance at the cross. Any questions? Tom Brady’s eventual successor in Foxboro will have an easier act to follow.
And talk about a contrarian demand. After all, how many times have you heard these maxims in your life?
"You gotta look out for Number 1”
"It's a dog eat dog world out there”
"Do it to them before they do it to you”
But as we've seen in Scripture and our own daily trials and tribulations, Jesus will not make us walk this difficult road alone. And if we choose to walk this difficult path, we ultimately achieve and live out our identity as Catholic Christians.
Throughout history, Catholics have struggled with the formation of their true and genuine identity, their face to the rest of the world if you will. Father Munachi E. Ezeogu discusses this idea of identity in his on-line homily this week. He touches on both the visual and symbolic, pointing to the example of the African Independent Churches and their use of uniforms to distinguish members from non-members. White flowing gowns with headgear and sashes of different colors are used to identify members according to their various ranks. Here in the United States, the Capuchin Friars adorned in their trademark brown robes and sandals serving as a pertinent example.
But Fr. Ezeogu is quick to point out that one's true identity goes far beyond mere symbolism. For when Jesus issued this new commandment, he essentially implores us to reveal our identity through the way we act, not in how we dress or the rituals that we parktake of, as important as they may be to our heritage. He goes on to point out that during the early stages of the evangelization of Africa, many missionary groups focused their efforts strictly on making converts. Others who came later focused on service to the people, providing vital medicare and forulative education. These latter groups succeeded where the the former groups failed.
Mahatma Gandhi's rather famous quote when surveyed on his view of Christianity was poignantly blunt in it’s lucidity:
"I have a great respect for Christianity. I know of no one who has done more for humanity that Jesus. In fact, there is nothing wrong with Christianity, but the trouble is with you Christians. You do not begin to live up to your own teachings."
Ouch....the truth sure does hurt sometimes. Perhaps some deep and honest introspection is in order.
We've tried it our way. Bullet after bullet, war after war, killing after kiling, it just doesn't seem to end and it certainly doesn't work. God promises to make all things new. The question of course becomes whether or not we will step back from our old ways and allow Him to. Love of our neighbor is the first and most critical step in that direction, for in doing s we allow God to begin to make all things new today.
And newness is precisely what this world needs.