Third Sunday of Easter, May 1, 2022

Many years ago, way back in the 1800’s, there was a certain circuit-riding pastor who trained his horse to go when he said “Praise the Lord” and to stop when he said “Amen.” The preacher mounted his horse, said “Praise the Lord,” and went for a ride in the nearby mountains. When he wanted to stop for lunch by a mountain stream, he said “Amen.” He took off again after lunch by saying “Praise the Lord.” But the horse headed toward the edge of a cliff on a narrow mountain trail. The preacher got excited and said, “Whoa!” but then he remembered at the last second to say “Amen!” and the horse stopped just short of the edge. The preacher was so relieved at his near-death experience that he looked up to heaven and said (you guessed it!) “Oh, thank you God! Praise the Lord!”

In our first reading we see that the apostles, as far as the Sanhedrin the Jewish governing body analogous to our congress, was concerned, also heading toward the edge of a cliff. The first reading speaks about their willingness to suffer dishonor for Christ, but in truth, most of them would not only suffer verbal abuse at the hands of the Sanhedrin, but most would also suffer a martyr’s death, a literal going off the edge of the cliff into the unknown for the sake of Jesus Christ. Today, the apostles are found facing that same Sanhedrin for trial, for doing what they had been expressly forbidden to do by the Jews, which was to preach the name of Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected. If this resurrection and salvation story got out and the Jews converted to Christianity in significant numbers, then the Jewish elders feared that their job security and power would be threatened. They were not about to let that happen. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, maybe some of the Sanhedrin really were committed Jews who felt their religion was being threatened but I’m willing to bet that it was power, not religious fervor, that motivated most of them.  

So they told the apostles to “cool it”or there would be consequences. To which Peter and the other apostles informed the Jews that they had to obey a higher law than theirs; they said that they “must obey God rather than men.” Good for the apostles; but where did all this courage they display today come from? Wasn’t this the same Peter who in a very cowardly way – three times – denied Jesus while he was on trial? Weren’t these the same apostles who were hiding in a darkened upper room on Easter Sunday night, scared that their necks would be next on the gallows, when Jesus first appeared to them? What could possibly have made them turn around here to be so bold?                                                                                                                            

The key is in the passage itself, in which we hear Peter saying: “We are witnesses of these things  as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” “These things,” they are witnesses to  refer to two things: one, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and two, the descent upon them of the Holy Spirit, which enflamed their hearts and emboldened them to preach the Gospel. Because of “these things,” they went from cowardly men hiding in a dark room to bold proclaimers of Jesus Christ.   

There is an old saying which goes like this: “the only thing evil needs to succeed is for good men and women to do nothing.” The Body of Christ is divided into three main sections with Jesus as the head: one, the Church Triumphant, which means the saints in heaven, two, the Church Suffering, which designates the souls in Purgatory, and three, the Church Militant, which is us, the living, who are called to do God’s work in this world until called home by God. In a few weeks, we’ll celebrate Confirmation for some dozen of our young members. They will receive the same Spirit that emboldened the Apostles in our reading. But let me ask you: has that selfsame Spirit emboldened you as a Catholic adult to also do what Christ is calling all of His followers to do, that is, to put aside timidity as the apostles did today so as to boldly witness to Christ in this world?  

This is why I continue to insist that it is our individual and personal responsibility to continually learn and know our Catholic faith and what it teaches. Most of you have completed your religious education, but can you honestly say that you know your faith? This is why all priests must preach at all Masses on Sunday; we have no choice, it is the law. Our mission is to teach and instruct, that you may better know your faith. And our Bible Study and Search groups are very well attended, in fact, so well attended that we have multiple sessions each week. That is a very good sign of spiritual health in our parish. Many parishioners realize that growing in the Faith is not a spectator sport but a hands-on endeavor and are willing to put “skin in the game” for Christ. We all need to make an effort to grow in the Faith, otherwise, the faith we were given at baptism will wilt on the vine.  

In our Gospel, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. Three times Jesus says, “Peter, do you love me” to remind the apostle of the three times he denied Him in fear of his life. Three times Peter replies, “Lord, you know that I love you.” And it was true: especially after Peter came to realize the incredible gift he had been given in being a personal follower of the Lord and witness to the resurrected Christ. But in answer, did Jesus say, “great, now sit around and wait for heaven; you have no further responsibilities”? He absolutely did not. He said, three times, “Feed my sheep.” In other words, “get up and do something positive, maybe even bold, to prove yourself worthy of what Jesus did for you.” To which we see Peter and the apostles, no longer cowardly, getting themselves in dutch with the Sanhedrin and doing so proudly for the sake of the Name. It would cost them their lives but it was eternal life that they would gain.                       

We will probably never be put on trial for our Christian faith as were the Apostles. America isn’t perfect, there are various forms of persecution here too, but in most cases nothing like what still happens in some parts of the world. Christians are dying even as we speak, at the hands of murderous persecutors. We’re usually not faced with such in-your-face persecution personally. That’s good, but there’s a danger in this, too: we may too easily grow complacent in our faith, and not be ready spiritually or even intellectually if we are someday called to defend it, to stand up for it, to proclaim it as the apostles did to the peril of their lives. And so my friends, hear to the words of Jesus once again today: “Feed my sheep.” Think of your calling as a Christian, as Christ’s representative to the world. “Who, me?” Yes. You. And then, ask your saving Lord in prayer how you, as an individual, can accomplish that. Be ready to steel your spirit against the evil that so easily takes in and destroys so many. Be ready to counter the creeping secularity we see all around us in which nothing is sinful or immoral any more. It may feel like you are standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon a time or two, peering over the cliff, and fear is inevitable, but think of how you’ll feel when you stand in judgment before God and can honestly say to your Lord, “I fed your sheep.”

Phew! Praise the Lord!

May God bless you.

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