Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter, 2012
I recently came across an article about an accomplished protestant preacher who was diagnosed with Lou Gerigh’s disease a number of years ago. The prognosis, that he had 3 to 5 years to live, sent him into a profound crisis.
“I went from 100 miles an hour to zero miles an hour overnight,” he said. “That was a shock to my system.”
His response to the disease surprised him. “I thought that if I knew I was going to die, I would really read the Bible and if I really was going to die, I would really pray,” he said. “I found the opposite to be true. I could barely read the Bible and I had great difficulty praying. You get so overwhelmed with your circumstances, you lose perspective.”
He spent months floundering. Without realizing it, he had built his identity, his life, on his work, on his ministry. And so losing the ability to minister meant that he felt that he was losing himself. Living a hundred mile an hour life he had rooted his life in activities that would not endure, he had set up idols that came crashing down around him when his health failed.
Fortunately, with much prayer and interior work, he has come through his identity crisis. And he made a comment that struck me and I think resonates with our scriptures today. “I am no longer a preacher,” he said. “Today, I would say I am a Jesus follower. Period. Having a terminal illness forced me into a situation where I grew in understanding of what it means to obey Jesus.”
A Jesus follower. Period. “Children,” St. John tells us in our second reading, “let us love not in word or speech, but in deed and truth.”
In truth. What does it mean to be a Jesus follower in truth, not just in word and speech?
St. John tells us: to really live with and in Christ, actively working to love him and follow his example so that his Spirit will be alive in us. To be branches thoroughly attached to the vine. To have the life of the vine flowing through us. That’s what makes us Christians and makes us into a Church: that we are united to Christ.
If preachers and priests like myself are always at risk of losing sight of this profound truth of our identity, must it not certainly be the case that we must all be on guard?
Why do you think the Church insists that we come to Mass on Sunday? In order to fill the pews? In order to build institutional strength? To prop up the offertory?
No, no, no. Because the Eucharist is the primary way that Christ unites us with himself, that he gives his life to us. They way that he feeds us with his body and blood is exactly like the way that the sap flows through a vine into branches. And as his life flows into us, it is meant to transform us and to help us to reflect the image of his son in the unique way that we are made to be Christ-like. We are not called to believe in Christ so much as we are called to live in him – with our whole mind, body, and soul. All of us are made to be transformed by his life and to be more and more each day animated by a new life – to die to ourselves and to rise to new life in Christ.
Christ is to be our life – inside out, top to bottom. He is the pattern in which we are made, and he is the measure by which we are measured.
And so we cannot say “If you do this and this and this and this – if you follow these rules, if you live like this person, if you belong to this group, if you accept these teachings, then you will be a bonified Jesus follower.”
The definition of the true Christian, of the true Catholic, is one in whom the life of Christ dwells deeply and fully and beautifully and freely – one who is truly himself or herself because he or she is truly one with Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity.