Homily for May 6, Friday of the II week of Easter
When the apostles started to preach about Christ’s resurrection from the dead, they encountered a wide range of reactions. Some people recognized the truth of their preaching and embraced the faith. Others – especially some of the priests and scribes in Jerusalem – totally rejected the apostles’ claim that Jesus was the Messiah and had risen from the dead. Lastly, some chose to take a more cautious approach and reserve their judgment until they saw things play out more. This is the position we hear explained in the first reading this morning, by the Pharisee named Gamaliel. He wisely points out that if the new Church being formed is from God, it would be both futile and foolish to oppose it, whereas if it is not from God, it will destroy itself.
History has shown that this would have been a wise policy to follow. The Church has been through many hard times throughout history, but nothing has been able to destroy it. It has survived military and political persecution, rival doctrines, and even the Church’s greatest enemy – sinfulness and corruption of some of the Church’s own members.
We may see that things look bad for the Church today. Mass attendance is down, the financial situation is very difficult, many Catholics are ignorant of their faith and live lives that are contrary to the teachings of the Church, and deviant behavior by priests and bishops has hurt and scandalized the faithful. In many countries, especially those of Muslim or Hindu majority, Christians face discrimination and violent persecution. However, this is neither the first nor the worst crisis the Church has faced. Despite the human element with all its failings, the Church is also a divine institution, and because God is present, it has always survived and been renewed.
Of course, as we hear in the first reading, such survival has not always been comfortable. After Gamaliel gives his speech, the Pharisees still decide to have the apostles flogged before releasing them. We can feel a bit like we’re being flogged when we see all the attacks on the Church in the media and hear how Christians are being physically attacked or killed and their churches vandalized in many places around the world.
But also like the apostles, we can see in all of this a participation in the sufferings of Christ who took our guilt, weakness and pain on Himself to save us. We join the men and women of the Church throughout the ages as we put our hope in God who will surely save, strengthen and renew the Church. There are many signs of hope, in new religious congregations and lay movements, and growing numbers of vocations to the priesthood in some parts of the world. As Blessed John Paul II said, we are experiencing a “new springtime in the Church.” Aware of God’s never-failing love, let us pray with today’s psalm, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?”