Homily for June 5, VII Sunday of Easter, cycle A
Suffering because of fidelity to God and His plan is a cause of joy and glory for Christians.
This message comes to us loud and clear from the Gospel and the second reading today. In the passage from the Gospel according to John, Jesus speaks of “His hour” – which means the time for Him to suffer and die on the cross, and then to rise again – as the time when He will be glorified and will glorify the Father, through His act of complete self-giving and obedience to the Father’s will, out of love.
St Peter explains that when we suffer because of our faith, as when we are “insulted for the name of Christ”, we are actually participating in the suffering of Christ and giving glory to God. By holding to our faith in adversity, we share in the obedience and self-giving of Jesus on the cross, and we will also share in the joy and glory of His Resurrection.
Often when we think of people suffering for the faith, we think of the sort of external persecution that the early Christians faced at the hands of the Jewish authorities and the Romans, who tortured them and put them to death because they worshiped Christ as the Son of God and refused to either return to the former Jewish practices or to bow down to pagan gods. It’s the same sort of persecution that Christians face today in regions dominated by fundamentalist Islam and Hindu sects, in militantly atheistic societies, and in countries where the government tries to have all religious practice under its own strict control. We also face it to a lesser extent in our own culture, due both to militant atheism and to paradoxically militant relativism, where it becomes increasingly unacceptable and punishable by law to speak of our faith in public or to publicly support certain norms of morality.
Fortunately, though, we here in America are mostly free to exercise our faith as we please. However, there is another way that we suffer for our faith, and that is through our daily efforts to conquer sin in our lives. We all have our weaknesses, due to the structure of our personality, our physical constitution, our background and our circumstances. We are all susceptible to temptations from one or more of the seven deadly sins – anger, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, despair, envy and pride. Fighting to say “no” to temptations can be very, very difficult, but it is truly a way to give glory to God and to earn the reward of heavenly joy.
Of course, we can’t do it all on our own. Jesus Himself says more than once in the Gospels that He prays for us to be delivered from evil and to be faithful. St Peter says that when we suffer for the name of Christ, “the Spirit of Glory and of God rests upon you”. This is the Holy Spirit which the Apostles, Mary, and the other disciples are praying to receive in the first reading today. It is only the coming of the Holy Spirit that gives them the strength to go out of the upper room and preach the Gospel openly, suffering the consequences with joy.
As we face our own daily challenges to fight sin and to bear witness to Christ in our lives, let us join in spirit with today’s psalm of confidence and desire for God: “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?”