Fifth Sunday of Easter - May 2, 2021
My friends in Christ, this weekend, May 1st, we celebrated the Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker – an especially significant feast this year, in the Year of Saint Joseph as proclaimed by Pope Francis back in December; and the First Reading for Saint Joseph the Worker comes from Chapter One of the Book of Genesis, when God created Adam and Eve. God created them and gave them instructions. “Be fertile and multiply.” (Make babies. Start a family.) And then, “fill the earth and subdue it.” (Make a home for your family. Grow food and feed your family.) And finally, “cultivate and care for” the Garden of Eden. (Sanctify your family and make them holy.)
In other words, God made Adam and Eve and then basically said to them, “We have work to do!”
And now, consider the ending of the Gospel narrative of Saint Matthew. The Lord is about to ascend into Heaven. And the Eleven are gathered around Him. And what are His final words to them before He leaves, the very last words that He says to anybody before He “mounts His throne to shouts of joy and a blare of trumpets,” entering at long last into His own inheritance: the Kingdom of Heaven? What does He say to them? “Nice job, fellas! Way to hang in there! Hey, this round is on Me! Take a load off and relax!” No. Of course He does not say that…but He does say, “Go…and make disciples of all nations….”
In other words, He basically says to them what the Father said to Adam and Eve: “We have work to do!”
And as for us…we have work to do, too; we also are commissioned to be faithful and prudent stewards of ourselves, our neighbor, and our world…and we also are called upon to evangelize.
And the two are not unrelated. That is because to evangelize is to proclaim the Gospel to all the world, to make disciples of all nations…to share Jesus with others. But we cannot give what we do not have; we cannot share Jesus with others if we ourselves have no encounter with Him and no relationship with Him. We might know about Jesus perhaps; we somewhat grasp the proposition, as it
were…but Jesus is a Person, not a proposition. And we dare not settle with merely knowing about Him; we must strive to know Him…. And then, we are faithful and prudent stewards of ourselves first of all by knowing Him…by receiving Him, His grace, His very life…by allowing ourselves to be given the gifts and blessings of faith, love, joy, peace, and all good things that He so eagerly wants to give, that then we will have it…and then we can share it with others…. And again, we are stewards, faithful and prudent, when we do share Jesus with others. To love our neighbor, after all, is to will the good for them – to want what truly is best for them. And the very highest good and the absolute best thing of all…is their salvation. And knowing Jesus is salvation. Loving Jesus, receiving Jesus, sharing Jesus with others: that is salvation. And Jesus (and He alone) is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father…except through Jesus.
And so…yeah, we have work to do! And Sacred Scripture all over the place testifies to that plain and simple fact. Faith takes work! In the Acts of the Apostles today, Saul (Saint Paul) already has encountered Jesus and has been given His grace and His marching orders, as it were. And now, Saul has gone to Damascus – but now, no longer to arrest Christians to bring them back in chains, but in fact to evangelize, so as to make more Christians! “In Damascus, he had spoken out boldly in the Name of Jesus.” Work, work, and more work! Saint Paul would evangelize the Mediterranean world and make Christians of them all over the place until the day he died.
And then we hear from Saint John today: “let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth…because we keep [His] commandments and do what pleases Him.” Deeds! Keeping! Doing!
We have work to do! And it is not enough to be nice. It is not enough to say nice things. It is not enough not to do bad things; we need to do the good things, the best things. And, once again, the highest good and the very best thing…is Jesus. And we need to encounter Him, and receive Him, so to share Him with others. This is God’s will, commanded by Jesus Himself in His last words to us before ascending…and therefore, we need to do God’s will. We need to work.
We need to work because Jesus says so. And we need to work because, ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit Who is at work, and the Holy Spirit works in us and works through us. Yes, it is true of course that the Lord will take care of it…and…we are His chosen tools with which He works! Yes, grace supplies…but…grace builds on nature; it does not replace nature. Yes, in the beginning, God made Creation out of pure nothing. Grace. But ever since then, God has willed to work…not alone, and to do things and accomplish things…not alone…but through the use of matter and mediation.
And we are what matter; we are the mediators; we are the agents of God’s divine agency. And so, we have work to do…and God wills to work in us and through us. The Apostles worked…and it was “with the consolation of the Holy Spirit” that the Church “grew in numbers.”
“I am the vine,” Jesus says, and we “are the branches.” The branches need to remain on the vine in order to survive, thrive, and function…but it is not the vine that produces fruit (not by itself, anyway)…but the branches (the vine at work through the branches)…. And so, again, the Lord is the Master-builder and we are His tools; He is the vine and we are the branches that bear the fruit.
We have work to do! Oh, and by the way, there is no place here for idlers, no place here for wall-proppers, no place for busybodies (as Saint Paul warned the Thessalonians). For Jesus has told us to bear fruit that will last…to make disciples of all nations…and to proclaim the Gospel to every place and people. He fully expects us, therefore, to work. And idlers, wall-proppers, and busybodies: they do not work. And woe to them! Because Jesus has some choice words to say to them, some harsh warnings to speak to them. Because eternal consequences definitely are at stake if we do not or will not work. “Anyone who does not remain in Me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire, and they will be burned.” He warns much the same also in the Gospel account of Saint Matthew: “What you did not do for one of these least ones you did not do for Me.” Again, it is certainly not enough merely not to do the bad; we must do the good…we must bear fruit…we must work. Because a branch sure can look nice – what with all of those flowers and leaves and the whatnot; and it does not bear bad fruit. But if it does not bear good fruit either…then it is useless, fit only for burning. Jesus Himself says so, and so, it is absolutely true.
Now, one final thought. A lot of warnings of hellfire and brimstone being flung about if we do not bear fruit – and that sure can leave us in a trembling fit of panic! If we get to the end of days and have not inspired conversion in thousands of people as did Saint Paul, then does that mean that we are totally doomed? Hardly. As Jesus revealed to Saint Faustina, which she records in her Diary of Divine Mercy, God does not reward us for our success, but for the faith, good will, and hardship undertaken…. But the problem is this: Jesus expects us not so much to be successful but that we just at least try…and yet…so many of us (most of us, I dare say) are not even doing that much; most of us are not even trying. Proclaiming the Good News “has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” G.K. Chesterton. But if only we would just dare to try it; and even if the utter finality of our life’s work, at the end of days, bears just a single fruit of a single soul won for Jesus…then that would be enough.
Earlier this week, we celebrated the Memorial of Saint Peter Chanel – a French priest of the 19th Century who answered God’s call to evangelize the peoples of the far Pacific. He worked hard, but in the end managed to inspire precisely one conversion. And for that, he was martyred; but now, the far Pacific boasts some of the largest, most vibrant, and most faithful Catholic populations in all the world, most especially the Philippines…. And all of that…from just a single evangelist, inspiring only one conversion.
My friends in Christ…we have work to do! May it be, then, that the Lord will supply all of us with the grace that we need to get to work…and to get it done.
on Monday, May 3 at 12:25PM