Sunday Sermon for April 21, 2013, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C
Readings: Acts 13:14, 43-52; Rev 7:9, 14b-17; Jn 10:27-30
In the Gospel reading today our Lord tells us that His sheep hear His voice; He knows His sheep and they know Him. What is even greater is that there is a guarantee of safety because He gives the sheep eternal life and no one can take them out of His hand. Over the years too many people have looked at passages like this and assumed that if they belong to Jesus they will not have to suffer. In our own day we hear about those who think there will be a rapture and that they will be taken up to Heaven before the real trouble begins.
Contrast this with what we read in the second reading today about the Saints who are in Heaven. We are told that these are the ones who have survived the time of distress and washed their robes in the Blood of the Lamb. Nothing could take these blessed souls from the Lord, not even principalities, powers, nakedness, hunger, danger or the sword, as St. Paul says.
What is important for us to realize is that this is the normative means to Heaven. We all have to follow Jesus, taking up our Cross and coming after Him. It is not just the Martyrs who will have to suffer for the Lord; all of us, if we are going to get to Heaven will have to suffer for the Lord. In the midst of our trials, we can still be at peace as long as we remain within our Lord. We know that nothing can take us out of His hand, but sometimes if feels like we are going to fall. Not to worry, He will hold on to us.
However, we also need to be clear in understanding that while nothing from the outside can take us from Jesus, we can choose to walk away from Him. It is not the problems and difficulties themselves that have removed anyone from His hand, but it is people who no longer want to deal with the problems and difficulties that are the lot of those in His hand who have chosen to leave Him. These struggles are necessary for us to be able to grow in virtue and to make the choice of staying with Jesus or walking away from Him.
If everything was fun and easy, as some seem to think it ought to be, there would be no real choice for us, no true charity, and little faith necessary. More than that, if we do not make our choice for the Lord over and over again in the midst of sorrows and difficulties, neither He nor the eternal life He promises will mean very much to us. On the other hand, if we have had to work and make hard choices to remain faithful, the fullness of joy we will have in the Lord will be unfathomable.
We see this in Paul and Barnabas when they were persecuted for preaching the faith. They did not stop preaching and believing just because their message was rejected and they were being harassed. We can be quite sure that the gentile converts had to deal with a fair amount of trouble after their conversions. What a great gift they had in the example of the Apostles to help them to remain faithful when their faith was put to the test.
We too will be put to the test and, as we all know, this will not be just once or twice, it will continue right up until we are called home from this world. Some of the attacks will be subtle while some will be more overt, but they will all be designed to hurt. The evil one wants us to doubt God and His love in the midst of these trials; God wants us to turn to Him, remain faithful and grow in love through all of the agony.
It does not seem fair to us, but we have to see everything in the light of eternity. How much do you want Heaven; how much will it be worth to you? The more you have to suffer for the Lord, the greater will Heaven be for you. God is just and He will reward fully those who have suffered for Him.
Our Lord is calling us to follow Him through Calvary to Heaven. Do we recognize His voice? Do we know Him? If we know Him we will want to become like Him. Are we really willing to be conformed to Him and transformed into Him? If we are His there is nothing from the outside that can take us from Him. He allows the suffering to purify us, to make our souls white in the Blood of the Lamb, so that we do not remove ourselves from Him.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.