Sunday Sermon for April 24, 2016, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C
Readings: Acts 14:21-27; Rev 21:1-5a; Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35
In the readings today we hear about the glory of God, but also about our own glorification. Our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading that the Son of Man was about to be glorified and that God would be glorified in Him. Of course, our Lord is speaking of the crucifixion in this context. It was on the Cross that our Lord gave God more glory than in anything else that had been done on earth from the beginning of the world. Because the Father was being glorified in this way, He also glorified His Son while on the Cross so that that glory would be recognized by all who love Him.
However, we must understand that it is not the Cross, or the crucifixion, in and of itself which brings about the glory. For instance, we do not talk about the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus as glorifying God. There was nothing remarkably different about their crosses or their crucifixions that would allow for the glorification of God by one Cross, but not by the other two.
Neither is it a matter that Jesus was innocent while the other two were guilty. If this were the case, none of us would be able to give glory to God and none of us would be able to be glorified by God. No, the difference was in the personal motive. In other words, if the two thieves on the other crosses would have had a motive similar to that of our Lord, they would also have glorified God and they would have been glorified by Him as well,
The motive our Lord had as He went to the Cross was charity. Notice in the Gospel reading that immediately after telling His Apostles about the glorification, He speaks of them loving one another the way that He had loved them. Then He goes on to say that it is by their love that people would know they were His disciples. Couple this last statement with our Lord’s teaching that anyone who would be His disciple must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Jesus. If we are going to be recognized as His disciples by our love, then taking up our cross and following Him must be done as an act of charity.
This is the context that we have to have as we read St. Paul’s exhortation to the early believers when he told them that they would have to undergo many trials before they could enter the Kingdom of God. It is not the trials themselves which would make the people worthy of entrance into the Kingdom; rather, there are two things about these trials that prepare them for Heaven. The first is the disposition they have as they enter or endure their trials; the second is the greater capacity to love due to the purification that is the fruit of the trials.
By themselves the trials are not a cause of joy, but when we can see them as the means to love or to love more, then they can become a cause of joy for us. We notice, for instance, that in the second reading, when speaking of our glorification, the Lord says that He will wipe away every tear and that there will be no more death, mourning, wailing, or pain. Instead, He says, He makes all things new.
So, there is a connection between the tears and the pain that we have here and the glorification we will have later. It is not about who suffered the most but, rather, who suffered with the most charity. Not only is love proven in suffering, but love is also purified and perfected in suffering. Therefore, with every suffering we endure, God gives us an opportunity to love more than we had previously. With time, we can even embrace our sufferings and, amazingly, rejoice in them. We do not rejoice in the problems we have, but it the purification of charity that comes with working through the problems.
If we can begin to see that with each cross our Lord lays upon our shoulders He is making us anew, then we will begin to see those crosses differently. Like the Saints, we might even begin to look forward to them. Unfortunately, in most people there is a lot of sin and not a lot of love. This means that it will take a lot of trials before that charity can be formed in us. This is the reason for St. Paul’s teaching about the need to undergo many trials. It is not because God enjoys watching us suffer, but it is because He rejoices that we are being recreated in the image of His Son. In this we are glorified and by this we glorify God.
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.