Sunday Sermon for May 12, 2019, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year C
Readings: Acts 13:14, 43-52; Rev 7:9, 14b-17; Jn 10:27-30
In the readings today we see two different groups of people. The first are the Jewish people to whom Paul and Barnabas preached in the Synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia. These people did not want to hear the Gospel. Many in the city gathered to hear the Apostles preach, but a group of the Jewish people in the town was jealous and heaped abuse on Paul and Barnabas, so the Apostles turned to the Gentiles because these Jewish people rejected the Gospel. Eventually these same people expelled the Apostles from their territory.
We learn in the first reading that all who were destined for eternal life came to believe. This brings us to the second group of people: those who are Saints, that is, those who stand before the throne and the Lamb, as we hear in the second reading. We are certainly among those who believe, but the question we have to ask is: are we numbered among the Saints? We would all like to answer in the affirmative, but can we be sure?
I remember when I was young and whenever we heard the Gospel reading when our Lord asks if there would be any faith on earth when He returns, I would look around and ask myself how He could even ask such a question. Fast forward to today and every Sunday I now wonder what has happened to all the people. Every week there seems to be fewer and fewer at Mass. Perhaps they have gone elsewhere because they do not like the preaching, but in talking with other priests, I hear the same thing, so I do not think the people are going elsewhere for Mass.
In the Gospel reading Jesus tells us no one can take His sheep out of His hand. He goes on to say His sheep were given to Him by His Father, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. This is a great consolation for us and confirms what we hear in the second reading that the multitude around the throne and the Lamb have survived the period of great trial and washed their robes in the Blood of the Lamb. This tells us that the grace to remain faithful will be given to us to.
This grace to remain faithful, however, is not a guarantee that we will remain faithful. It is wonderful to know we are in the hands of our Lord and our Heavenly Father and that there is no way anyone can take us out of their hands. At the same time, we need to realize we have a free will; God will not force us to remain in His hands. In other words, even though no one can take us from His hands, we can freely choose to leave His hand.
This is happening in two ways. First, there are those who continue to claim they believe in God and in Jesus, but they do not want to come to Church anymore. They offer a variety of excuses: the abuse scandal, the rules, I’m too busy, I can worship my own way, etc. Then there are those who no longer believe in anything except themselves. For the first time in the history of America, atheism is the number one religion. For years Catholicism has been the number one religion in America and fallen away Catholics have actually made up the second largest religious body. Now who those profess to believe in nothing have edged out those who call themselves Catholic.
When we consider the rapid decline in the number of people attending Mass and the rapid increase in the number of people claiming no belief or those who are glorifying evil (Wicca has been the fastest growing “religion” in America for many years in a row), each of us has to ask “what would it take for me to fall away?” With about a third of our population on the wrong side of the faith question, there is building pressure to conform to the cultural mores.
The media pushes the agenda of darkness and there is a fast growing persecution of Christians in the world. In fact, Christians top the list of persecuted people in the world. I hope and pray we are all resolved to remain faithful to Jesus, even if we are persecuted or have to die for our faith. That said, we can never trust in our own strength. We absolutely must develop a strong prayer life so we can develop a strong relationship with the Lord. Love will keep us faithful; but even love, by itself is not enough. Only by the grace of God can we remain in the hand of our Good Shepherd, but only a heart open to love is able to receive that grace.
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.