HOMILY EASTER SEASON WEEK 07 03 – Year I
Important Words of Departure:
Optional Memorial of Blessed Louis-Zéphirin Moreau and
World Day of Prayer for the Church in China
(Acts 20:28-38; Ps 68; Jn 17:11-19)
When someone is leaving us whom we know we will never see again, or dying, we tend to hang onto their last words as precious memories of them and teachings that will stay with us.
Today’s liturgy focuses on the last words of Paul to the Ephesians and of Jesus to his disciples before his passion. They invite us to ponder the reality of servant leadership, the importance of unity, and the power of God’s word to heal and transform us.
First, both St. Paul and Jesus are concerned about what will happen after they are gone in terms of leadership. Jesus asks the Father to protect and guard the apostles as they carry on without him, and then models what genuine leadership looks like by humbly giving his life away freely to redeem humanity. He had already rejected, during the temptations in the desert, the false gods (possessions, prestige and power) so many world leaders crave and cling to, at the cost of immeasurable human tragedy and misery (think Stalin, Mao, Hitler and countless other dictators). Now he would carry out the ultimate gesture of selfless, servant leadership by his death on the cross. There should be no need to say more – yet still there is too much of that precise reality in all kinds of leadership in our society and yes, even in the church.
St. Paul, in his own way, underlines the same theme of servant leadership to the elders, encouraging them to follow his own example (“I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing … worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions – giving you an example so that we might support the week … and live the words of Jesus who said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”) Paul certainly lived the words of Jesus – “The Son of Man came to serve and not to be served.” And so must we, especially those of us tasked with leadership in the church.
A second concern for both Paul and Jesus was the unity of the Body of Christ. Paul mentions for three years he did not cease to warn them, with tears, of the danger of disunity, of “savage wolves” coming into the flock to distort the truth and divide the community. There are two words we use for the evil one – Satan and Devil. The word devil comes from the Greek diablos which means “to divide.” So, whenever there is a divisive force in a group, however subtle, in or out of the church, it can be seen as touching on the diabolical, and that is cause for great sadness. Satan is just the opposite – he gathers people together but for the wrong reason – to destroy and kill (think ISIS, Boko Haram, gangs, etc.). There is the creation of community, but a shallow, fearful, imposed cohesion for a negative purpose – to wreak havoc and disturb. That has no place in the Church.
Jesus addresses the same issue but from a very positive and challenging perspective – inviting the apostles to maintain a unity among themselves that will mirror the very intimate relational energy of the Holy Trinity – to be one as the Father, Son and Spirit are one. What a challenge and goal for us to try to emulate! Certainly, that warrants all the energy we can muster up to work for unity and ecumenism through dialogue, common projects and seeking common ground, rather than what divides us. We need to be like the L’Arche community, who see all diversity and differences not as threats to community, but as graces to help build stronger community.
A last teaching expressed by both St. Paul and Jesus is the power of God’s word to heal and transform, although each expressed it differently. Paul speaks of the message of God’s word that can build up and give them “the inheritance among all who are sanctified.” He is speaking of the eternal life of peace, healing and joy that only the Spirit of Jesus can give. Sanctification essentially means “healing”– a true gift of the Holy Spirit.
For his part, Jesus speaks of the apostles being “sanctified in the truth,” healed through the truth of who he is and the truth of their lives. As the Messiah, Jesus came to redeem and sanctify, to forgive and to heal. So, through faith in him and the power of his Spirit, they and we are forgiven all our sins and wrongdoing, and also healed of all our painful emotions and negative attitudes, and even our addictions. That is good news indeed and the source of our unbounded joy – through our faith in Jesus, we can truly be set free to live in the kingdom of the Father, and it does not get any better than that.
Today we honour Blessed Louis-Zépherin Moreau, born in Bécancour, Quebec, in 1824. The fifth of 13 children, he was educated in the seminary but was initially rejected for the priesthood because of his frail health. His desire was strong, however, and his persistence resulted in his ordination in 1846. He soon became secretary for the diocese of Montreal, and later for the newly founded diocese of St-Hyacinthe, where he was named bishop in 1875. Popularly known as the “good Bishop Moreau,” he had compassion for the poor workers of his diocese, helping to establish the forerunners of today’s mutual societies and credit unions. He also oversaw the foundation of several religious communities. In spite of his poor health, Louis-Zépherin worked tirelessly and died in St-Hyacinthe in 1901. He was beatified in 1987.
The Eucharist is both a source of and celebration of unity, as well as an experience of forgiveness and healing. It also mandates us to go out to the world as servant leaders, to live out these teachings of both Jesus our Lord and St. Paul, the world’s greatest evangelizer.