11 May 2014

Cutting to Your Heart

4th Sunday of Easter (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Does the Good News of Jesus Christ cut to your heart? Peter and the other eleven apostles preach to the citizens of Jerusalem, saying, “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” This sentence actually concludes a longer exhortation where Peter lays out for the people the history and mission of the Son of God. He testifies as a witness that the Lord is risen, and that he will return. When the people hear all that Peter has to say, Luke reports in Acts that “they were cut to the heart.” And some three thousand were baptized that day. They were cut to the heart. Peter's testimony wounded each and every one of them to the core of their being, piercing all the way to the center of their ignorance and obstinance, convicting each and every one of them for their disobedience in darkness, and bringing them – 3,000 of them – to the light of Christ. Does the Good News of Jesus Christ cut to your heart? Are you convicted and convinced by the apostolic witness that our Lord is risen and that he rose from the tomb to accomplish your salvation?

What at first might seem like an easy question for a church-going Christian to answer isn't all that easy. I mean, the answer is obviously “yes” or you wouldn't be here. But as we know saying “yes” in church and being “yes” out in the world are two entirely different things. We are encouraged – if not quite yet required – to keep our spiritual lives to ourselves. Part of this encouragement comes from those who don't want to be bothered with religion and part of it comes from within us. We don't want our religion bothered, so we just pretend that being a Christian in the 21st century is an entirely private matter, no one elses business. At this point in our decadent culture, the detente between us believers and those who find our beliefs offensive is fast dissolving. And it is fast becoming more than just a little difficult to stay on the Narrow Way. Let's not blame anyone but ourselves for that. This is why I asked: “Does the Good News of Jesus Christ cut to your heart?” Are you convicted and convinced that Peter's apostolic witness is true? That Christ died and rose for your salvation? If you answer “yes” here inside the Church and out there, then do the people who see you everyday know that you belong to Christ?

You see, it's easy for me. I teach in a Catholic seminary. I wear a Dominican habit, live in a Dominican priory. Say Mass, hear confessions. You can't miss me walking around town looking like a redneck sumo wrestler in a bed sheet! Part of my job description as a religious is to be a very public sign of the Kingdom of God. For better or worse, everything I do – whether I like it or not – is a witness to the Gospel. And frankly, if I weren't a religious priest, I'd be a horrible Catholic. Probably a Christmas & Easter Catholic, if that. So, yea, it's relatively easy for people out there to see me and know that I belong to Christ. But what about you? How do you do it? What signs do you give? What do you say? You don't have to a Catholic version of the Jehovah's Witnesses knocking on doors at dinner time. You don't have to stand on the corner with a Bible and rosary yelling at people, “Hey! Have you prayed the Luminous Mysteries today?” Being a witness for Christ's death and resurrection means living everyday as a sign of hope for those with no hope, a sign of peace for those who know no peace. It means suffering with others so that Christ's presence to them shines through you. It means looking at everyone you meet as an addition to your growing yet still imperfect image of God. 

During his first year as our Holy Father, Pope Francis has challenged us over and over again to go out and be Christs for others. Not to allow ourselves to become museum pieces. Not to allow the Holy Spirit within to wither away from disuse. At one point, while speaking to the clergy, he said that deacons, priests, religious, and bishops should smell like their sheep! (Thanks be to God that New Orleans Catholics tend to their hygiene!) So, if the clergy should smell like their sheep, then what should the sheep smell like? Perhaps the sheep should smell like their neighbors who are not yet sheep, like their co-workers who are not yet part of the flock, maybe even like the wolves who stalk the flock looking for a chance to pounce. But what good is smelling like your neighbor, your co-workers, the wolves if we don't fully grasp and live out everyday the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ? In other words, if our evangelization is about putting kiesters in pews, and not bringing the Good News of God's mercy to sinners, then it doesn't matter what we smell like. It doesn't matter what we believe or who we believe in. Mega-churches all over the nation draw thousands of kiesters to their pews. And for what? Entertainment and psychobabble. Our 2,000 year old apostolic faith is not entertaining nor is it psychobabble. We are the Body of Christ on earth. And we bear witness to his death and resurrection!

When Peter finished preaching, and the people there were cut to the heart by his witness, they ask, “What do we do now?” He says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Repent. Be baptized. Receive the Holy Spirit. And do all these in the name of Jesus Christ. Why his name? He himself tells us, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Only through the Gate of Christ can a wolves become sheep. Only through Christ can sinners become saints. Only through Christ can any of us find hope for resurrection and life eternal. Does this Good News cut to your heart? Does it wound pride, greed, envy, anxiety, disappointment, despair? Entertainment and psychobabble cannot cut into the darkness of disobedience and death. Only the light of Christ can cut through the darkness that binds us to sin. And you – as bearers of his light – take that light out into the world and shine it everywhere you go.

Does the Good News of Jesus Christ cut to your heart? If so, then let the Holy Spirit take you out of here and into the world so that your life might be for others their way to Christ.


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  1. Wow - "being" yes out in the world . . . I really liked where you were going with your 3rd and 4th paragraphs, how you turned the question to us - how should we, in the pews, smell? How evangelization shouldn't be about quantity but about quality. But, I wanted more - I was disappointed that the homily was coming to a close. I would have liked to have heard you develop more of your thoughts from the 3rd and 4th paragraphs, because I thought you were really starting to go somewhere, somewhere important. The penultimate paragraph was good, but it was too soon. It was almost as if I were sitting on the edge of my seat, enjoying the build-up to something great, but you stopped before you reached the "greatness", and I had to sit back with a disappointed sigh.

    1. Sorry. Just flat ran out of time. But thanks for the good feedback!