The Fifth Sunday of Easter [C]
Acts 14:21-27 + Revelation 21:1-5 + John 13:31-35
April 24, 2016
“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
Younger Catholics may never understand the admiration that their elders have for St. John Paul II. To younger Catholics, he may be just another of the Church’s many saints. But to older Catholics, especially those who were honored to meet him, there will always be a holiness associated with him that cannot be expressed in words.
However, St. John Paul himself did put his holiness into words: many, many words. He was a prolific preacher and writer. Some may argue about which are his two greatest contributions to Church teaching, but surely among the chief candidates would be his teachings about the “Theology of the Body” and the “New Evangelization” (the latter building on the teachings of Blessed Paul VI). These two fields of belief come together during the Season of Easter.
Easter is not a day, but a season. It’s not only about Jesus’ Resurrection, but also about His Ascension and Pentecost. The Resurrection and Ascension make Pentecost possible. In other words, the Church—the Mystical Body of Christ—cannot live her life without the Resurrection and Ascension of her Lord. The Lord’s new life in His risen Body is meant to become the life of the Church. Furthermore, the life of the Church is missionary in nature, and permanently so, as St. John Paul taught in his encyclical about the Church’s missionary activity.
Sometimes Pentecost is celebrated as the “birthday of the Church”, but at the same time, every birthday celebration is also a forward-looking event. The Church is still, and always will be, growing. The Church at the beginning of the 21st century is still growing throughout the world and throughout our neighborhoods. It is our responsibility as members of Christ’s Body to foster that growth through the efforts of the “New Evangelization”.
Some cynically ask what was wrong with the “old evangelization”. Certainly there will always be consistency between the old and new teachings and liturgy of the Church, as Pope Benedict XVI taught so well during his papacy. The old and the new can mutually enrich each other. The wise steward pulls from his storehouse both the new and the old. The New Evangelization is needed, among other reasons, because the world always changes—not always or perhaps even chiefly for the better—and the Church must proclaim in new ways what is most enduring.
The readings of today’s Mass proclaim the dedication we need to participate in the work of the New Evangelization. In our First Reading we hear about the missionary efforts of Saint Paul. His intense work can seem daunting to us, but at its heart is a simple conviction. It’s God at work in the midst of our efforts. It’s God who opens doors of faith for others. We simply invite people, by our words and example, to step through those doors. We cannot, of course, force people to accept God’s love, but on the other hand, they cannot accept what is not offered.