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Homilies | Monday, April 15, 2024

‘Preach to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem’

Archbishop Wenski's homily at St. Sebastian, on the Third Sunday of Easter 2024

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily for the Third Sunday of Easter at St. Sebastian Church, in Fort Lauderdale.

In today’s Gospel reading, taken from St. Luke, places back in the Upper Room where the apostles were hiding out of fear of the Jewish leaders. It is the evening of Easter Sunday. The disciples returning to the Upper Room from Emmaus tell the apostles how they recognized Jesus when he sat down to break bread with them. You can imagine the roller coaster of emotions the Apostles have been going through that Sunday – from what Mary Magdalene told them in early, from what Peter and John saw at the empty, and now the report of the disciples of Emmaus. And then Jesus enters the room.

They must have all felt guilty for having run away, and so perhaps their first reaction at seeing the Risen Lord was not joy but shame for having abandoned him. But Jesus heals their woundedness by showing them his wounds and gives them his Easter gift of Shalom: Peace be with you, he tells them.

We should learn from the fearful and doubting apostles and from Jesus, who not only forgave them but also empowered them to forgive. Peace is Jesus’ Easter gift to each one of us. That peace comes when we accept his mercy – and when we show mercy, especially to the most vulnerable.

God doesn’t call the most qualified. As St. Paul once said, God chooses the weak to confound those who think they are strong. Those apostles in the upper room were huddled in fear and, as I said, they must have been also burdened with their shame from having run away when the going got tough. God does qualify the called by giving them the Holy Spirit and sending them forth. As we heard in last Sunday’s gospel, which also took place in that upper room, Jesus tells the apostles (and us, to be sure) that as the Father has sent him, so he sends us.

And Jesus says at the end of today’s gospel reading to “preach to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

They began at Jerusalem – and the apostles’ preaching has even reached us here in Fort Lauderdale 20 centuries later and a world away from the Middle East.

Over the centuries and over vast territories, the church follows the example of the apostles and the command of Jesus and preaches to all the nations. – And the Church bears witness that Jesus is truly alive, for even today we recognize him in the breaking of the bread.

From Jerusalem to Fort Lauderdale, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, we, Christians, we cannot keep the good news, the gospel, to ourselves. Our Catholic Faith is personal – but it cannot be private. The Faith would not have traveled far if the apostles –and the missionaries that followed them– held faith to be a “private” affair.

But there are many ways of “preaching” the gospel. Most people, I think, can only tolerate one sermon a week – and so they are turned off by people who preach at them. They say that St. Francis of Assisi wisely told his followers: “Preach always and use words if necessary.”  In other words, you can preach without opening your mouth. In fact, our example is usually more persuasive than our words.

When Jesus tells the apostles – and through them, he tells – to preach the Gospel “to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem”, He means for us to preach the Gospel to as many people as we can – by our example, our deeds, and when necessary, our words. beginning with those closest to our souls: those within our homes, within our circle of friends and co-workers, and where we live in our neighborhoods.

Jerusalem was where he celebrated his Last Supper, where he died and rose from the dead; Jerusalem was where the apostles prayed after Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, and where the Holy Spirit came down from heaven and their hearts, minds, and souls with the fire of his love. “Jerusalem” then represents for us both the historical city where the Church began and the place in the soul where God plants His grace.

As the early disciples saw the Lord after his Resurrection and worked through their doubts to arrive at belief, we are called to somewhat the same process. We must come into personal contact with the same risen Lord – and we do that through prayer, through reading the Sacred Scriptures; we do it through the celebration of the Sacraments of the Church, and we can also experience the presence of Jesus and his grace in the events of our life. To the extent we are open to his grace, Jesus bestows the gift of the Holy Spirit, to be our advocate and comforter, in our pilgrimage journey to God’s house.

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