April 14, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Sunday in Easter
Reading I (Acts 2:14, 22-33) Reading II (1 Peter 1:17-21)
Gospel (St. Luke 24:13-35)
In the Gospel reading this morning, we hear Cleopas, as he is walking along the road to Emmaus, say to Our Lord (even though at this point he does not recognize that this is Jesus), "We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel. We were hoping that." Now that would have made perfect sense if Cleopas would have said that on Holy Saturday, but this was Easter Sunday. After the women had seen the vision of the angels who proclaimed to them that the Lord was alive, even after Peter and John had gone to the tomb and found it just as the women had said and came back and reported that, still these men did not believe. They went off on a journey to Emmaus rather than to stay in Jerusalem and have faith in the Resurrection. Even along the way they would be able to say that they were hoping that he would be the one – just hoping.
Now we need to ask our own selves, "Where do we stand on this issue?" Are we still just hoping that He would be the One who might save our souls? Are we hoping that He is the One who would forgive our sins? Are we hoping that He is the One who will open for us the way to Heaven? Are we hoping that the promises He made are really true? Or do we have faith in these things?
In the second reading today, Saint Peter says, "He was known before the foundation of the world, but revealed in this final time to you, who through faith in Him, believe in God who raised Him from the dead." Before that, Saint Peter reminds us that we were saved and ransomed from our futile conduct, "not by any kind of diminishable sum of silver or gold, but by the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, a spotless and unblemished Lamb".
The question I pose to you today is do you believe that or do you merely hope that that is true? If you hope that that is true, then one day you are going to stand before Jesus and you are going to be filled with terror. Trembling, you will come before the Lord and you will say, "Well, I was hoping that it was true!" But you are not going to recognize Him. And far worse than that, He will look at you and say, "I do not know you. Out of My sight, you evildoer!" because if all that we have is the hope that He might be the One, the hope that maybe, maybe, His Blood would be enough to free us from our futile ways, our sinful ways, but we are not sure that it really will, then we do not accept the sacrifice that He offered, we do not accept that He really is the Messiah. We would only have hope that maybe He is.
And because we do not have the faith that He is the Christ, neither will we act upon it. We certainly are not going to put ourselves out on a limb for something that we do not believe in. Instead, we will have this quiet, interior hope. And we will not discuss it with anybody unless we know them very well because we would not want ourselves to be vulnerable enough to be known to be entertaining such thoughts. So again, I challenge you with that same question. Do you have faith that Jesus Christ has indeed saved you from your sins, delivered you from the futile ways handed on by our ancestors, and opened for us the way to Heaven? Or do you only hope that those things might be true?
Saint Peter, at first, did not have the faith. Jesus had told Him that He was going to be put to death, but that He would be raised up on the third day. Peter, remember, tried to argue with Jesus about that. Then Peter saw Jesus transfigured on Mount Tabor and [Jesus] told him, as well as James and John, to speak nothing of this until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. But they did not understand what that meant. Now Peter had seen the tomb empty and still did not understand, and, consequently, did not believe.
But in the Gospel reading today, we heard that Peter had seen the risen Lord. And because he saw, he believed. Then, filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter went out and preached. Filled with the understanding that the Holy Spirit had given to him, he now was able to say to the people: "Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs, which God worked through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know." Then he went on to say, "This man, delivered up for the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify Him. But God raised Him up, releasing Him the throes of death, because it was impossible for Him to be held by it." Then he quoted what David said in the psalm about how He would not allow His flesh to undergo corruption.
See this change in Peter as well as the other disciples who went forth and preached the Resurrection. They no longer were hoping that Jesus was the One. They no longer looked at the Passion, the Death, and the Resurrection of Our Lord as something which was unfortunate, as something which they no longer understood. Now they saw with clarity that this was the Will of God, that this was the means by which we would be saved and that it was not just some tragedy that occurred, but rather, it was for the set purpose and foreknowledge of God; that this was the means by which everything God had promised in Scripture would be fulfilled, and therefore we can have faith in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we can have faith that all of the promises made by God are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We do not have hope that He might be the One, but rather, we have hope that we will be able to be with Him forever in Heaven. But that hope must be built firmly and solidly on an unshakeable foundation of faith.
It is not enough for us to sit here today and hope that Jesus is the One; we must have faith – absolute and unshakeable faith – that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, that He is the Son of God, that He is the One who saves us from our sins. We will know if that faith is solid and unshakeable if we are acting upon it. If we are not acting upon it, we have hope that He is the One, but not necessarily the faith that He is the One. Are you living that faith in Jesus Christ? Do the people around you recognize your faith by the way that you live? Do you tell other people about Jesus Christ and about His Church? Or are you embarrassed to be known to be a follower of Christ? Are you embarrassed to be a Catholic? With all the scandals going on in the Church today, are you embarrassed to be called a Catholic? Are you looking more at the humanity in the Church rather than at the divinity of Jesus Christ? Have you decided to go on a journey, walking away from the scene of the Crucifixion, because your hope has been disappointed, because the way you thought it was going to happen is not quite the way it is going? Or do you have faith in Jesus Christ and that this is the one Church that He founded as the sacrament of salvation for all peoples at all times? Do you have that faith that makes you stand firm with Jesus in the time of His Passion, the absolute faith in His Resurrection and that He is the One, the only One, who is the Son of God sent into this world to die for our sins so that we could have everlasting life, and that what is happening now in the Church, just as it was 2,000 years ago, is according to the set purpose and foreknowledge of God and that it is for our salvation? Do we have that faith? Or are we like these disciples who have heard the Word of God, who have heard from others that this is the truth, but we do not have enough faith to believe it?
The Lord places this before us today and we need, each one, to answer this question that I have already posed twice and will pose for you again to ponder throughout this Mass, to ponder throughout the day, to take to prayer and look very seriously at the way you are living your life. Ask yourself, "Do I have faith that Jesus is the One? Or do I merely have hope that maybe He is the One?" Without faith there is no salvation. The hope that we must have is the hope to be with Him, not the hope that He might be the One. We must have absolute confidence in Jesus Christ that He is the One sent by God to free us from our sins and to give us eternal life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.