May 12, 2020 // Bishop's Column: In Truth and Charity

On Pilgrimage to the Father’s House

The following homily was delivered by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades during a livestreamed Mass from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2020:

The Gospel today is part of Jesus’ final discourse to His disciples at the Last Supper. The disciples were naturally troubled that Jesus was leaving them. Our Lord encouraged them to have faith. He told them not to be troubled, that He was going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house. And He promised them that He would come back and take them with Him to His Father’s house.

What comfort these words bring to us. That’s why many people choose this Gospel for the funeral Masses of their loved ones. We believe that Jesus has indeed gone to the Father’s house and entered into heavenly glory and that He will come back at the hour of our death and take us to be with Him and the Father forever. Because of this faith, when someone we love dies, we don’t fall into despair. St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.” As Christians, we have this hope in eternal life because we believe that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life.”

It’s good to think of our life and to live our life with this destination in mind. This is what our life is: a pilgrimage to the Father’s house. Our purpose, our end is to go to the Father’s house. And Jesus shows us the way. He is the way! In the Gospel today, Thomas asked Him about this. I always love when the apostles, who often don’t really understand what Jesus is teaching them, speak up and ask a question. I’m glad they ask because then Jesus explains more, which helps us also, because we’re like the apostles, we’re human, and we seek to understand what Jesus teaches. If it wasn’t for Thomas and other disciples asking Jesus questions, we wouldn’t have these wonderful answers that Jesus gives. So thank you, Thomas, for asking Jesus to explain! Thomas said: “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” And because Thomas asked that question, we have those wonderful words of Jesus in response: “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

Jesus is the way. In last Sunday’s Gospel, we heard Jesus say something similar. He said: “I am the gate for the sheep.” Jesus is the gateway leading to God and eternal life. He’s the way to the Father’s house. He is the truth as well. He reveals the truth about His Father and the truth about us, about who we are and are meant to be. Jesus is also the life. He’s the source of eternal life. Remember the words of Jesus we heard last Sunday: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Jesus gives us a share in the life of the Blessed Trinity. That’s why He became man: to lift us up to share in the divine communion which he, as the Son, has enjoyed from all eternity.

When you pray, do you ever ask Jesus questions or ask Him for explanations? We should, because we don’t always understand things. We can pray: “Jesus, help me to understand.”  Understanding is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. We can ask the Holy Spirit to give us that gift. We should be honest and frank when we pray, trusting that He will give us light and strength.

It’s not only Thomas who asks a question in the Gospel today. Another apostle, Philip, also asks Jesus a question. Like Thomas, Philip was having a hard time really understanding what Jesus was saying. So he said to Jesus: “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”  Our Lord very gently rebukes Philip for his incomprehension. He says: “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?” When you think about it, Philip had been with Jesus for about three years. He should have had some understanding about what Jesus was saying. This kind of gives us some hope when we’re a little slow about understanding some aspect of our faith.

Jesus patiently answers and teaches Philip. He says: “Philip, whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Remember, elsewhere Jesus had said this to the disciples: “The Father and I are one.” Jesus had often told them about His union with the Father. He had told them that the Father had sent Him into the world. So Jesus then asks Philip and all the disciples: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” Jesus goes on to explain that the words He speaks are not His own. He is the spokesman for the Father. And then He explains also that His works (His miracles) are the deeds of His Father. Jesus says: “The Father who dwells in me is doing His works.” Our Lord appeals to the disciples to believe this. He says: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me or else, believe because of the works themselves.” 

The basic truth of all this is that whoever has seen Jesus has seen God. As Pope Benedict XVI so often said: “God gave Himself a human face, the Face of Jesus, and consequently, from now on, if we truly want to know the Face of God, all we have to do is to contemplate the Face of Jesus!  In his Face we truly see who God is and what He looks like!” This gets to the very heart of our Christian faith. Jesus isn’t merely a great prophet or world religious figure. He is God. God is not an unknown Person. He revealed Himself to humanity. He became flesh and blood. Jesus is the Truth, the true Face of God. Jesus of Nazareth is also the ultimate answer to who we are and who we are meant to be.

We all seek meaning in our life. We seek joy and happiness. We find these things in Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, in God’s only-begotten Son who became flesh and dwelt among us. God did not leave us groping in the dark. He has shown Himself to us as a man. As Jesus said to Philip: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

Our mission, the mission of the Church, is to show the world by our words and by our actions the true Face of God. We are the Body of Christ. We are called to reflect in our lives the Face of Jesus. In a world often empty of God, that has often forgotten God, we’re called to show His Face, the Face of mercy, goodness, and love, the Face of Jesus Christ who reveals the Father.

Jesus said in today’s Gospel: “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.” How is this possible? It is possible because the glorified Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, which we hear so often in the readings of this Easter season, we see the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church.

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“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” Jesus told His disciples. “If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”

Brothers and sisters, we’re all on this pilgrimage to the Father’s house where Jesus has prepared a place for us. Jesus is our Way on this pilgrimage. He is the Truth that lights our way. And He is the life that sustains us. I think of the example of Pope St. John Paul II, whose 100th birthday is approaching — May 18th. He lived His whole life as a pilgrimage to the Father. He believed in Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And He showed the whole world the Face of Jesus, the Face of God. The last words He spoke on the day he died, on April 2, 2005, on his deathbed, were whispered to a nun who was caring for him at that time. He said to her in the weakest of voices: “Let me go to the Father’s house.” That was his life’s goal and he reached it. May that be our life’s goal! Let us help one another on our pilgrimage to the Father’s house!

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