Homily, Easter Sunday 5A
When we think of the great works that Jesus did during His earthly life and hear Him say in this Gospel that those who believe in Him will do the same and even greater works, what does that mean? Probably what seems most conspicuous and what sticks most in our minds are the many visible signs and miracles that Jesus performed, physical healings from sickness, demonic possession, and disability, allowing the lame to walk, the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the mute to speak. We think of the multiplication of loaves and fish, the walking on the water, the calming of the storm at sea, even raising the dead to live again. What could be greater works than these that we still see today from the followers of Christ?
At least at the time of the Apostles we do see part of the answer even in these more physical signs and wonders. Sts. Peter and Paul do many of the very same things, even raising the dead to life. And in one aspect, they may have even done greater. Jesus healed the woman with the hemorrhage when she merely touched the hem or tassel of His garment. But compare this to the people who were healed as St. Peter merely passed by and as his shadow fell upon them or as others were healed just by receiving handkerchiefs that St. Paul had touched.
But in the end, all these physical healings and signs and wonders are just temporary things, temporary fixes. Have we ever considered the rest of the story, that all those that Jesus or the Apostles heal or even raise from the dead will—with the passage of time—eventually grow old, possibly get sick again, but ultimately die. A greater work at the time of Jesus and still today is the spiritual healing brought about through the forgiveness of sins. Jesus often uses physical healings to point to this deeper reality and greater healing of forgiveness. Still today, this greater work is brought about through Baptism and in the sacrament of Confession. Even souls dead in sin that had merited the everlasting pains of hell are restored to the life of grace and communion with God. A good Confession can have eternal consequences. But this is not the only “greater work” that the Holy Spirit has for us today.
Consider the teachings and revelation of Jesus Christ. The proclamation of the Gospel and the deepest truths of human life and ultimate realities is a greater work than any physical signs or wonders. Yet during the three years of Jesus’ public ministry, His proclamation of the Gospel was mostly confined to the Jews in Palestine. But His Apostles after Him would be entrusted with a greater work, to carry the Gospel to all the nations throughout the world. And this is still the same greater mission that is entrusted to us and to every follower of Jesus today, to proclaim His salvation to every man, woman, and child.
The other greater work that the Holy Spirit strengthens us to accomplish today is another that we witness in the Acts of the Apostles. At the time that Jesus said these words of the Gospel at the Last Supper, He had not yet accomplished His greatest work: His Passion and Death on the Cross, and His Rising from the dead, never to die again. The Holy Spirit greatly strengthened the Apostles and took these once cowardly men who had for many days been locked in the upper room and after Pentecost, allowed them even to rejoice in their sufferings, in being jailed, scourged, and put on trial, for refusing to be silent about Jesus Christ. Later on, they and many, many others would have the strength to rejoice even as they went to their own martyrdom, glad to be able to share something of the Cross and death of Christ in the great hope of His Resurrection. This faith of the martyrs is also a greater work than simply being rescued by God from every earthly trial.
Despite what we know by faith about eternal life and spiritual realities, many of us can still feel disappointed that God doesn’t often choose to perform miraculous physical healings through our hands or through our prayers. We all know people who could benefit from miracles, afflicted with various diseases and limitations. But again, what is really the greater work? That God would heal someone physically through your presence, that He would take away the symptom of some physical discomfort and pain, temporarily? Or, in an age when so many people around us are pushing for euthanasia, for “mercy” killing, and selective abortions, is it not a far greater work of the Holy Spirit that God would be able to use us today to continue to affirm the value of each and every human life, even in the midst of suffering?
In some ways, it’d be a lot easier to convince someone of God’s love for them if we could at the same heal them physically, but God calls us to an even greater work, to recognize and have genuine faith in His love even as He allows us or others to continue to suffer. That life doesn’t have to be perfect or free from pain to have infinite value. That regardless of someone’s condition or level of productivity, they still are in the image of God to us and worthy of our time, attention, and unconditional love. That human suffering can have meaning and value, when borne patiently and joined to the saving Cross of Christ, offered for the conversion of sinners and in reparation for our sins and the sins of others. That those who are sick are not the only ones who benefit from a visit, but those who care for the sick can actually receive more than they are able to give.
These are some of the “greater works” that the Holy Spirit is calling us and enabling us to engage in today, the forgiveness of sins, the proclamation of the Gospel to everyone we meet, to speak and to act prophetically in the face of a culture of death, even through the patient endurance of trials. This is the power of God that He entrusts to each and every one of us, to say to every person that we meet, no matter what their status, their ability or inability, to say to each one, “You are loved by God. God longs for you and wants to spend eternity with you.” And these greater works call for real faith through the Holy Spirit, not just a curiosity or fascination with signs and wonders. Our life on this earth is short and temporary. May the Holy Spirit always be preparing us and those around us, to live for ever.