Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary- Homilies

"Following the Lord to Live in His Light"
Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
February 6, 2011
Year A

Under the Emperor Nero around the year 64 AD the first wave of Christian persecution began. The Christians living in Rome were afraid for St. Peter, their bishop, and encouraged him to escape. So, Peter disguised himself and followed back streets out to the Appian Way. As he passed the city gate Jesus himself appeared to him, walking right past him into the city. Shocked, Peter fell to his knees, and asked: “Domine, quo vadis?” – “Lord, where are you going,” Jesus answered: “I am going into the city, to be crucified again.” Peter asked: “Lord, will you really again go to be crucified?” “Yes,” Jesus replied. St. Peter got up, turned back to the city, and said: “I will return and follow you.” Jesus smiled and disappeared, leaving only his footprints in the cobblestones on the road. At that moment St. Peter understood that God was calling him not to flee from the cross, as merely human wisdom would advise, but to follow in Christ's own footsteps and give his life for the faith. And Peter did indeed die in that persecution; he was martyred by being crucified upside down – because he did not deem himself worthy to die in the same manner as Our Lord.

It's not easy to build our lives on God's grace, because our faith doesn't always make sense in terms of merely human wisdom. It’s not easy to go against the grain of society, to swim against the current. But isn’t this what Our Lord is exhorting us to in today’s Gospel?

Our Lord’s words today come at the tail end of the Sermon on the Mount. The sayings about salt and light are St. Matthew’s formulations of sayings found also in the Gospels of Mark and Luke. They serve to define the identity of those who follow Christ faithfully. That identity is firmly rooted in Israel’s identity as the Chosen People but it also has significance for the whole world. “The salt of the earth, the light of the world, the city set on a hill,” – images that are understandable and visible to all and have rich, symbolic meaning. Salt gives flavor to food, makes it pleasant and preserves it from going bad. It is a symbol of divine wisdom. In the Old Testament it was prescribed that everything offered to God should be seasoned with salt, signifying that one making the offering willed that his sacrifice be pleasing to God. The creation of light was God’s first mode of operation when He called the universe into being. It is a symbol of the Lord Himself. In contrast, darkness, symbolizes disorder, death, hell and evil. In these sayings, then, Jesus calls His followers to be a light to all nations, to bear witness to His name in all circumstances, to be His presence in the world. Perhaps St. Peter called to mind this saying of Jesus when Our Lord appeared to him. Perhaps he realized that it would be through his death that the light of Christ would shine through him to all those living in Rome at the time, and indeed to Christians all over the world. That could not have been an easy decision to make – he must have realized though, how many people would be inspired to do the same for Jesus by looking to his own example.

There is in our society a disturbing crisis – the number of Christians who are afraid to bear authentic witness to Christ and to be an inspiration to others. There is a false mentality that our relationship with Jesus is solely a private matter. In one sense it certainly is – we have to know Christ on a personal and intimate level – but that knowledge of Him must be rooted in love and spill over into our words and deeds – into our everyday lives. One has only to make a good and thorough examination of conscience to know this fact – that person is able to see that when he sins, those faults not only have affect on his own personal relationship with God but how he has affected the lives others. Today, Christ speaks and acts through us because we bear His name; we carry His light. If we believe that our faith in Him is a private matter then that light is hidden and cannot shine on others. Christ, therefore, cannot work through us because we will not let Him. The question is, then, how do we let His light shine, how do we make Him known in our world, how can we be a light of inspiration for others? The prophet Isaiah tells – feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless – the first 3 of the corporal works of mercy. The rest are: give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, free those in captivity, and bury the dead. The corporal works of mercy are ways in which we can humbly follow Our Lord because we realize that through these actions we become a light for others, we see in them the image of Christ Himself and they see in us the God who cares for them.

For us, this means sometimes making tough decisions that seem strange to modern man but for us means being Christ for others – being light and not darkness – self-less and not selfish. Because in the end, as Pope John Paul II once said: “He needs you. In some ways you lend Him your face, your heart, your whole person, when you are convinced, dedicated to others, faithful servants of the Gospel. Then it will be Jesus Christ who attracts people.”

Like St. Peter, then, we need to get on our knees every day, gaze upon Our crucified Lord, and say to him: “Domine, quo vadis?  Where are you going, Lord, where do you want me to go? How can I be your light?" Let us pray that the grace of God given to us in the Holy Eucharist may strengthen our hearts and make the words of St. Paul our own – that our faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God.


Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Springfield, MA


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