To repeat the same news over and over - to oneself or to others – can help it be accepted and become part of the things that matter most in one’s life. To hear the proclamation of the resurrection, over and over, during these Easter Sundays strengthens our faith by the witness of others’ faith - in particular the faith of the apostles. So one of the most noticeable features that distinguishes Easter from other seasons of our Catholic liturgical year is the daily reading from the New Testament book known as The Acts of the Apostles. Through our journey with the original apostles through the book of Acts, we identify ourselves with that first generation of Christians in their experience of the Risen Christ, becoming like them a community of disciples which witnesses to the presence and action of the Risen Lord in his Church a community expresses its new life in its liturgy.
In today’s 1st reading from Peter’s preaching to the people that first Pentecost Sunday [Acts 2:14a, 36-41], Peter wanted his hearers to feel personally impacted by his message – not simply hearing some new bit of information about which one might or might not care, as we do all day long in our “information age.” According to the Acts of the Apostles, Peter was apparently quite successful. The people, we are told, were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?” (Some 35 years ago, in a grad school paper on the change in world-view which the “global resource crisis” - as it was then called - might require, I took that verse for my title, using an older translation, “Brethren, what shall we do?”)
Now one response to Peter’s message might have been a certain feeling of guilt. In the process of conversion, guilt is often a first step. Guilt alone, however, can get stuck in a focus on oneself. We avoid getting stuck, absorbed in ourselves, when guilt goes forward to true conversion, which resolves guilt with forgiveness and the freedom which comes from forgiveness.
The proclamation of the good news – whether in 1st-century Jerusalem or 21st century Tennessee - ought always to lead to that call to conversion. As Peter told the people, the promise is made to all those. Whomever the Lord our God will call. The apostles’ message of the call to conversion was, in the first instance of course, an invitation to identification with Christ in baptism. But, once we have been baptized, we are repeatedly exhorted, as Peter exhorted his hearers in today’s 2nd reading [1 Peter 2:20b-25], to follow in Christ’s footsteps, living the new life made accessible to us by Christ’s death and resurrection, remaining united with him no matter what.
We hear this message repeated, Sunday after Sunday, during this Easter season, inviting us to see something not just for the 1st century, but for ourselves here and now already one decade into the 21st century.
In particular, on this 48th Annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations, the Church challenges us to focus in a special way on what is required for the message to continue to get out, to continue to get transmitted, from this generation to the next, in the life of Christ’s Body, the Church. With confidence in the Risen Lord’s promise to be with his Church forever and never to abandon it, we must like those first Christians nevertheless take seriously our responsibility to do our part in making the mission of the Church actually happen among the people of our day.
As Pope Benedict has written in his message for this Day of Prayer for Vocations:
“Particularly in these times, when the voice of the Lord seems to be drowned out by “other voices” and his invitation to follow him by the gift of one’s own life may seem too difficult, every Christian community, every member of the Church, needs consciously to feel responsibility for promoting vocations. It is important to encourage and support those who show clear signs of a call to priestly life and religious consecration, and to enable hem to feel the warmth of the whole community as they respond “yes” to God and the Church.”
“‘Proposing Vocations in the Local Church’,” the Pope continues, “means having the courage, through an attentive and suitable concern for vocations, to point out this challenging way of following Christ which, because it is so rich in meaning, is capable of engaging the whole of one’s life.”
Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter (48th Annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations), Immaculate Conception church, Knoxville, TN, May 15, 2011.