To repeat the same news over and over again is one way to highlight its importance. 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 that of the apostles. That is why one of the most noticeable features that distinguishes Easter from other seasons of our Catholic liturgical calendar is the daily reading from 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 which witnesses to the presence and action of the Risen Lord in his Church, a community which expresses its new life in its worship.
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?”
The proclamation of the good news – whether in 1st-century Jerusalem or 21st century Tennessee - ought always to lead to that same invitation to respond with true conversion of heart, in repentance which resolves guilt with forgiveness and the freedom which comes from forgiveness. 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, initially 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, as something intended not just for the 1st century, but for every time and place and for ourselves here and now.
As Jesus says in today’s Gospel [John 10:1-10], I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly. This life Jesus intends us to have is the life he possesses from his Father and which he shares with us in his body, the Church, in which the Risen Lord remains present forever by his gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church.
In particular, on this 54th Annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations, the Church challenges us to focus in a special way on what is required for this message to continue to be heard, to continue to be spread from place to place, and to continue to be passed on from this generation to the next, in the life of Christ’s Body, the Church. Confident as were those first Christians in the Risen Lord’s promise to be with his Church forever and never to abandon it, we must like them also take seriously our responsibility to do our part in making the mission of the Church actually happen among the people of our day and continue to happen in the future.
As Pope Francis has written in his message for this 54th Annual Day of Prayer for Vocations:
Those who are drawn by God’s voice and determined to follow Jesus soon discover within themselves an irrepressible desire to bring the Good News to their brothers and sisters through proclamation and the service of charity. … As disciples, we do not receive the gift of God’s love for our personal consolation, nor are we called to promote ourselves, or a business concern. We are simply men and women touched and transformed by the joy of God’s love, who cannot keep this experience just to ourselves. … This is particularly the case with those called to a life of special consecration … serenely confident because they have discovered the true treasure, anxious to go out and joyfully to make it known to all.
Homily for the 4th Sunday of Easter and the 54th Annual Day of Prayer for Vocations, Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, May 7, 2017.