The Convocation Homily of the Most Rev. Edward J. Slattery
The Most Rev. Edward J. Slattery, bishop of Tulsa, was the principal celebrant of Thomas Aquinas College's 2010 Convocation Mass of the Holy Spirit. (August 24, 2010)
“Peace be with you.” These are the first words that Jesus spoke to the apostles who were huddled together in the upper room for fear of the Jews. They were afraid. They had no idea what the future would hold for them — for all was lost; Jesus the Master was crucified, and now they holed together in fear — not unlike some of you right now, who are beginning a new school year, especially the freshmen. You’re wondering: What surprises are ahead for me? Will I succeed? All of us have many questions every day because we do not know the future.
And so I am here primarily for the purpose (as I would go anywhere) to give you hope. That is the vocation of a bishop — to give people who are struggling to live the Christian life hope. And hope requires that you surrender your life to Jesus Christ, and He will take care of you. This is what we believe, and I am here to remind you to do that, to surrender your life to Jesus Christ.
From Palm Sunday to Good Friday
What I would like to do, in contemplating the Gospel ( John 20:19-23), is to go back a few days before this Gospel event occurred. Let’s go back to Good Friday for just a moment. As you know, on Palm Sunday people were praising Christ because they were beginning to believe, or they did believe, that He was the Messiah, the one that was promised for centuries. What happened between Palm Sunday and Good Friday? How is it that so many people, throngs, changed to become a mob who yelled, “Crucify Him?” What happened?
Well, you see, the expectation was that God would send a messiah to save Israel. But they didn’t understand what kind of messiah was to come. They had preconceived notions. There were three qualities that the Messiah was to have: The first quality was that the Messiah would have power, and Jesus, over a period of three years, more or less, showed that He had power. He actually, with the word, raised the dead. He would give health to the sick with a word, a touch. He gave sight to the blind. So maybe He is the promised Messiah.
The second quality is that the Messiah would be wise. Well they hung on His words. Jesus in His preaching spoke in parables as we hear every Sunday. And every Sunday we go home scratching our heads wondering, “I think I know what it meant,” but every time we hear it we hear something new. Why? Because in the parable is divine knowledge which is inexhaustible. So it is humbling, but it also gives us hope. Jesus was wise. He was able to speak in a way that He could reveal divine truths in human language.
And finally, the Messiah was to be holy — a holy man. Jesus was certainly holy. He went to the temple and synagogue. He prayed. He talked about God all the time. He was powerful. He was wise. And He was so holy that people followed him all the way to Jerusalem. So what happened?
God Is Love
Jesus was about to reveal the identity of God, which no one knew yet. The identity of God is love. And so He was arrested for claiming to be equal to God. He was arrested and persecuted and executed for telling the truth about Himself. This is the revelation of the New Testament — that the Messiah was not only to come from God, but the Messiah is God Himself. God Himself would come to save us.
So Jesus came, and now they were going to disprove or test Him because God can’t die. “If you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross and then we will believe!” He could have — He didn’t. So you see, He shattered everyone’s concept of God to that point. They were willing to accept one who was powerful, wise, and holy. But they were not about to accept someone who was powerless as Jesus was on the Cross, foolish for hanging on the Cross, and a criminal. So everything went in reverse, upside down.
The most important statement in the Gospel of St. Mark comes from the mouth of the centurion who, at the foot of the Cross when Jesus died, says, “This was truly the Son of God.” So it is on the Cross, not the Resurrection but on the Cross, that Jesus reveals the identity of God as love. Something that none of us would have expected. No one expected it, but that’s who God is.
Of course when He rose from the dead, a change took place. He was no longer limited to time and space. And He appeared to the Apostles not to point His finger at them and to chastise them for not having faith, but to forgive them and to give them the power to forgive sins. His first words were “Peace be with you.” I say again, “Peace be with you,” and the Holy Spirit came upon them. Christ called the Holy Spirit upon them and gave them the power to forgive sins. They were probably waiting to be yelled at, chastised, but Jesus forgave them and gave them the power to forgive sins.
Recommitting to the Person of Christ
So on this first day of the school year, we recommit ourselves to the person of Jesus Christ who is the Son of God. The Messiah is God himself, and He leaves us with a great gift — the gift of Himself in the Eucharist. Mass is celebrated every day all over the world, but it is the same sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. He died and rose from the dead. Our salvation is offered to us every single day. And because now Jesus in His flesh is no longer limited to time and space, He can appear to us and will appear to us as He wishes — in His flesh. And so He appeared behind the closed doors, locked doors. There He was and then He vanished. He appeared to Mary Magdalene. At first she didn’t recognize Him until He decided she should recognize Him, and she did. And so on.
On the road to Emmaus, He walked with these men, these disciples, and they didn’t know Him at first. They sat down to break bread, they recognized him, and He vanished. So you see what will happen to you and to me after we die if we die faithful, in the state of grace. We will be resurrected from the dead and we will leave time, which is beyond our experience. We don’t know what that is like. That’s for philosophers to talk about and figure out. We base our lives on the promise of Jesus that He will take care of us in death, and that when we rise from the dead we, like Christ, will be made like Him. We will be no longer limited by time and space. That is beyond our experience, but that’s our faith.
This is the hope that I give you as I come here to Thomas Aquinas College on the first day of the school year. I come here to pray for you and to give you hope — hope in Jesus Christ who comes upon all of you by sending His Holy Spirit.