Sunday, April 30, 2023

What Are We to Do?

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, "What are we to do, my brothers?"

To repeat the same news over and over - to oneself or to others – is sometimes a sign that one has little or nothing to say. Alternately, however, it may suggest that there is something so important that it must be said over and over, so that it can be accepted and become part of the things that matter most in one’s life. that is obviously the case with the news of the resurrection. To hear the proclamation of Jesus' resurrection, over and over, during these Easter Sundays strengthens our faith by the witness of others’ faith - in particular the faith of the apostles and those other early disciples who were the first to model the good news of the resurrection in their life together and so witness it to the world. Hence 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 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 which expresses its new experience in its worship.

On the Fourth Sunday of Easter, today's reading from Peter’s Pentecost sermon [Acts 2:14a, 36-41], we witness Peter wanting 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, and from which we might move on to some other item as we do all day long in our “information age.” Accordingly, his hearers, we are told, were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?” 

Some 50 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, more euphonious translation, “Brethren, what shall we do?” In that case, of course, it was bad news the reader was being asked to respond to - the early warnings of our current climate crisis, which - thanks to our widespread failure to respond - regularly keeps producing even more bad news.

Like the bad news about our changing climate, the good news of the resurrection challenges us to find the right response, a response which engages the whole person and ideally a whole community.

Today, for the 60th year in a row, the Church observes the annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations, a conciliar-era initiative bequeathed to the Church by Pope Saint Paul VI. "This providential initiative," Pope Francis has reminded us, "seeks to assist the members of the People of God, as individuals and as communities, to respond to the call and mission that the Lord entrusts to each of us in today’s world, amid its afflictions and its hopes, its challenges and its achievements."

In today's Church, Vocation Sunday signals both good news and bad news. The good news, of course, is that we have all been "called to a faith that bears witness, one that closely connects the life of grace, as experienced in the sacraments and ecclesial communion, to our apostolate in the world." Within this cosmic call, each of us is challenged to discern his or her special part in which Pope Francis calls the church's vocational "symphony," to ask the question, “Brethren, what shall do?” - and then to respond accordingly. Tomorrow, I will with gratitude and joy participate in the celebration of a 102-year old priest's 75th anniversary of ordination. Obviously, such longevity is a rare gift, which most of us will not be given. The point is not the length of one's life but how one uses that span of time to ask and answer that basic question, “Brethren, what shall do?”

The bad news, of which we are all aware, is that in our country at this time insufficient numbers appear to be asking and responding to this question in a way which will provide for the Church's communal life to flourish and its outward-facing mission to the world to continue.

In a particularly focused way, this 60th Annual World Day of Prayer for Vocations challenges us to focus on what is and will be required for the good news of the resurrection 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 the Risen Christ’s Body, the Church. It calls us to a renewed confidence - not unlike that of  those first Christians - in the Risen Lord’s promise to be with his Church forever and never to abandon it, regardless of all contrary indications in the present and our all too human fears for the future

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