To Be Rooted in Christ
Homily for the 5th Sunday of Easter
Deacon Doug McManaman
Currently I am teaching prospective teachers at Niagara University (Toronto Campus). I taught for 32 and a half years as a classroom teacher and did not move up at all, but my friend who joined me this year to teach teachers became, early on, a vice principal, then a principal, a superintendent, and then assistant director of education. Every week we discussed what and how we were going to teach these prospective teachers. One of his suggestions was that we should have the students read the Gospel of Mark (the shortest gospel) straight through. Of course that’s a great idea; for I always insisted on this for my grade 10s; the goal was to have the students become familiar with the character of Christ; for we often hear only pieces of the gospel here and there, but to read a gospel straight through is very important; it gives us a deeper sense of Christ, his life, his personality, and his mission. So we put together an assignment for them to do that was not too demanding. Anyone can read the gospel of Mark in two sittings, but we got them to read just two or three chapters a week, and all we wanted them to do was to take informal notes on things that struck them. No need for in depth research.
That assignment was easily the most enjoyable assignment to mark. So many of them were nothing short of excellent. It was obvious that actually reading the gospel affected them significantly.
There is tremendous power in the word of God. There is tremendous power in reading the life of Christ as it is laid out in the gospels. And it needs to be powerful, because darkness also has some power. Falsehood has some power. It has the power to deceive. Christ said that the children of darkness are more shrewd than are the children of light (Lk 16, 8). That hasn’t changed. The children of light often lack shrewdness. They look to the surface of things only. If it glitters, if it sounds good, it must be good.
But how does a person get to that point where he or she can become more shrewd, less gullible, not so easily taken in by popular trends that sound good on the surface, but on closer inspection reveal a dangerous rot? The answer is to become more rooted in the truth. But, what does it mean to be rooted in the truth? Whose truth? “What is truth?” as Pontius Pilate famously asked Jesus. The irony is that the truth was standing right there in front of him, and he crucified the truth, because he was not rooted in the truth.
In our gospel today, Christ provides the answer: Thomas said to Jesus: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.”
To be rooted in the truth is to be rooted in Christ, because it is not that he possesses the truth or knows the truth, rather, he is the truth. He is the way, the truth, and he is life itself. All life comes from the Father, through the Word, through the Son; for all things were created through him and for him. He is the source of life and truth. It’s all about Christ. It’s not about us.
This is the wonderful thing about Catholicism. So many people who have left the Church think that Catholicism is fundamentally about us. They leave the Church when they hear news of the disgraceful behavior of the clergy in the past, or they hear of sinful bishops, or corrupt popes in our history, the Residential schools, abusive nuns or clergy, etc. My friend asked me, years ago, to do an RCIA class on the history of the Church, and I remember preparing for it, going over that history, trying to condense it into an hour. I think it was a rather boring session, I’m sorry to say, but I do remember asking him: are you sure you want me to talk about the history of the Church to these candidates. It might scare them away. There’s a lot of sin in our history. Clearly, the Catholic faith is not about us. If our goal is to get people to look toward us, all they are going to be is disappointed. No, just like the icons of John the Baptist or the Blessed Virgin Mary, our hands must point away from ourselves and point to the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. It’s all about Christ. Everything speaks of Christ. Every rose speaks of his crown of thorns and his blood poured out for us, every tree speaks of his cross, which is our salvation and stability. Winter speaks of his death, spring speaks of his resurrection, the endlessness of the universe speaks of his divine infinity, the movement of the sun from sunrise to sunset speaks of Christ the bridegroom, coming from his tent, going out to meet his bride, the Church, to redeem her and prepare her for the eternal marriage banquet in heaven. It’s all about him, not us.
Many of us are like Philip; we spend our lives in the Church, we’ve had 12 years of Catholic education, and yet we turn to Jesus and say to him: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied”. Jesus replies to us the same way he replied to Philip: “Have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?”
The Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father. To see this, we need to be rooted in the scriptures, for we need to become familiar with the personality and character of Christ. The more we are rooted in him, that is, the more we look to him, think about him, study him, look to him to guide us, spend time in silence with him, the more our eyes will be opened. The more shrewd we will become. We won’t be as easily deceived by false prophets and dangerous but trendy ideologies that are constantly popping up every few years. We’ll be able to see through the facade. If we are not rooted in the truth, who is Christ himself, if we allow ourselves to remain ignorant of his life, we’ll fall for anything that sounds good. Cardinal Collins gave a talk to Catholic trustees a few years ago, and I was struck by an image he employed; he spoke of “the meringue Jesus”, a Jesus that is made up of sweet and light meringue, the stuff you put on a lemon pie. It’s a Jesus that has no substance but is all sweet. The reason many people have the meringue Jesus in their heads instead of the real Jesus is that they don’t read scripture; they don’t pray the scriptures; they don’t contemplate the life of Christ in the reading of the gospels. But when you start to focus on Christ as he is revealed in the gospels, you see that he is not so sweet. For example, he is very offensive to the Pharisees, calling them “whitewashed tombs full of the bones of the dead”, a first century way of saying “You’re full of it”. He called them hypocrites. He spoke hard truths; for he condemned lying, fornication, adultery, murder, theft, greed of all kinds. He spoke of damnation. He even referred to certain people as pigs and dogs: Do not throw your pearls to swine, or feed holy things to dogs. He wasn’t talking about actual pigs and dogs. He knew that not everyone is genuine. There are people in this world who love evil.
But we won’t have the eyes to discern who these people are if we are naive. He said to us: be shrewd as serpents, but innocent as doves (Mt 10, 16). Many of us have the innocence part, but we lack the shrewdness. The children of darkness lack the innocence part, but they are shrewd. Immersed in Christ, we get both parts: shrewdness and innocence.
One thought on “To Be Rooted in Christ”
Excellent. Some beautiful and poetic parts too.
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