Sunday, May 31, 2009

4-20-2008: 5th Easter (A)

Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7/Psalm 33/1Peter 2:4-9/John 14:1-12
If they had karaoke back in Jesus’ day Thomas and Philip might be taking turns offering their rendition of Is That All There Is. In today’s gospel Thomas wants to know where Jesus is leading them (what’s the plan, Thomas seems to be asking. Where’s the directions?); and Philip suspects that if he can just get a glimpse of God Himself, he’ll have no more problems. When Jesus makes it clear that he’s it, you can almost hear Peggy Lee’s voice in the background…

This weekend Pope Benedict visits the United States. Many will trek long distances and sacrifice creature comforts just to get a glimpse of the Vicar of Christ and receive his blessing – albeit from afar. Some will come out of respect and a desire to feel a connection with their Catholic identity; others will be seeking miracles, great and small; still others, like one young man (featured in the New York Times) who traveled from the Southwest, seek a life-changing experience that they hope the Holy Father will initiate.

The pope is a formidable presence both in his person and in his office. History will no doubt judge Joseph Ratzinger to have been one of the foremost Catholic theologians of the twentieth century. And, if observers are truthful, they will admit that the continuation of a two-thousand-year institution is more than just a display of pomp and circumstance. The papacy, at this moment in history, has the potential to be a significant force for both the continuation of western culture as an expression of a civilization based on love and mercy, and the focal point of unity for the world’s diverse cultures and religions.

But I suspect that, like Jesus in today’s gospel, Benedict will not meet the expectations of many. Just as Jesus could not give Thomas a detailed plan for every step of life’s journey, nor show Philip a Polaroid of God the Father, Benedict will not be able to quench the thirst for revenge that the sex abuse scandal has engendered, nor make teens want to go to Mass instead of the soccer game on Sunday morning.

While conversion is often cast in the light of faith, on a purely human level it has a lot to do with expectations -- and our willingness to change those expectations. Perhaps it’s faith itself which helps us change our unreasonable and fanciful expectations so that we can focus on the here and now. Jesus makes it clear to Thomas and Philip that he’s it and, yes, that’s all there is. Once they can grasp that truth, they can stop wasting time and energy on flights of fancy, thinking the grass is always greener on the other side. Perhaps today’s gospel, and the papal visit, remind us that faith – like politics – is all local. Pomp and circumstance, awe and glory can be worthwhile if they serve to remind us that the answers we seek, the miracles we crave, the divine voice our ears strain to hear can be found in the everyday ordinariness of life. Change your expectations and your mundane life suddenly feels shot through with glory – like you just found your life’s direction on MapQuest or the family photo album of Jesus and his Dad.

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