Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
May 13, 2007
Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
"The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you." John 14:26
I believe it was the great French journalist, Emile Zola, who was assigned to visit Lourdes to report on the apparitions and miracles at that holy spot. In his newspaper article, he commented that Lourdes was what it was. For those who did not believe, no explanation was possible. For those who did believe, no explanation was necessary.
Such is mystery, particularly a mystery surrounding a vision. We encounter one such vision in the second reading for today's Mass. John has a glorious vision. An angel takes him to a high mountain. There he sees the holy city Jerusalem descending from heaven. Some make the Book of Revelation, from which this passage is taken, a puzzle or riddle that must be solved. For John no explanation is necessary.
The early Christians believed the Church was the new Jerusalem. No less than St. Paul makes reference to it in Galatians. He writes, "The Jerusalem on high is freeborn, and it is she who is our mother" (Galatians 4:26). St. Paul understood that the Church was Christ's Body, as he says in Ephesians. "He has put all things under Christ's feet and has made him, thus exalted, head of the church, which is his body" (Ephesians 1:22). From that Body, like a mother, Christians were born. The City of Jerusalem became an image of that mother, that body. Christ was presented in the Temple of Jerusalem. He was crucified and buried there, and on the third day He had risen there. The Holy Spirit had descended in Jerusalem, and the Church had been born.
So the vision that John has, for which no explanation is necessary, is not a puzzle or a riddle. The Jerusalem of the vision gleams with the splendor of God. It is radiant like precious stones. John needs no explanation, and neither did the early Christians. They interpreted the prophecies of Ezekiel and Isaiah as fulfilled, that Jerusalem's pavements would be laid in carnelian, with a foundation of sapphires and walls of precious stones (Isaiah 54:11-12).
Can there be any doubt to the identity of this heavenly Jerusalem? "It had a massive, high wall, with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed and on which names were inscribed, the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites. The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (Revelation 21:12, 14). There was a Chosen People of God constituted by twelve tribes. Now it was fulfilled in a New People of God built on the foundation of the twelve apostles.
Easter is a celebration of many things, but it is also a celebration of Church. Some will say that the Church is not necessary, that it is accidental or peripheral to the reality of the Christian message. This is not the thinking of the Scriptures, nor was it the thinking of the early Christians.
We need look no further for this necessity than the Gospel of today's Mass. It is taken from Jesus' last discourse. Speaking to his disciples, Jesus says, "The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you" (John 14:26). The work of the Spirit is to preserve the teachings of Christ. There is no book to preserve those teachings unless there is a Body of believers who cooperate with the Spirit to preserve His word. The integrity of the message will depend upon the unity of the believers in preserving it, and there is no unity apart from the Church, Christ's Body. Jesus beseeched the Father the night before He died, "I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me" (John 17:21). The world will believe because of the unity of believers.
I rejoice with you in the vision of St. John in the Book of Revelation. The glory that he describes is ours in the City of God. We are part of a new Jerusalem whose temple is God himself. And there is no sun or moon needed, for "its lamp was the Lamb" (Revelation 21:23). Like a mother that cares for her children, like a loving mother who feeds her sons and daughters, we will come to the temple of God, and we will open our mouths and be fed by the Lamb, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet in the new Jerusalem.