In the same way that you can’t un-ring a bell, they couldn’t go back to pre-Jerusalem days, no more so than we can go back to pre-pandemic days.
Like the disciples in Jesus’ time, our lives have been disrupted in ways we have only begun to name. And, just as they were, we too are searching for meaning and purpose. And the search is hard and confusing. How shall we live now?
During the Easter season we hear readings from the Acts of the Apostles. This book is really part 2 of Luke’s Gospel. Both were penned by the same person and attributed to the Apostle, Luke. Part 1, the Gospel of Luke, focuses on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Part 2, Acts of the Apostles, focuses on the life of the original disciples and the development of the early church. These readings point toward a way of living that, for them, was brand new, certainly counter-cultural, and required conversion and reconciliation.
As we just heard, Peter said to the people—the same people who cried out on Good Friday, “We want Barabbas, not this one!”—“Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”
But early on, the disciples encountered a particular challenge first presented by Thomas in last Sunday’s gospel reading: how to effectively mediate faith as an integral way of life to those persons, communities, and cultures who did not have the first hand, face-to-face experience of Jesus. How to pass on faith to those who didn’t know Jesus firsthand.
A challenge that confronts every age.
Regardless of pandemic, that challenge has been raging in our culture for at least several decades, and it’s clear that communities of faith—ours included—have not found effective ways to offer a compelling vision of a way of life that is worth living, even though, and here’s the rub, many people are seeking precisely that. If we had, our pews would be full. And we would actually have influence the racial tensions that plague our society.
Quick story. Dr. Peter Senge, senior lecturer at MIT and author of The Fifth Discipline and expert on systems management and organizational learning (not a church guy, not a theologian), tells about his visit to a large bookstore where he asked the manager what the most popular books are these days. The response: first, books on how to get rich in the new information economy. No surprise there. Second most popular, the manager said, were books about spirituality, and in particular, books about Buddhism. That made Senge think, and wonder, why are books on Buddhism so popular and not books on Christianity?
He answered his own question this way: “I think it’s because Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief. So, I would want to get Christians thinking about how to rediscover their own faith as a way life, because that’s what people are searching for today.”
Yesterday, six of our young people received the Sacrament of Confirmation from Archbishop Sample over at St. Rose Parish, along with twenty or so other youth from three other parishes. I know our youth have been well-formed and prepared to receive this sacrament by Mylie Madrid Hommes and JD Duran. Yet, I can’t help but wonder how each of these youth feels: in their minds, have they simply completed their course of study in the system of belief that we call Catholic? Was yesterday like ‘graduation’? Or do they see themselves diving deeper into a way of life that can serve them well for decades to come? Quite frankly, a lot depends on us and how we beckon them into our way of living.
Comes back to that question: How shall we live now?
Our gospel story today picks up right at the conclusion of the story of the two on the road to Emmaus. You know the story of the two disciples who spend the day walking toward Emmaus shortly after Jesus’ death. A man joins up with them whom they don’t recognize. He teaches them the meaning behind all those events . . . and their hearts were burning within them. And then they recognize him as Jesus in the breaking of bread together. Then they run back to Jerusalem to tell all the others of their experience. Our story picks it up from there. Jesus appears to them again.
Amidst this profound experience, Jesus says at least three things that each of us needs to hear to help answer that question: How shall we live now? Jesus says:
How do we get there? How do we truly heed the message of Jesus here? That’s the essence of faith itself. In the words of the bookstore manager, do we place our faith in a belief system or in a way of life?
The catechetical method in which most of us were raised is anchored in belief system and can be summarized in a three-word progression: believe, behave, belong. Our formula has been 1) believe certain truths about the Christian faith, 2) behave in a way that reflects these beliefs, and 3) become a full member of our tradition, a la Confirmation.
If the central question in the post-pandemic world is “How shall we live now?” . . . If we don't want our newly confirmed young people to simply disappear . . . If we wish to recover some level of influence and have a voice in the social issues of our time, then I think we need to put more emphasis on a way of living. Let’s turn the formula around to behave, belong, believe. 1) Behave - let’s each of us authentically engage in the practices of our faith: prayer, worship, service, pastoral care, and the like. 2) Belong – let’s come together as an authentic community living those practices in an attractive way that beckons others in, particularly our young people. 3) Believe – let’s explore together how our rich tradition, centuries of Christian living, informs our daily practice . . . now.
Let’s embrace our faith as a way of life.