Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A.
Two weeks ago, eight men were ordained deacons for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. These men will go on to be ordained priests next May, God-willing. But for this next year they will commit themselves to serving as deacons, proclaiming the gospel at Mass, serving at the altar, and exercising charity towards the poor and needy. The ordination of deacons today takes place in a similar manner as it did in the early Church, which we heard about in our first reading. Like the apostles did with these seven men, the bishops, who are the successors of the apostles, pray and lay hand on those they are ordaining. But before they are ordained, the deacon-elect make several promises. One of these is the promise to pray what’s called the Liturgy of the Hours.
For those who are unfamiliar, the Liturgy of the Hours is part of the official prayer of the Church. Like the Mass, it has a particular structure: times when you sit, times when you stand; times when you sing, times when you read, times when you listen. But the main part of the Liturgy of the Hours is the praying of the psalms. Over the course of four weeks, you basically pray all one hundred and fifty psalms. And it’s fitting to do so, because the psalms would have been a central part of the prayer of Jesus. He would have been intimately familiar with them. And we know that He was, because the psalms are the prayers Jesus turns to when He’s dying on the Cross. When Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He is quoting Psalm 22. When He says, before breathing His last, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” He is quoting Psalm 31. Anyone who prays the Liturgy of the Hours—whether a deacon, a priest, a religious, or a layperson—joins in the prayer of Jesus. Jesus prays in them, and they in Jesus.
If you pray the psalms long enough, you become familiar with certain themes that emerge over and over again throughout the psalms. One of those themes is the desire to see the face of God:
- Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord (Ps. 4)
- Of you my heart has spoken: “Seek his face.” It is your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your face (Ps. 27)
- Let your face shine on your servant. Save me in your love (Ps. 31)
- From my sins turn away your face and blot out all my guilt (Ps. 51)
- Do not hide your face from your servant; answer quickly for I am in distress (Ps. 69)
- Let your face shine upon your servant; teach me your statutes (Ps. 119)
Over and over, again and again, there is this desire to see the face of God. In the face of God is to be found light, salvation, mercy, freedom from distress, wisdom, and the satisfaction of every desire of the human heart. And this is what Philip is asking for in our gospel when he says to Jesus, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Show us the face of God, Jesus, and every desire of my heart will be satisfied—it will be enough for me. What you have been looking for Philip has been with you all along, Jesus replies. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
As someone who was relatively shy when I was growing up, one of the most painful experiences was feeling rejected by my peers in a social setting. The experience of no one coming up to talk to you at a gathering, of people walking by you—not even looking at you or acknowledging your presence—was excruciating. You felt invisible, unwanted and unloved. When someone did come up to you, when someone was willing to spend more than a moment with you, and especially when someone was willing to look you in the eye and give you their full attention, it was thrilling. You could believe, if only for a moment, that you were loved.
If feeling unloved by your peers is hard, it’s even harder when it’s your own father. Thankfully that was not the case for me, but I know many people who have felt this way. This is one of the most painful experiences in life: to feel unloved by your father. We all desire to be looked upon with love and approval by our father, or at least to have a father who would look at us in that way. The feeling of being invisible, unwanted and unloved, is magnified when it’s your own flesh and blood that does not acknowledge your presence, or is not willing to give you the attention you desire and deserve.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a daughter, but I know as a son I have always desired to hear my father say to me: “I love you,” “I trust you,” “I’m proud of you,” and “you are enough.” And while I haven’t always been willing to admit it, I have also always wanted my father to say to me: “I know that you can do better. I know, that by God’s grace, and your good efforts, you can become the person who are called to be.” Thankfully I have a father who’s willing to say those things, but not all of us do, even though we desire it.
We all want a father who will love us where we are at, but who will love us too much to leave us there. This is what we want in a human father. It’s a tall task and a heavy burden for any human father to bear. No human father is perfect; some are far from it. In the face of our human father we cannot always find what we are looking for. But we can find it in our Heavenly Father, whose face has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”
One of the most fruitful spiritual exercises I have ever done in my life is to regularly spend time imagining Jesus looking at me. When people are unwilling to look at us, when they fail to acknowledge our presence or give us attention, that can leave a deep wound, especially if it’s a father who does this. But in the face of Jesus we find the face of our Heavenly Father whose loving gaze can heal those wounds. If you have a wound like that in your life, I’d encourage you to spend some time imagining Jesus looking at you with love. Because He does look at you that way. It may be hard at first to believe that He does, but this will come with time. If you are a father, this can be an especially helpful exercise. By looking at Jesus looking at you, you can learn how to look at your children with the eyes of our Heavenly Father.
“Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” May this be our prayer to Jesus this week. Amen.