Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in me will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father.”
This is the most (stereotypically!) Catholic Bible verse there is. That is a fact. If St. John the Beloved Disciple had not recorded it there in the Savior’s great High Priestly Discourse, who would dare to say such a thing?
Some Evangelical Protestants would say that it smacked of Roman or Orthodox devotion to the Mother of God and the saints. They would certainly say it is derogatory to the uniqueness of Christ alone. It might sound like a tag from St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s Glories of Mary. “Mary and her devoted John the Divine and the apostles and saints have done and are doing and will do greater works than those of Christ!” Imagine the reaction if that were a quotation from St. Louis de Monfort’s True Devotion!
Yet the words are there, fairly clear in their meaning. Let us see what St. Thomas Aquinas has to say about this passage:
The strongest sign of great power is when a person does extraordinary things not only by himself but also through others.
In another passage, Thomas even prefers the language in the Old Testament, borrowed from pre-scriptural paganism, that calls some men “gods.” He points out that God’s power is more manifestly great when he shares his knowledge, power, and happiness with others than were he to keep all these things to himself, and so the scriptures sometimes call angels and men “gods.”
The wider and deeper is the good, the more fully it is able to be participated in, shared in, and communicated to others. As the philosopher tells us, “The Good is diffusive of itself.”
St. Thomas then gives examples of this from the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles: Christ heals through the fringe of his garment (very Catholic idea that woman had!), but Peter by his mere shadow; Christ did not move the rich young man, who went away sorrowing, and yet the faithful came in great number and put their possessions at the disposal of the apostles. And so on.
But there is more. Along with St. Augustine, Thomas says that to justify a sinner is a greater work than to create the heavens and the earth! Why? Only God can do the first (and Christ is God!), but the other is a greater work of mercy that God does in us but also with us by moving our free will to repent. Repentance is our work and it is God’s work.
Think of it. When any one of us who is not in God’s grace prays a prayer of repentance, sorry for his sins on account of God’s goodness and love and willing to amend his life, he shares in a work that is greater than the creation of the world. When the priest who hears the confession of such a one pronounces the words of absolution, this is a greater thing than the “Let there be light” on the first day of creation. And this is accomplished in the soul of everyone who repents. When we recite in the creed, “I believe in the remission of sins” we profess a greater thing than “I believe in God the Creator of heaven and earth.”
It is surely true that we cannot do greater works than Christ without him, but the works we do with him are still really and truly our works. Miracles, preaching, and repenting are the stuff of the life of God’s saints and his Church. There is no truer thing about the Son of God than that his union with us by grace, by faith, by power is as real as his union with his Father and their Holy Spirit.
Our Lady has exhorted us to pray for the conversion of sinners; this work, accomplished in us through her intercession and through the free will of sinners moved by God freely, is a greater thing than any other work. And yet Our Lord promises that it will be so. He is happier and more glorious as our Savior than as our Creator, even as he is both.
In this month of May, during this strange time in the history of the world, we can take sure consolation in praying for this grace that is more dear to God than all he has made: the conversion of sinners. The hour is late, but there is still time. Lord Jesus, by our faith in you “lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of your mercy.”