By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter - on the Gospel
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The Christian Identity

Acts 14:21-27 Revelation 21:1-5 John 13:1, 31-35

The renowned artist Paul Gustave Dore once lost his passport while travelling in Europe. When he came to a border crossing, he explained his predicament to one of the guards. Giving his name to the official, Dore hoped he would be recognized and allowed to pass. The guard, however, said that many people attempted to cross the border by claiming to be persons they were not. Dore insisted that he was the man he claimed to be. "All right," said the official, "we'll give you a test, and if you pass it we'll allow you to go through." Handing him a pencil and a sheet of paper, he told the artist to sketch several peasants standing nearby. Dore did it so quickly and skilfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. His action confirmed his identity.

Christians have always had the problem of how to tell the world who they are. At some periods in history and still in some places in the world, uniforms have played a very important role in announcing our identity to the world. Think of the various uniforms of the various Christian societies of consecrated life, which distinguish consecrated people not only from ordinary Christians but also from one another according to their institutes. In the African Independent churches members usually wear uniforms to distinguish them from non-members. This usually takes the form of white flowing gowns, with headgear and sashes of different colours distinguishing members according to their various ranks. In the mainline churches, however, the use of uniforms or habits has become less popular. In these churches the words of Shakespeare in Measure for Measure, "Cucullus non facit monachum (the hood does not make a monk)" have been taken more seriously.

The quest for uniforms, habits, badges, banners and pinups designed to distinguish believers from non-believers does indeed have its place in the celebration of who are. We are symbolic beings who need to express our faith in symbolic ways. Jesus himself wrestled with the question of how to distinguish his followers from the non-believers around them. But his prescription goes much farther than external habits and uniforms. For Jesus the essential mark of distinction between Christians and non-Christians is not in the way we dress but in the way we live.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-5).

Love is the Christian identity. Love is the Christian uniform. Love is the Christian habit. If you are wearing the habit of love, you are in. If you are not wearing love as a habit, you are out.

Jesus wants the world to recognise us as Christians. We need to evangelise and witness to people around us. But effective evangelisation and witnessing has less to do with how fluently we speak and more to do with how faithfully we live. In the evangelisation of Africa, many missionary groups came early and focussed on making converts. Others came later but focussed on service to the people, providing needed medicare and integral education. These latter groups succeeded where the former groups failed. Words are only a small part of our witnessing for Christ. As St Francis of Assisi told his friars, "Preach the gospel at all times and use words if necessary."

The great Mahatma Gandhi was asked about his view of Christianity. What he said could show us what probably is keeping two-thirds of the world away from the Good News of Christianity:

I have a great respect for Christianity. I often read the Sermon on the Mount and have gained much from it. I know of no one who has done more for humanity than Jesus. In fact, there is nothing wrong with Christianity, but the trouble is with you Christians. You do not begin to live up to your own teachings.

The greatest homage we can pay to the Christian faith is to live in such a way that through us people begin to have a glimpse of the unbounded and unconditional love that God has shown us in Christ.

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