Close this search box.

This Is The Way; Walk In It. A Homily for the Feast of Sts. Philip and James/Sr. Doreen’s 50th Life-Profession Anniversary.

By. Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD.

Isaiah 30.18-21  Psalm 119: 33-40 John 14.6-14

And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears
shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ (Isaiah 30.21)

Through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, God frequently calls the people to account for violating the divine covenant and going off the path of God’s commandments. But then Divine Love promises forgiveness and encourages the people, once again, to walk on the path God calls them to. In this passage Isaiah promises that though God has punished them, the Teacher (who is associated with the Messiah, or Jesus) will show them the way.

On this feast of St. Philip and St. James, that is exactly the challenge offered to those almost unknown disciples, and to us – to listen, to be aware of the Teacher offering a word “behind” – a word in our hearts which Austin Farrer in a sermon on this day says is a foretaste of Pentecost, of the Spirit freeing us to choose our path when we are not sure which way to go, or when we are being tempted to get off the path or when we are discerning the next steps in our life. “When you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”

The voice of the Teacher is also an image of the kind of leadership Jesus showed. Jesus the teacher is more like a shepherd, nudging from behind, encouraging – rather than a leader we are following, which does not leave us as free to make a choice. It’s an encouragement to choose the Way, but always in freedom.

That is also the challenge that Sr. Doreen has met in her 50 years of Life Vows, but which began long before when she first felt a call to give herself to God in the religious life as a young woman. Once she joined the community after graduating from university, she had nearly seven years of training and discernment in community before making her life vows. Just entering into a formal discernment about becoming  a religious, or a monastic as we often say today, means that one is aware of the Teacher. While coming to womanhood in the 1960s, in the midst of the hippie era, Doreen must have faced many challenging crossroads, many choices of the road to take, before one finally led her here.

Today is also the anniversary of Life Profession for Sr. Wilma (in 1957) and Sr. Jocelyn (1976). And so before going any further, let’s say a nice loud Happy Anniversary, Alleluia!

Sr. Doreen, Sr. Wilma, Sr. Jocelyn, and indeed each sister in this room at various crossroads, had to hear the Teacher saying, “this is the Way – walk in it.” And they walked.

The same is true for Philip and James, and the other disciples of Jesus. We celebrate Philip and James together today because their relics were put in the same reliquary in what is now the Church of the Apostles in Rome. Brothers in death as they were brothers in the community of Jesus, they represent so many of us unknown disciples through the ages. We know nothing really about James except he was “son of Alphaeus” and was known as James the Less or James the Younger to distinguish him from two other James in the New Testament – not the brother of Jesus who became a leader in the Jerusalem church after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and not the Apostle James brother of John, the “sons of thunder” and sons of Zebedee.

Unlike James, Philip is a little better known for who he was rather than for who he wasn’t. He is the third of the twelve apostles Jesus called, and he’s the one that brought Nathanael to meet Jesus. He’s also the one who brought some Gentiles to meet Jesus, and because he was Greek himself, he could interpret Jesus to non-Jews. He seems to have been deeply dedicated to Jesus, and yet he didn’t always get what it all was about – which could probably be said of most of the disciples and of us. We grow more deeply into our understanding of Jesus’ mission – every time we hear the Teacher say “this is the way, walk in it.”

The early Christians were called the “People of the Way,” and we see the importance of that in the readings today and in the hymns Sr. Doreen has chosen. The Psalm is part of the long Psalm 119, which uses as its main symbol or metaphor the concept of The Way and The Word. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross, of humility, of service and above all love, and that Way is described in Psalm 119 as the Word, Law, Commandments, Precepts, Ordinances, Path, Way. It all has to do with discernment, hearing the Word, walking on the path.

The Gospel reading from John’s account of the last supper follows a previous (well-known and beloved) passage in which Jesus has been talking about his coming betrayal and execution, and uses those familiar words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places,” and Jesus assures them they know the way. But Thomas replies, “‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 

And here is where today’s reading begins: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

And then enters Philip, who says to Jesus, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ Jesus says to him, ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” Philip was the disciple who had earlier asked Jesus how they were possibly going to feed 5,000 people at one of Jesus’ big teaching rallies by the lakeside, and he learned that it was not impossible as he thought. He witnessed an amazing miracle, and so the fact that he still doesn’t get that Jesus and the Father are one is rather endearing to me. It is so much like me – I see God’s hands in every-day miracles, in love and healing and forgiveness and creativity – and yet I still want to see Jesus, see the Father, face to face. I related well to Philip in his questioning and yet in his continuing to make those choices one day after another – this is the way, walk in it.

For most of us, as for Philip, it’s hard to understand where Jesus is going and how we’re going to get there. But what we need to remember today and always is that the Teacher, the Word,  is always there nudging us and saying “This is the Way, walk in it.” And we respond in the words of the hymn we just sang: “Thou are the way, the truth, the life, teach us that way to know; that truth to keep, that life to win, whose joys eternal flow.”

Thanks be to God that Philip and James, who were ordinary guys following Jesus and not the big stars like Peter and John, set a model for us ordinary unsung followers of Jesus.

And thank you, Sr. Doreen, for all those times you listened to the Teacher behind you, the voice in your heart. Thank you for your faithful following of the Way and your showing the way to your sisters, to the residents at Cana Place, the staff at the hospital, to our Oblates and Associates, and to so many many friends you have nurtured for the Sisterhood. May God continue to guide and bless you and so many others through you.

And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears
shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ (Isaiah 30.21)