Easter Homilies


Today’s readings

“Each one heard them speaking in his own language.”

That line of the first reading always amazed me.  As I pictured it, I could just see people standing there in Jerusalem, and all at once these men start preaching and everyone hears them in his or her own language.  It must have been an amazing experience.  Certainly the message had to be powerful, but for each to hear it in his or her own native tongue had to boost the power of the experience for each of them.  This was the power of the Holy Spirit on display for all the world to see.

That powerful experience helped to ignite the fire that was the early Church.  If not for this amazing experience, we wouldn’t have the Church today.  Because Jesus returned to the Father and they sent forth the Spirit, those early apostles preached the word to everyone and the Church was fostered that brings us the faith in our own day.  This is why Pentecost is often called the birthday of the Church.

What I think is important to note about that experience is that the gift of the Holy Spirit enabled the Church to speak the Gospel to everyone.  Not just those who spoke Hebrew, or even Greek or Latin.  The reading from Acts is clear:

We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,

inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,

Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,

Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,

as well as travelers from Rome,

both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,

yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues

of the mighty acts of God.

So this gift of the Spirit helped the primitive Church to universalize the Gospel message.  Christ desired that we would all be one; we’ve heard that over and over in the Gospel readings during the Easter season.  This gift of the Spirit underscores just how universal that unity was intended to be.

That experience enabled a sixth century African author to preach this in a sermon on this day:

Therefore if somebody should say to one of us, “You have received the Holy Spirit, why do you not speak in tongues?” his reply should be, “I do indeed speak in the tongues of all men, because I belong to the body of Christ, that is, the Church, and she speaks all languages. What else did the presence of the Holy Spirit indicate at Pentecost, except that God’s Church was to speak in the language of every people?”

And so she does.  Thanks be to God, the Gospel is preached all over the world every day.  And souls continue to be won for the Lord.  But for that Gospel to be believed, for it to be adopted and lived, it needs to be backed up by the way that we live.  Many people may miss our preaching, but they can’t fail to notice our living – one way or the other.  As Saint Francis once said, “Preach the Gospel at all times.  When necessary, use words.”

Sometimes words fail us.  We might not know the right thing to say in any situation, but in those moments, our actions can preach much louder than our speaking.  We often experience that when someone close to us has lost a loved one, or is grieving in some way.  Words aren’t going to make that all better, but our presence and being there for them says much more than our words could ever say.  That presence may be just the right thing to say at that time.

I experienced that same kind of thing this week as I watched the video, over and over, of the horrifying murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.  I think, by now, it should go without saying that treating another human being that way in any situation is objectively wrong.  But what is also wrong is the still present racism that underlies the whole situation, and others like them, including the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.  The fact that these situations happen over and over frankly means that we aren’t speaking the Gospel in every time and place.  Because there is no room in the Gospel message for racism, bigotry, and any kind of rhetoric that seeks to smooth those things over or make excuses for them.  They are objectively wrong, period.

What do we say in the face of these horrifying events?  Honestly, I don’t know what we can say.  Even “I’m sorry” rings hollow when the structures that continue to make these things happen persist.  We need to speak the Gospel in these situations by the way we live our lives.  We need to make it our life’s work to accept every person as if he or she were Christ, because that is what the Church has taught us always and in every age.  If the Gospel is to mean anything in the world today, we have to be people who inconvenience ourselves to love others before we do anything else, or our preaching will continue to ring hollow.

And we have no better example for this than our Lord Jesus Christ, who took on the worst in us because he saw the best in us.  He it is who took our sins – our sins – to the cross, and rose to everlasting glory that we might have the same – all of us.  He it is who returned to the Father and with him sent their Holy Spirit upon the earth that we might all be one, that we might, as Saint Benedict has said, go together to everlasting life.

This broken world needs to hear the preaching in our actions, in the way we treat every person, so that this world can become the Kingdom of God.  We may well be the only time someone ever sees Jesus; may the preaching of our lives be so strong that they can’t fail to see Jesus in us.

Come Holy Spirit! Renew the face of the earth!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Easter Homilies

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

A lack of unity will kill us all. Jesus knew this, and so did St. Paul. In fact, St. Paul used a lack of unity among the Jews to save his own life. He knew that the Pharisees, of which he was one, believed in the resurrection of the dead, and angels and spirit. He knew that the Sadducees did not (which, as one of my seminary professors used to say, is why they are sad, you see…). When Paul appealed to the Pharisees’ belief in the resurrection of the dead, he got them on their side, and the skirmish that ensued caused the commander to whisk Paul to safety. He was not to die this day; the Lord had other plans for him.

As Jesus gets ready for his own death in the gospel reading today, he prays for the unity of the first disciples. He knew that they would be challenged greatly by the world, because they were no longer of the world. They belonged to God now, and that would be the source of their unity. That unity would keep them together and ensure that a reasoned, unified message would be proclaimed throughout the world and throughout the ages. That was the only way the gospel could be proclaimed to every creature on earth.

In our day, unity is just as critical as it ever was. We still believe in ONE holy, catholic and apostolic church. We believe that Jesus came to found just ONE church, and that the fragmentations that exist among us are the result of sinfulness and broken humanity. We need to be people who witness to the joy of our faith so that we can bind up all that disunity and become once again one people, healed of all divisions. We are called to be one, just as Jesus and the Father are one, so that we can witness to all the world the saving power of our one, almighty God.



Today’s readings: Acts 26:9-18 | 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 | Matthew 5:13-16

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Trying to figure out what to say to all of you on this, your graduation day, in the midst of a stay-at-home order due to a global pandemic is quite an overwhelming task.  Obviously, this isn’t the year we intended you to have, or would ever have wanted you to have.  You haven’t been able to have any of the traditional end-of-year activities, and here you are, sitting in the parking lot, while we are celebrating here in church.  What a crazy, mixed-up, bonkers way to end your time here at Saint Mary Immaculate School!

But, in some ways, this all serves to highlight the fact that you are graduating from your school, and not your Church.  Saint Mary’s will always be your spiritual home, and that remains true whether there is a pandemic or not.  Now more than ever, when things are all crazy, there needs to be something that you can count on, and that is your faith.  If there’s anything that you ever learn about our God, it should be that he loves you beyond belief, and nothing can ever change that.  So in normal times, your God is there for you.  In crazy, hard, sad times, your God is there too.  That’s the rock you should lean on, now more than ever.

So today, I would imagine you are experiencing a great many emotions. You may be feeling happy, even relieved, as you come to this milestone. Many of you have been at Saint Mary Immaculate School for as many as ten years, and so this accomplishment has been a long time coming. You might also be feeling sad that you’re leaving behind some friends as they go to other high schools, especially since it’s hard now to say a proper goodbye, or even uneasy because you’ll be heading into unknown territory. I’m sure you’re also feeling proud of the success you’ve had here at Saint Mary Immaculate, particularly proud of the success that has led you to graduation this evening, as well you should be.

Your parents and teachers and all of us who have been part of your lives have a lot of mixed emotions on this occasion as well.  It’s hard to see children move to the next phase of life sometimes, but it’s also exhilarating seeing their accomplishments and celebrating the young men and women they have become.  But however we all feel about you moving on, move on you must.  That is what life is all about: growing and learning and becoming and going forward.  We all want that for you, and hopefully that is what you want for yourselves.

So on this graduation day, I want to take a moment to talk to you about where you should go next.  Having come through all these years at our Catholic School, you have open to you a wide range of paths and opportunities.  Many of them are good ones, some will be incredibly great.  You will have to make some hard decisions in the days and years ahead as you carve out your niche in life and continue to become the people God created you to be.  Now I’d never presume to tell you each what to do and to become and what path to follow.  But I do want to leave you tonight with some principles for making these hard decisions.  And nothing I will tell you is my own invention; these principles of discernment have long been part of the teaching of the Church and the living of our faith.

The first principle is to pray a lot.  God has a plan for each of us in our lives.  Maybe we are meant to become priests, or sisters or brothers in a religious order, or parents.  Perhaps we are to become teachers or doctors or lawyers or public safety first-responders.  God wants us to use the gifts he has given us to glorify him.  But we have to figure out exactly how to do that.  And the only way we can do that is to pray.  We have to ask God, every day, to reveal the part of the plan that he wants us to see.  We have to trust that God will give us what we need to do what he wants us to do.  We have to know God well enough to recognize the answer to our prayers and the call that he is giving us.  That’s prayer.  Some days, we will have a crystal clear answer, but the truth is, most days, we will have more questions than answers.  But being people of constant prayer will serve us well over the long haul and teach us what we need to know to keep growing.

The second principle is to learn everything we can.  Follow your passions and absorb everything that good people are showing you.  Never stop learning about the world, and never stop learning about your faith.  Whether you go to Catholic high school or public, whether you attend a Catholic university or not, you still have so much to learn about your faith.  If Pope Francis stopped growing in his faith, the Church would be irrelevant.  If you want to become the best you that you can be, then you have to continue to learn who Christ is.  You have to continue to understand what living the Gospel means.  Because it is only by faith that we can truly makes sense of everything we learn about the world.  If we want to know Truth, then we have to constantly evaluate everything we learn in terms of what we know about God and who he is and what he gives us and what he wants for us and the world.  Learn everything you can and grow in your faith.

The third principle is to love before you do anything else.  Whatever we think we have to do in any situation, it’s important that we first love the other people involved.  To truly become the people we are meant to be, we have to love others in the same way that God has loved us.  Pope Francis once said, “To live according to the Gospel is to fight against selfishness.  The Gospel is forgiveness and peace; it is love that comes from God.”  The world wants us to live for ourselves, to take care of ourselves first, to live according to what we think.  But that only leaves us unhappy and alone and unfulfilled.  If we want to become great people, we have to love unconditionally and sacrificially, just like Jesus loved us when he took our place on the Cross.  Because it’s only in laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters – as he did – that we can rise to new and glorious life.

Finally, we have the advice, really the commission that we receive in tonight’s Gospel reading: be salt and light!  Any cook will tell you that, without salt, any recipe will be bland – salt helps things to taste like what they are.  And we all know that, without the light, we will stumble over every obstacle.  We need salt and light in our lives, they are things we almost take for granted because they are so necessary.  Jesus tells us tonight that we have to be just like that.  We have to season the world with the love and wisdom we have received from Jesus.  We have to take the light of Christ and shine that on every dark corner of our world.  We may be the only Jesus that someone ever sees, and that really should be enough.  If they see Jesus in you and me, they will be with us forever in heaven one day.  

When you look at the cross, that’s what success looks like for us believers in Christ.  It looks like love beyond our wildest dreams.  It looks like giving everything, trusting all the while that God will give us what we need in return.  That’s how Jesus loves us, and that’s how we’re supposed to love one another too.  That’s how we bring salt and light into our bland and darkened world.  We are probably not going to get nailed to a cross, but we are definitely called upon to give of ourselves, to lay down our lives for each other.  That’s what Jesus calls us to do.

For all these years, we have tried to give you the tools to grow into the people you were meant to become.  If you remember these things and use them and grow in them, you will be successful, happy and blessed.  The goal of all our lives is to get to heaven one day, and for the time you’ve been in our Catholic school, we have done our best to give you what you need to get there, because getting to heaven is the ultimate badge of success; it’s the greatest measure of our having become who we were meant to be.  I hope that you will be reasonably happy in this life, but I really want you to be eternally happy with Christ in heaven one day.  I look forward to seeing the great people you will surely become as you continue to be involved here at Saint Mary Immaculate in the years to come.  May God bless you in every moment of your lives.  

Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Homilies Uncategorized

Memorial Day

Readings: Isaiah 32:15-18 | Psalm 72 | Matthew 5:1-12a

Today is a day to reflect on our heroes. Who are the ones we hold up as role models and honor for their contribution to our world? Would we think of political leaders, or sports heroes, or entertainers? Certainly their accomplishments inspire us, and perhaps even make us yearn for greatness. But then, when we watch the news, how many of them turn out to be flawed in many ways? The people we want to hold up as heroes are very often not very heroic.

Today, then, is a day to celebrate true heroes. Memorial Day originally began in our country as an occasion to remember and decorate the graves of the soldiers who died in the Civil War. Later it became a holiday to commemorate all those who had died in war in the service of our country. So today we remember those men and women who have given their lives for peace, justice, righteousness, and freedom. These have been people who have given everything, have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.

On this day, I think it would be a mistake to glorify warfare. I don’t think that is the point of this day, or is even best way to honor the memories of those who have fallen in war. Our Church’s teachings counsel that war is not the way to peace and that developed societies like ours can and must use our resources to seek other ways to solve problems. But we have to acknowledge that there are and have been times in our nation’s history that have called on people to fight for our freedoms and to fight for justice. Today we honor their memory with immense gratitude, because without their sacrifice we may not be free to worship today.

It’s important that we take time to reflect on the freedom we have received from their sacrifice, because I think people often misunderstand it, and thereby diminish it. Real freedom isn’t doing whatever on earth you want: in some ways that’s a form of servitude and bondage, because it has us all bound up in ourselves. Real freedom is expressed in service, in our making the world, or at least our corner of it, a better place. Real freedom is living in such a way that we become the person God created us to be.

Today we pray for those courageous men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice to keep the world safe, and free. These are the ones who have been people of faith and integrity and are true heroes that God has given us. These are the ones who have laid down their lives for what is right. If we would honor them on this Memorial Day, we should believe as they have believed, we should live as they have lived, and we should rejoice that their memory points us to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who is our hope of eternal life.

May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Easter Homilies

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter (School/RE Mass)

Today’s readings

Jesus tells us today that sadness is always going to be a part of life.  That’s not the good news, that’s just the way things are.  I think we can all think about things that have made us sad, maybe even more so in these days when we’ve all been sheltered in place, away from each other.  We haven’t gotten to see our friends.  We didn’t get to have Olympic Day, or any of the fun end of the year activities.  Our second graders are all ready for First Holy Communion, but we haven’t been able to do that yet.  Then there are the regular sad things: Maybe we have had a good friend who has moved away and we don’t get to see them very much.  Maybe we have lost a pet or a toy that we have liked a lot.  Maybe we didn’t get picked for a team, or didn’t understand something in school.  All those things make us sad.

And some of us have had harder things that have been sad for us.  Maybe your parents aren’t getting along or have split up.  That’s very sad.  Just last week, my family gathered to remember that my father died several years ago.  All these years later, I still miss him a lot, and I am very sad – maybe you too have had a grandparent or someone you’re very close to die and you don’t get to see them again.  That’s a sadness that doesn’t go away soon.

Sadness is a part of our life, and Jesus acknowledges that.  He tells his disciples that he is going away – that he is going to ascend into heaven, which we will celebrate on Sunday – and they will miss him.  But he also tells them, and us, that sadness is not forever.  He says that it’s just like a woman who is having a baby.  She is sad because giving birth hurts so much.  But after a while, the baby is born and the pain stops, and she gets to see the beautiful child she brought into the world and is happy again.  Your moms probably have stories like that about when you were born!  In that same way, the things that make us sad won’t last forever.  One day, we will get to see Jesus face-to-face and he will bring us happiness that lasts forever.  On that great day, there won’t be anything that can ever make us sad again.

That doesn’t mean that our sadness doesn’t hurt right now, because it sure does.  It just means it won’t hurt forever.  Because Jesus loves us, we can look forward to happiness forever, even if we have to put up with a little sadness now and then.  We can count on the love of Jesus to get us through our bad times, because he promises that he will always be with us, always and forever.  

Sadness doesn’t get to rule our lives, because Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Easter Homilies

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

There are a lot of miracles going on in today’s first reading.  First, there’s the earthquake that brings down the prison walls, although Paul and Silas did not take advantage of the situation.  Then there’s the conversion of the jailer, who was an employee of the Romans, and so would have had to worship their pagan gods.  You might also note the rather miraculous faith of Paul and Silas, who despite being very badly mistreated on account of Jesus, did not abandon their faith but actually grew stronger in it.  And you might also consider it a miracle that, when they are jailed and singing hymns at midnight, the other prisoners didn’t gang up and beat them into silence!

When you look at it as a vignette, it’s all so amazing, although Paul and Silas probably just viewed it as part and parcel of the life they had been called to live.  They had faith in Jesus and they probably didn’t expect anything less than the miracles they were seeing!

People of great faith experience such great miracles. This is not to say that all their troubles go away; Paul and Silas were still imprisoned, and continued to be hounded by the people and the government because of their faith. But the miracles come through the abiding presence of Christ, giving us strength when we need it most, a kind word from a stranger that comes at the right moment, a phone call from a friend that makes our day, an answer to prayer that is not what we expected but exactly what we needed. The Psalmist today has that same great faith: “Your right hand saves me, O Lord,” he sings. Let us pray that our hearts and eyes and minds would be open to see the miracles happening around us, that we might sing that same great song!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Easter Homilies

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter (School/RE Mass)

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel gives us some of the best news I think we can possibly get.  Jesus says he no longer calls us slaves, but instead he calls us his friends.  That’s important for us to know because I think most people believe that God doesn’t really have to care about us, his creatures, that much.  He could just give us commandments and expect us to follow them or else.  He doesn’t really have to teach us anything so that we understand him; he could just expect us to follow his commandments out of fear.  We think about God that way sometimes.

But that’s not what Jesus is about.  We know that God made us so that he could love us and we could love him.  Even when we sinned and could not be his friends any more, he didn’t leave us to die in our sins.  Instead, he sent his Only-Begotten Son, Jesus, to become one of us and to pay the price that we deserved for our sins.  Jesus died on the cross, to pay that price, and he rose from the dead, so that we could be friends with God once again, and so that all those who believe in him and follow his ways can have the opportunity of eternal life with God in his heavenly kingdom.

That’s the Good News!  That’s the Gospel!  Jesus says he doesn’t call us slaves anymore.  That’s because we aren’t slaves to sin anymore, or at least we don’t have to be.  We can instead turn to Jesus and be his friends, if we do what he commands us.  And the commandment he gives us today seems like a very simple one: love one another.

Except that it’s not so simple all the time, is it?  Sometimes loving one another is hard to do.  Loving one another means we have to put others first.  Loving one another isn’t something we get to do only when we want to, but instead we have to do it all the time.  Loving one another means that we follow all the other commandments, because “love one another” is what sums them all up.  “Love one another” means that we remember that each person is created by God who loves them so then we have to love them too.

But we don’t have to worry about how hard it is to love one another.  We have a God who loves us first and loves us best.  Because he loved us and sent his Only-Begotten Son Jesus to show us his love, we have the grace we need to love one another.  We can love one another when it’s hard to do, when they really make us mad sometimes, because God loves us all the time, even when we are hard to love, even when we make others mad and make God sad because of what we do or what we fail to do.

We aren’t slaves anymore.  We have been set free.  But being free doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we want, whenever we want – that’s the same thing as being a slave to sin.  Being free means that we can love others and put others first because God has done exactly that for us – over and over again!

So how will you love someone else today?  How will you love your parents or your siblings while you are doing e-learning today?  How will you love your teachers who might be explaining something very important that maybe you think is boring?  How will you teachers love the students who don’t seem to be getting it?  How will we all love our families today?  How will we put all these people first?  During the quiet parts of today’s Mass, let’s think about that.  Let’s come up with a plan to love someone even when they are hard to love.  Let’s love one another because God loves us first and loves us best!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!


Blue Mass for First Responders

Today’s readings: Daniel 3:25, Daniel 3:34-43 | Romans 8:31-39 | Mark 4:35-41

“Why are you terrified?  Do you not yet have faith?”

I can remember during my seminary formation, one of the most terrifying days of my life was during my third year of Theology formation.  That year, I had agreed to serve as a fire chaplain for one of the local fire departments.  I didn’t take that position lightly, because frankly, the whole idea of it scared me to death.  But I was asked to pray about it, and I’ll tell you, if you do that, you’re never going to hear God say, “Never mind, I’ll ask someone else.”  So the day when I was most terrified was one morning when I was awakened at 5am by a page from the department that they needed a couple of us chaplains to come and minister to a family whose father had just committed suicide.

I quickly got dressed and called the other chaplain who was going with me, and I headed down the hall to meet him in the parking lot.  As I was running through the hallways, I asked God, “What on earth do you want me to do in this situation?  How am I ever going to give comfort to this grieving family?”  I was absolutely terrified.  Well, we got there and, while we didn’t have adequate words to say, our presence did seem to help.  And the local police department, who did not have a chaplain, was so pleased that they asked for us to help them a few times after that.

I learned in that moment that it’s okay to be afraid, as long as I focused on Jesus.  Fear happens – no matter what we do in life.  Fear can paralyze us and keep us from doing what God wants and what others need.  Or fear can force us to look to the God who wants the best for all his children.

That’s what I think is going on in the Gospel story we just heard.  I really don’t think Jesus expected those disciples not to be afraid of the storm and the sinking boat.  I think he expected them to trust in his ability to calm the storm, which they did in some ways, or they wouldn’t have called out to him.  And that trust was rewarded.  Not just by the calming of the storm, but by the knowledge they gained in that situation that they could count on him and not let fear put an end to their relationship with him.

I can’t know the mix of emotions that comes to our first responders when they get the call.  I got a little glimpse of it as a fire chaplain.  But I wasn’t the one walking into the burning building because I was with the family as they huddled in a neighbor’s house across the street.  I wasn’t the first one into the house when the family member committed suicide; the situation was stabilized before I was even allowed in.  That all being the case, I do know, when I’ve had to act in times of fear and crisis, I was always okay with it when I remembered the presence of the God who never abandons us. 

In these days of pandemic, there is added fear and stress that is added to what you do.  You don’t know if the people you encounter in the course of your work have been exposed to COVID-19, and how that may affect you.  It’s hard to social distance when you have to respond to someone with a medical need or who needs some physical persuasion to obey the law.  PPE is hard to come by, and even when you have it, you have to pray it’s on right and doing its job.  But regardless of the situation, our communities still have needs, and still need the assistance of those who have sworn to serve and protect us all.

In the midst of the complication that this disease puts into every interaction, Saint Paul’s words in today’s second reading give great comfort:

What will separate us from the love of Christ?

Will anguish, or peril, or the sword? …

No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly

through him who loved us.

The presence of a virus in our world is never, can never, will never outweigh the presence of Christ who loves us.  Nothing can ever separate us from that.

And so tonight we gather in gratitude for all that our first responders do for our community, especially during this difficult time.  I have to give a special shout-out to the Plainfield community, who have gathered around in support of each other during this time.  I haven’t experienced that level of cooperation and care in any other community in which I’ve ever served, so my gratitude is that much greater!  We also pray for all first responders in communities all over our nation and our world.  We ask God to give them safety and the assurance of his presence in every situation.

And so we faithful ones forge on in hope, knowing that COVID-19 is not forever.  Nothing gets to be forever except God’s grace and mercy and love.  And so, while disease is a fearsome thing, we don’t owe it our fear.  If we use that energy instead to trust in God’s providence and presence in every situation, and know that he is at work in us, he can then use us to renew the face of the earth.  Because that’s what’s really going on here: renewal.  Renewal of our relationship with God, our trust in him, our commitment to live the life he wants for us.

God’s mercies aren’t limited by disease or social distancing.  Fear and disease and even the powers of hell will not prevail against God’s Church and God’s work in the world.  

Because Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

Easter Homilies

Saturday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

So pretend you are Paul or Barnabas or one of the other apostles.  Think about all the things they went through in that first reading. Paul hasn’t even been a Christian for very long, and already he is being hounded and persecuted.  Maybe that makes sense because some people probably viewed his conversion as a kind of treason.  Whatever the case, as they speak out boldly in the name of Jesus, they receive nothing but violent abuse from the Jews.  So then they turn then to the Gentiles who were delighted to hear the Word preached to them.  But the Jews didn’t even leave that alone; they stirred up some of the prominent Gentiles to persecute Paul and Barnabas and eventually they expelled them from their territory.  What a horrible reception they received over and over again.

But, listen to the last line of that first reading again: “The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”

Let that sink in for a minute: would that be your reaction?  Or would you say, “enough is enough” and let God stir up someone else to preach the Word?  Obviously, that’s not what Paul and Barnabas, or any of the other disciples did, or we wouldn’t be here today.  No, they were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God!

That’s the way joy works. It’s not something conditioned by the external events of a person’s life.  Joy is not a feeling. Joy, instead, is a direct result of the disciple’s decision to give their life to Christ and to follow his way – wherever that may take him or her.  Joy does not mean that the disciple won’t experience sadness or even hard times.  I think we all get that disciples get tested as we go through these pandemic days.  But joy does mean that the disciple will never give in to the sadness or the hard times because all those things have been made new in Christ.

Christ is the source of our true joy.  We disciples must choose to live lives of joy and remain unaffected by the world and the events of our lives.  We choose joy because we know the One who is our Salvation, and because it is he who fills us with joy and the Holy Spirit.

We have joy because Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!


Faith Formation Closing Mass

Today’s readings

Can you remember the first time you were called a Christian?

It was at Antioch that the disciples of Jesus were first called Christians.  This, of course, is after the death and resurrection of Jesus, after the disciples, including Barnabas, and apparently Paul (known to them as Saul, the name he had before his conversion).  These dedicated men created a community in Antioch and taught them the Gospel and started a church there.  The people around them knew them for teaching about the Christ – Jesus – and it was there that they were first called Christians.

We probably don’t think much about the term “Christian.”  It’s so much a part of our vocabulary, that we know Christians are those of us who believe in Christ and follow his teachings.  Sometimes people wonder whether Catholics are Christians, and the response is, yes, of course.  Our Church was founded by Christ himself, and we dedicate ourselves to living the Gospel he taught us, to living our own lives as disciples, as followers, as people devoted to him.

If I were to ask you, “Who is Jesus?” you might tell me that he is the Son of God, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the son of Mary and Joseph, God made man, the One who went about doing good and calling people to repentance, the One who shows us the way to the Father.  These, and many other facts about Jesus, are absolutely right, and we believe them completely.  But a fuller, more important answer requires us to go more deeply and to answer who is Jesus for us?  Do we have a relationship with Jesus, or is he just a concept we have learned?

If all Jesus is is a concept, then, honestly, who cares?  If all Jesus is is a concept, why did so many of those early disciples die for him?  If all Jesus is is a concept, then how did this Church survive for over two thousand years?  Concepts are interesting, maybe, but hardly worth living for and dying for.  A vibrant relationship with a God who loves us enough to be personally present to us, that’s worth living and dying for.  At the end of the day, only that vibrant relationship with Jesus will cause people to say, “She’s a Christian” or “He’s a Christian.”

Ever since Sunday, and including tonight, the Gospel reading at Mass has been reflecting on Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  Our Good Shepherd promises us eternal life, a life so much better than what we now experience, a life of forever grace, where all of our woundedness is bound up and our sins erased and our death redeemed.  All we have to do to get there is to listen to his voice, live his Gospel, and be faithful to our relationship with him.  If we do that, no one can take us out of his hand, no one can separate us from his love.

In these days of pandemic, when we are sheltered in place and socially distant from each other, Jesus offers us a relationship that transcends all that.  He offers us a relationship where virus, disease, sin and death don’t have ultimate power over us.  He offers us a relationship that continues to write our story and draw us closer until we are one with him.  In these days of pandemic, I firmly believe that God is doing something among us: calling us to look at what’s ultimately important and calling us back to oneness in him.  That, really, can be the gift to us in these days.  And who doesn’t need a real gift in these days?!

I honestly hope we never go back to normal – at least not the normal we’ve become used to.  Because that normal had us forgetting about Jesus and distancing ourselves from one another – you know, in different ways than we have now.  That normal had us distancing ourselves from our families in favor of being part of every activity imaginable.  That normal had us eating in the SUV on the way to the next thing rather than sitting down and getting to know each other.  That normal found other things so much more important than our relationships with each other and with our God.  And, friends, that normal isn’t worthy of us.  We deserve so much better, and the great thing is, God wants us to have it.

So when things start getting back to normal – whenever that may be – let’s not forget the really important things we have learned and experienced and loved in these days.  Let’s not forget the really beautiful things that have happened among us.  Let’s not forget our renewed relationships with each other, and the relationship we have with God.  Let’s not forget that we are Christians.

Because Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!