For this week’s homily, please play the video below:
We begin reading the Farewell Discourse from John’s gospel along with the Acts of the Apostles this 4th week of Easter. Facing their loss of Jesus the disciples seem helpless as he says farewell. “I have a lot to say to you, but you cannot bear it now,” he says. The Lord recognizes their paralysis.
In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, on the other hand, Paul and his companions are not helpless at all. They’re boldly on their way to places that may not seem impressive to us now, but were impressive places then: Psidian Antioch, Philippi, Athens, Corinth. Three were important Roman colonies, strategic cities on the Roman grid, steps on the road to Rome itself. Athens, of course, was a key intellectual center of the empire, though maybe a little down-trodden when Paul got there.
Paul welcomed people into his growing ministry. Meeting Lydia, the trader in purple dyes at the river, he baptizes her and her household. How many did she bring to the gospel? Priscilla and Acquila, the two Jews that Claudius expelled from Rome during the Jewish riots of AD 42, became his trusted partners.
Maybe it’s good that we read these two scriptures together.
The Acts of the Apostles tell of a church confidently on its way to the ends of the earth to fulfill its mission.
The Farewell Discourse, on the other hand, says that sometimes a church can be paralyzed in its thinking and acting. But the Lord is the shepherd of both. What seems like the end can be only a beginning.
by Orlando Hernandez
On those special times, when in silent meditation, I feel so close to Jesus that I imagine I can hear Him, I often hear Him asking me what He asked the man in Mark’s Gospel, who had come to have His son be cured… “Do you believe?” A little dismayed, all I can answer Him is, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
This Wednesday, we listen to the conclusion of Mark’s Gospel. Before His Ascension, Jesus tells His disciples:
“These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.” (Mk 16: 17-18)
Last week Fr. Victor wrote about the way that Jesus is still with us through “signs”. These signs can be events that are so filled with spiritual energy that we cannot but feel the presence of the Divine among us. Last Sunday, before Mass with our Charismatic Prayer Group at the Passionist Monastery in Jamaica, Queens, I approached one of our most enthusiastic members. She was sitting with her head down; she was feeling weak and disheartened. Perhaps her malaria had come back that weekend and it was taking a toll on her. She thought it was maybe the medicine. I tried to console her with optimism and confidence: “You’ll see, you’re young and full of faith. Rest and pray. You’ll be fine in no time. And besides, I know that during this prayer meeting so many graces are going to fall upon you, that you won’t know what hit you!” We smiled, but I was worried about her.
The Mass, and the singing and praising that followed were filled with much devotion. I felt so united to everyone else. We even joined in a devotional Jewish-style dance around the altar that was loud and boisterous. At the conclusion of the song, still holding hands, we proceeded to lose ourselves in spontaneous praise, with many of us “speaking in tongues.” We could not stop ourselves. Some of the members of the group placed the young woman at the center and began to pray for her healing, for her release from the “spirit of infirmity”. I was aware of this, so I praised all the more avidly, for I had been told that “the Glory of God is in the praises of His people, and where the Glory of God is, signs and wonders begin to take place.” I felt the power of the Spirit of God fall upon the twenty to thirty people in that circle, the beams of His wild power ricocheting from person to person. It was overwhelming. I just knew that our friend was going to get better, but I also believed that all of us were being healed in different ways, poisonous symptoms dissolving, reptilian evils crushed, sicknesses improving. It was a marvelous experience, and it went on for quite some time. As we were leaving we felt dazed and energized at the same time. The young woman was telling us that she was so much better. Her whole attitude changed.
On the way home I still felt the tingling sensation of the experience. But, for an instant, I wondered if it had all been an episode of “mass hypnosis”, or “group hysteria”. Was it real? Or just our imagination? Can miracles really happen that easily? Where was my faith in the power of prayer, specially in community?
It is comforting to read what the German-American theologian Paul Tillich says: “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” In defense of Thomas the Apostle, Msgr. Joseph Calese wrote in the Catholic newspaper The Tablet: “Without the existence of doubt, faith would not be faith, but knowledge. Thomas is not alone in striving for holiness while still wishing for something touchable, something proven….. The motto under the image of Divine Mercy is “Jesus, I trust in You,” an act of faith based more in the heart than in the head. It does not imply that we have all the answers, but simply that our belief in God’s love and power is stronger than our doubt.”
In this Wednesday’s Gospel the Lord did say, “ These signs will accompany those who believe.” Like a little child, all I ask my Heavenly Father is, “Dear Papa, I know that You love me. Please strengthen my faith. Keep our Prayer Group united and strong. And please could I have a little more of that?!”
The past helps us understand the present. Acts 11, 19-26, our reading at Mass today, describes emissaries of the church of Jerusalem arriving at Antioch in Syria, where the followers of Jesus were first called “Christians.” The emissaries were from Jerusalem, the center of Christian power after the resurrection of Jesus, where the Holy Spirit came upon crowds in tongues of fire.
Now, the Jerusalem church blessed a new church, which in turn brought the faith to other places through apostles like Paul and Barnabas.
Who would have predicted what would happen to these powerful churches in future years? Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Antioch continued to be a flourishing Christian stronghold for a few hundred years until Moslem invaders in the 7th century gradually made it a Moslem city.
Visit Antioch today, now part of modern Turkey, and you will see few signs of its Christian past. Paul and Barnabas once walked its streets; St. John Chrysostom and teachers like him were famous throughout the world. Now, only scattered Christian relics remain, largely in the city’s museums.
As Christian churches and other religious institutions close in our part of the world now, as religious communities decline, we wonder: Are we Jerusalem and Antioch today?
The church shares the mystery of Jesus Christ, it dies and rises again, but it grows through it all.
Readings: 4th Week of Easter
The gospel readings for this week at Mass continue the theme of the Good Shepherd. (Monday, Tuesday) and then begin the Farewell Discourse of Jesus to his disciples. (Thursday, Friday and Saturday} The readings from Acts of the Apostles describe the opening of mission to the gentiles with the baptism of Cornelius by Peter. (Monday to Saturday) The Good Shepherd boldly leads his followers to other peoples and places.
Wednesday is the feast of Mark the Evangelist.
April 23 Acts 11, 1-18
John 10, 1-10
April 24 Acts 11, 19-26
John 10, 22-30
April 25 1 Peter 5, 5-14
St. Mark Mark 16, 15-20
April 26 Acts 13, 13-25
John 13, 16-20
April 27 Acts 13, 26-33
John 14, 1-6
April 28 Acts 13, 44-52
John 14, 7-14