5th Sunday of Easter – Turn, Turn, Turn

Photo: Svenwerk, “Spinning Top” – Staircase at Vatican Museums, Rome.
Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0  https://flic.kr/p/PzaJtw 

RESTROOMS AND GENERATIONS OF FAITH

Several weeks ago, we included in our weekly email drawings of the three proposed restrooms for our church. One will replace the existing unit off the Sacristy and the others will be in the former Baptistry. As you saw, they will be spacious, modern and fulfill all codes and regulations. To answer one question we received, several members of the team have or have had young children. Therefore, not only are there changing tables, but with the restrooms in the old Baptistry you can change an infant and watch a toddler at the same time.

Since then we have been given an expense projection. If everything goes wrong, it will cost about $200,000. Our plan is to pay for it from the redeemed pledges of Generations of Faith.

Those who were members of the Parish at the time will remember that this was a major fund-raising effort in our Diocese. The money collected was divided: 50% for capital improvements in the Parish, 40% for the care of retired and infirmed priests and 10% for developing youth ministry.

Members of the Parish pledged $539,128. We have so far collected $344,621. The parish share of this is $160,939 as of March 31. At this rate of return we will collect $437,778 of which the parish will receive $235,564. Please note, however, that if everything was collected, the parish would receive $336,914.

We will also include the $3,600.00 we received by going over goal with the annual appeal.

The papers are being completed and filed for this work and the items have been ordered. We hope for completion in early Autumn, about the same time as the exterior of the church. If you are not current with redeeming your pledge, please do so as soon as you can. If you are current, please think about sending in your next installment early. We are not asking for anyone to give anything more than he or she has pledged. It would be wonderful if we could pay this off exclusively from these funds.

 

FIRST READING

Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 19, 2019

Acts: 14:21-27

 

The section we read today from the Acts of the Apostles connects the completion of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas, which we examined last week, with the important Council of Jerusalem, which we will explore next week. In the hands of a lesser author this could be an exercise in place setting, but Luke uses it able reveal important aspects of our faith. For me, this week was especially pertinent. Spoiler alert: Baby boomers, pay attention.

Last week we saw Paul and Barnabas arrive at Iconium. They spoke in the synagogue and were well received and “a great number of both Jews and Greeks came to believe” (Acts 14:1) This enraged the synagogue leaders who “poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against the brothers”. (Acts 14:2) The Apostles, however, were not driven away and “they stayed for a considerable period, speaking out boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the word about his grace by granting signs and wonders to occur through their hands.” (Acts 14:3) . The death threats became so great, however, that they went to the Lystra. They were successful, but eventually some of their previous enemies from Antioch and Iconium worked on the crowds, who stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. (Acts 14:19).

This is where we take up the story today. First, note that Paul is receiving the same treatment from others that he demonstrated himself. He followed the disciples of Jesus to persecute them. Now others have done the same with him. The people – Jews and Gentles – in the cities who hear the Gospel are immediately drawn to it but those with vested interests in keeping the old order in the old way are threatened and seek to destroy it. Paul has been replaced.

Now look at what Paul and Barnabas do:

21 After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch. Acts 14:21

Without the interference of outside agitators. they make a considerable number of disciples but then return to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch. They were persecuted -indeed almost killed – in these places, yet they return. This is not mere bravado but a pastoral necessity. These were new Christians and they needed to be strengthened. This is common Christian practice. Jesus tells Peter before Peter betrays him

31 “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat,

32 but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31–32

 

This occurred many times in Acts as well, most intriguingly with Barnabas himself. He was sent by the church in Jerusalem to see what was occurring in Antioch.

23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion (Acts 13:23)

After this, Barnabas realized that he was not the best equipped to lead this mission and went to Tarsis to bring Saul to help him in this task.

This exhortation was not however optimistic with pleasant nosegays.

22 They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)

This is common Christian teaching: Jesus tells the disciples on the Road to Emmaus

Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory? (Luke 24)

And he tells Ananias about Paul:

16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name (Acts 9:16)

Although suffering for the good of the community may be found in the Old Testament, especially in the “suffering servant” songs in Isaiah that we have looked at many times, it was – if not quite an aberration – something which they thought would be eliminated with the Messiah. We all need to be reminded that this is not the case. As we have seen, Saul the tormentor of the Church was immediately replaced. It shall ever be, and we must be aware of the consequences of our baptisms.

The strengthening of the disciples was not only by exhortation, but by institutionalization.

23 They appointed presbyters for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith. Acts 14:23 (NAB)

Presbyter means elder, and it combines many roles that we would see as separate today from the person who presides at the Eucharist to the chief Catechist. There are two points of interest here.

First that there is a structure. The Acts of the Apostles has been called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. For Luke, nothing will prosper that is not directed and sustained by the Spirit. This includes the institutional structures that will maintain the proper functioning of the community.

Thus, there is “Prayer and Fasting’ to choose the right person. This has a wonderful pedigree:

12 Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. 13 And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles (Luke 6:12)

And also, in the earlier chapter of Acts

Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. Acts 13:3

The church is an earthly institution, and will either be a successful one or will fail like any other. She is also the body of Christ, and if she is to fulfill her responsibility to be the presence of Jesus in the world her leaders must be chosen by the Spirit, not merely emerge.

This is very personal and pertinent to me. This week I preached at my 50th High School graduation reunion from Cathedral Prep Seminary. We all entered 54 years ago to discern if we had a religious vocation. We assumed that this meant Priesthood. Most discovered that they did not have a call to the ordained ministry. Yet looking over the lives of my classmates, many had truly religious vocations. They built up their parishes, became involved in many ministries and were true presences of Jesus. Many of you have done the same in too many ways to count.

Yet I would like to speak with one group in particular: Baby Boomers. We who were born between 1946 and 1964. I think we have a particular insight into this week’s reading and indeed our world. We lived through the Vietnam War and Watergate, we saw most of the institutions around us fail and may have abandoned them. Yet we now know that we cannot live without them and may find some of them threatened. We know what to accept and what to reject. Younger people have not experienced this and do not. We have a great opportunity for ministry, for – although I hate to admit it – we are the elders of the community: civil and religious. Let us prove ourselves worthy of our wrinkles and creaking bones, but most of all the trust that Jesus places in us.

4th Sunday of Easter – A Light to the Nations

Meet & Greets 5/19; Communion and Liberation at 7 PM

Our Easter season Meet & Greets will be held after each Mass next Sunday, May 19. Join us for food, drink and fellowship.

This past Good Friday, 13 of our parishioners attended the opening prayer service for the annual Way of the Cross over the Brooklyn Bridge. A few hearty souls continued across the Bridge to St Peter’s Church in Lower Manhattan. As I was not one of them, I do not know how many of our parishioners who had a half day’s work joined them. This was sponsored by “Communion and Liberation”. This group also sponsored the lecture on Andy Warhol as a religious artist that several of us attended in February.

Communion and Liberation is an international Catholic organization founded in Milan in 1954. (https://english.clonline.org/cl) Its goal is to present Jesus and the Church in ways that are understandable to modern people without distorting the Gospel or Catholic tradition. I am sure that many of you, like me, have attended church events or read materials which emanated from some church related place that made little or no sense to you. Also, it sometimes seems that you can tell something is Catholic by the appalling graphics. (“Pius Schlock”) CL seeks to address this in many ways, including an emphasis on beauty and culture.

Members of Community and Liberation will be at next week’s “Meet and Greet” after the 7 PM Mass. There will be no formal presentation, but we will have an opportunity to listen to each other over some prosecco and cheese. In hearing each other, we will hear Jesus.

 

Fourth Sunday of Easter

May 12, 2019

Acts 13:14, 43-52

With today’s reading, Paul joins Peter and Stephen as the preachers of the Acts of the Apostles. We read the final section 13:43-52, but it begins with 13:14. I suggest that you read verses 14-42. Your first reaction might well be that this does not sound like Paul’s letters. This is true. Luke is using the conventions of Greek history writing. The speeches will follow a common pattern and thus Paul and Peter will sound much alike. This would have been expected by the original audience. It is not only that Luke is demonstrating his grasp of the techniques of rhetoric but showing us that they are very effective means of communicating.

He is thus able to give us a great deal of information with considerable concision. As he has the plan of the entire work in his head, he can be very strategic in how he presents his material. Peter, Stephen and Paul are preaching to Jews or Gentiles who were friendly to and knowledgeable about Judaism. These sermons give an overview of Jewish history and place Jesus into historical perspective. There is some overlap but each one brings out more with very few wasted words. There is however development. By the time Paul delivers this sermon the need to choose for or against Jesus is made clear. This is not to leave Judaism, but to participate in its next stage.

Also, this is Paul’s first or inaugural sermon. As always in Luke, this will return us to Jesus. At the beginning of his ministry, he returned to his home village of Nazareth and went to the synagogue. As with Paul today he is asked to speak on a test from Isaiah.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring glad tidings to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

19 and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Luke 4:18–19

He then tells the people that this has been fulfilled in their hearing. When he shows them however, that this was to be not just for Jews they are enraged and try to kill him. As we have seen Peter was originally received with great enthusiasm but eventually imprisoned for his preaching.

It should then come as no surprise then when after his initial sermon Paul and Barnabas were invited to return the following week almost the whole city came to hear them and as with Jesus and Peter, they were met with abuse from the Jewish leaders who were filled with jealousy. Remember last week’s reading: 17 Then the high priest rose up and all his companions, that is, the party of the Sadducees, and, filled with jealousy.

Like Jesus this jealousy is rooted in their wishes to keep the knowledge of God to themselves: But Paul tells them

47 For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth. Acts 13:47

This is not a new teaching of either Paul or Jesus but is rooted in Isaiah:

6 It is too little, he says, for you to be my servant,  

to raise up the tribes of Jacob,  

and restore the survivors of Israel;  

I will make you a light to the nations,  

that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. Isaiah 49:6

Paul knows that this is Jesus’s plan as it has developed so far. The Messiah was to restore Israel which was dispersed since 721 BC. This was begun at Pentecost with the Holy Spirit coming upon the 12 Apostles. Notice how Judas had to be replaced after he betrayed Jesus and committed suicide but as the Apostles died a twelve person “college” of leaders was not continued. The foundation had been restored and now was to be expanded. So we see Peter, Stephen indeed Philip and now Paul reaching out to the Jews in the Diaspora. Yet none of them lost sight that the ultimate aim was to be the light to the Nations.

At the very beginning of Luke’s gospel Simeon says to Mary:

 

30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,  

31 which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,  

32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,  

and glory for your people Israel.”  Luke 2:30–32

 

Luke tells us very clearly that the good news is for everyone but reminding us that this was not added on to historic Judaism but part of its basic mission.

 

As we have noted we read only relatively small selections from Acts and some themes we will not be able to directly address this year. They will however be clearer in other years. One theme is hinted at today.

 

48 The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, 49 and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region Acts 13:48–49

 

The good news was received with delight and spread throughout the Gentile territory. We have seen this before that external situations even persecutions do not stop the word. The next line should come as no surprise:

The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers and the leading men of the city, stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory. Acts 13:50

Clearly as with Jesus and the other Apostles persecution is always to be expected, will often be severe but is never the final word on the Word.

The final scene however is not as clear and needs some explanation.

51 So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. Acts 13:51

This reflects Jesus’ saying in Luke’s Gospel:

10 Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say,  

11 ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.  Luke 10:10–11 (NAB)

 

This is a definitive judgment against the people of that town, not Judaism itself. It is mentioned that Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium.

When 1 In Iconium they entered the Jewish synagogue together and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks came to believe. Acts 14:1.

Paul considered himself a Jew, and “abandoning the Jews” would have been inconceivable.

What was always in the minds and hearts of the disciples was that the Holy Spirit was with them and that they may be occasionally beset with pains and sorrows, but they are always filled with joy.

 

3rd Sunday of Easter – Follow Me

May 5, 2019

Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41

Last week, the Spirit sent Peter and the Apostles back into the streets to perform signs and wonders. The effect was powerful and immediate. Miracles were accomplished and many were added to the church. This did not go unnoticed by the authorities. In the section of Acts which immediately follows the incident and precedes the section we read today (Acts 5 17-26), the party of the chief priest (Sadducees) have the Apostles arrested and put in jail. Continue reading “3rd Sunday of Easter – Follow Me”

2nd Sunday of Easter: Divine Mercy

FIRST READING
Second Sunday of Easter
April 26, 2019
Acts 5:12-16

The 1st readings for the Easter Season are from the Acts of the Apostles. This is the second work of St Luke and has been called the “Gospel of the Holy Spirit”. Acts begins with the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and Luke wishes to show that the Spirit will guide the Apostles, mostly Peter and Paul in preaching the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome. We must always remember that St Luke has a wide view of history and will show us that the spirit guiding the Apostles was also present at the beginning of the world and the great events of both the old  and the new Testaments. He is a most careful craftsman and will build his narrative very slowly and deliberately and we will lose some of this. The Lectionary (readings in Church) follow a three- year cycle (this year we read Cycle C) and Acts is used in all three of them. Indeed, the descent of the Holy Spirit is not read until Pentecost, itself 6 weeks from now. This somewhat interrupts the flow, but we will fill in any critical gaps.

We read today from the 5th Chapter of Acts. It is the third time the Apostles have appeared in public. The first time was immediately after the descent of the Spirit. Continue reading “2nd Sunday of Easter: Divine Mercy”

Easter – Acting as Apostles

Msgr. LoPinto raising the Wood of the Cross at this year’s Good Friday Service.

First Reading

Easter Sunday

April 21, 2019

Acts 10:34A, 37-43

 

During the Easter Season, the first reading will change from selections from the Old Testament to passages from the “Acts of the Apostles”. This is an inspired decision which will become clearer as the season progresses. The Acts of the Apostles was written by St. Luke and shares the characteristics we have seen in his Gospel. This week, I ask you to especially notice the number of references to Luke, the Old Testament and other sections of Acts itself. I will quote only a few, but reading this book with a well indexed and footnoted Bible is particularly rewarding. Continue reading “Easter – Acting as Apostles”