22nd Sunday Ordinary Time – Fr. Smith homily

At the beginning of the summer the priests of the diocese held a dinner for Bishop Di Marzio’s  75th birthday. The committee that organized it sat the priests according to year of ordination with the most newly ordained priests and the most senior sitting with the Bishop. Truly an elegant solution to a potentially difficult situation. Yet isn’t it interesting that it is a persistent problem. Eating together is such a sign of intimacy and harmony that the Bible uses it as an image of the kingdom of God yet so often it reflects people’s attempts to assert power and position. Luke today is showing us what is at stake and what we can do 

This is the third time that Jesus has accepted an invitation to eat with Pharisees on the Sabbath in Luke’s gospel. (See Luke 7:36, 11:37) It did not go well either time and it presumably will not be particularly pleasant this time out. The passage today opens with:  

On a sabbath he went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. (Lk 14:1) 

They were so carefully observing him because previously he cured people at the meal on the Sabbath. This was a violation of Jewish law. This is also the case here, but our reading today skips over it. Let us for a moment however examine this passage 

A man, presumably a guest, is suffering from dropsy. This is edema or swelling caused by excess fluid.  As this is a chronic condition and not an emergency, Jesus could have told him to come back the next day to be cured but instead he cures him immediately. Celebrating a meal with Jesus cures and frees anyone humble enough to ask. Luke may be so specific with the disease because dropsy is often occasioned by great thirst and so the victim will drink more water which only makes it worse. It was used as a metaphor for greed, in this case the insatiable desire of the Pharisees for honor and position. Would they ask to be healed or even know that they needed it?  Continue reading “22nd Sunday Ordinary Time – Fr. Smith homily”

21th Sunday Ordinary Time – Isaiah’s Warning: Avoid Corruption; Unite the Community

A Plate of Cakes, Jehan Georges Vibert, circa 1840–1902, private collection (WikiArt)

FIRST READING:
August 25, 2019
Isaiah 66:18-21

Several weeks ago on July 7, we read a section from Isaiah (66:10-14c), which comes a few verses before today’s selection (66:18-21). We saw then that these verses were written by the third person to use the name Isaiah. The first lived in Jerusalem around the end of the 8th century BC, the second in Babylon about 540 BC, and this Isaiah sometime around 515 BC while Jerusalem was being rebuilt.

The Second and Third Isaiahs did not choose the name casually. Although they lived in different times and/or places, they all shared a few common beliefs. The most important was that the God of the Jews was the Lord of History. By the time of Third Isaiah, this meant that He was not only God but also that the Lord controlled world history from the beginning of time, not just the destinies of the Jews. This meant that He expressed Himself in concrete events and our relationship with Him was to be more than verbal.

To use the name Isaiah meant that the author understood that worship and justice were inseparable. This is the special theme of chapter 66. When we examined this last month, we emphasized that the call of the Jews and now indeed ourselves was to be the “light to the nations.” Now let us look at the corrosive effects of corruption on leaders. Continue reading “21th Sunday Ordinary Time – Isaiah’s Warning: Avoid Corruption; Unite the Community”

20th Sunday Ordinary Time – Visions of Justice and Faith in God’s Covenant

The Prophet Jeremiah, Michelangelo, circa 1508–1512, Sistene Chapel (Wikipedia)

Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10
Aug. 18, 2019

We read this Sunday from the Book of Jeremiah. He is called the weeping prophet of the Old Testament because he lived to see the city of Jerusalem destroyed. He might also be called its Cassandra as well. It was her curse to see the future of Troy and speak the truth, but never be believed. So it was with Jeremiah. Continue reading “20th Sunday Ordinary Time – Visions of Justice and Faith in God’s Covenant”

19th Sunday Ordinary Time – Light Your Lamps

Santa Clara, Isidoro Arredondo, 1693.  St. Clare of Assisi’s feast day is August 11th.

Adult Sacraments and Christian Formation 

Where is God? The summer has been a catalog of horrors: detention centers and raids that separate families on our borders, a public celebration for what would once have been an unthinkable extension of abortions in our State and repeated Mass murders by lonely and disaffected young males, to name the most obvious. The author of the Book of Wisdom, facing a world that presented many difficulties to his faith (see first reading below), urged his readers to make the traditions of their people, both moral and liturgical, the center of their lives. If that was true for the Jews it is even more pertinent for us. Do you know the traditions of the Catholic Church? Have you examined them since high school? Even if you have received all the appropriate Sacraments and attend Mass more than you don’t, seriously think about your further Christian formation with the RCIA. 

Baptism, Communion, and Confirmation: Non-Catholics who wish to become Catholic or Catholics who wish to receive Eucharist or Confirmation are asked to call or email Fr. Smith. The R(evisedC(hristianI(nitiation) of A(dults) classes will begin in the Fall. They are set in a seminar format with meetings once per month until Easter. There are 50 to 75 pages of reading per session. 

Marriage: St. Charles Parish congratulates those who will become engaged this summer and we wish to accompany you on your way to the altar and beyond. Please contact Fr. Smith at your earliest convenience. This includes those who will be married in another Parish and especially those who will be married in another country. 

Please contact Fr. Smith at the Rectory (718-625-1177 ext 409) 

 

Question from last week’s homily: 

As we had our annual mission talk last week, I suggested a homily by Dr. Meghan Clark of St John’s University (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Js1K27ya2Rk) as a substitute.  

She connected the readings to some of the basic issues of Catholic Social thought. I received some comment on the meaning and consequences of “The universal destination of all goods”. Fr. Kenneth Himes clarifies this succinctly and elegantly below: 

  1. Has the teaching on private property evolved over the years?

Yes, basically the development has been in the direction of underscoring the social dimension of private property. 

Pius XI affirmed the “twofold aspect of ownership, which is individual or social accordingly as it regards individuals or concerns of the common good” (Quadragesimo anno 45). Pius XII retrieved the patristic theme of the universal destiny of all goods as the context for thinking about private property (“Pentecost Address,” June 1, 1941). There can be a diversity of ownership schemes that should be left to the particular customs and statutes of a society. However, any such scheme “remains subordinated to the natural scope of material goods and cannot emancipate itself from the first and fundamental right which concedes their use to all” (ibid.). 

In effect, the raising up of the social dimensions of ownership has led CST to insist not only on the individual right of private property but the “social duty essentially inherent in the right” (Pacem in terris 22). 

Paul VI explicitly denied that the right to private property is to be considered “an absolute and unconditioned right,” for “the right to private property must never be exercised to the detriment of the common good” (Populorum progressio 23). This principle extends to the case that “the common good sometimes demands expropriation” of property (24). 

According to John Paul II, all property has a “social mortgage, meaning it has an intrinsically social function based upon and justified precisely by the principle of the universal destination of goods” (Sollicitudo rei socialis 42). While private property remains a right that is “valid and necessary,” in the face of widespread poverty it is important to affirm “the characteristic principle of Christian social doctrine: the goods of this world are originally meant for all” (ibid., italics in original). 

It is in the same vein that Benedict XVI pointed out that some within the richer nations have been guilty of “excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care” (Caritas in veritate 22). 

Himes, K. R. (2013). 101 Questions & Answers on Catholic Social Teaching (Second Edition, pp. 82–83). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press. 

How comfortable are you with the answer to the question: “Who besides myself  has benefited from my possessions?” 

If questions arise from any of the homilies or talks in the Parish, please let me know and I will be happy to answer them as best I can.  

Fr. Bill  

 

Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time 

August 11, 2019 

Wisdom of Solomon: 18:6-9 

Our reading today is from the Book of Wisdom, often called the Wisdom of Solomon. We read from it several months ago. Let us take a moment to remember its background. Although it sounds ancient, it is perhaps the last book in the Old Testament and could have been written as late as 30 BC. Also, although it takes the name of King Solomon of Jerusalem from about 1000 BC, it was most likely written in Alexandria Egypt for the children of the Jewish elite who were immersed in the Roman world and tempted to give up their faith.  

Alexandria was an important commercial but also intellectual center famous throughout the Roman world. The author of Wisdom is well versed in all the alternatives to Judaism, from Greek philosophy to the cult of Isis. In the other sections we read from Wisdom, the particular city of its composition was not important but today, as we will see, it is very important that it is written in Egypt. The author is first and foremost a man of his tradition. He answers the questions that his young people might have not only as Romans but as Egyptians. He will speak from the Scriptures and shows the superiority of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and as we will see today Moses 

We read today from Wisdom 18:6-9but the section begins with Chapter 11. His purpose is to show his young aristocrats that the Lord cares for His people at all times and places, not only in the past or only in Jerusalembut in the Diaspora as well. There is no better example for them than the Exodus from Egypt millennia before.  

To develop this, he uses key elements of the Exodus story. Thus, the Lord gave the Israelites water from the Rock, but the river Nile became blood, (Wisdom 11:4-14). The Egyptians lost their appetite with an infestation of frogs, but the Israelites were fed with quail (Wisdom 16:1-4). Even in the midst of deprivation and exile the Lord cared for His people.  

The author has developed this so that the emotional climax is the contrast of the death of the firstborn of the Egyptians with the deaths of many Israelites in the desert.  

The scene is set by the decision of Pharaoh to kill the male babies of the Israelites 

5 When they determined to put to death the infants of the holy ones, (Wisdom 18:5)  

 

We know the response: 

Thus, says the LORD: At midnight I will go forth through Egypt.5 Every first-born in this land shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh on the throne to the first-born of the slave-girl at the handmill, as well as all the first-born of the animals (Ex 11:4-5) 

They (The Israelites) shall take some of its blood and apply it to the two doorposts and the lintel of every house in which they partake of the lamb. (Ex 12:7)  

12 For on this same night I will go through Egypt, striking down every first—born of the land, both man and beast, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt – I, the LORD! 

13 But the blood will mark the houses where you are. Seeing the blood, I will pass over you; thus, when I strike the land of Egypt, no destructive blow will come upon you. (Ex 12:12-13) 

 

The author of Wisdom reflects on this: 

 

That night was known beforehand to our fathers,  

that, with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put 

their faith, they might have courage. 

7 Your people awaited  

the salvation of the just and the destruction of their foes  

For when you punished our adversaries,  

in this you glorified us whom you had summoned (Ex 12:6-8 

The Lord was faithful to his promises and demonstrated that he was all powerful in every time and place.  

For in secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice 

and putting into effect with one accord the divine institution, 

That your holy ones should share alike the same good things and dangers, 

having previously sung the praises of the fathers. (Ex 12:9-11)  

The sacrifice is most directly the first Passover, but it reflects the situation of all the Jews in the Diaspora who faithfully commemorate the feasts and fasts of their people. The author notes that they were an ancient people even when in Egypt, able to sing the songs of their Fathers.  

We note however that there is a comparison. The angel of death came upon the Israelites in the desert as well:  

The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “It is you who have slain the LORD’S people.” 

7 But while the community was deliberating against them, Moses and Aaron turned toward the meeting tent, and the cloud now covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared. (Numbers 17: 6-7) 

The Lord is furious with the people and sends destruction among them. Aaron the priest, however, goes into the midst of the carnage and stops it: 

14 Yet fourteen thousand seven hundred died from the scourge (Numbers 17: 14a)  

 

The author of wisdom reflects: 

But the trial of death touched at one time even the just,  

and in the desert a plague struck the multitude; Yet not for long did the anger last. 

21 For the blameless man hastened to be their champion, 

bearing the weapon of his special office, 

prayer and the propitiation of incense (Wisdom 18:20-21)  

God’s anger at the disobedience of the people did not last long and it was turned away because the Jews, through Aaron, remained faithful to their traditions. Ritual and tradition cannot take the place of repentance, but the future leaders of the People are being warned that without this connection they are no better than the Egyptians – of ancient times or theirs.  

The last few weeks have seen, at the time of this writing, three mass killings. We also cannot ignore the general gun violence in some of our major cities nor the extension of abortion laws. With the latter, I will never forget that when the bill making virtually any abortion legal in New York State was passed and signed buildings and bridges were lit up in celebration. So much for safe, legal and rare. The talking heads of all persuasions were out in force for these events and I, for one, found them unpersuasive. Like the author of Wisdom, some ideas seemed to have merit but there was no compelling system of thought behind them. Like our author today, I think we must go to the history of our people more to point to the God who is revealed most fully in Jesus to know that despite what we see around us, God is with us, we are never abandoned and that he gives us the means to survive as a people and often to have a real effect on our society.  

In these dark times let us take comfort in the last words of The Book of Wisdom which are, for most scholars, the last words of the Old Testament:  

22 For every way, O LORD! you magnified and glorified your people;  

unfailing, you stood by them in every time and circumstance. (Wisdom 19:22)  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

7th Sunday of Easter – I See the Heavens Opened

Photo: Stoning of St Stephen, altarpiece of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice

Hail and Farewell:

Summer is a bittersweet time of year. Many people will be moving into our community and will be “interviewing” parishes. If you are one of these, I hope that you will consider St Charles for your spiritual home, and I would love to speak with you. The bitter part is that about a dozen individuals and families, on the average, will moving from the neighborhood. For whatever reason you are leaving us – more space, schools or business transfer – we have loved having you and hope that St Charles has been a positive part of your life. We wish you many blessings and would like to do so publicly. All our departing parishioners will be blessed at the Masses on Sunday, June 23rd, the Solemnity or the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Please let us know if you will be attending any of these services. Whether you can attend or not, please know that we will pray for your continued success and happiness no matter where you go.

In Christ,

Fr Bill


First Reading

June 2, 2019

Acts of the Apostles 7:55-60

 

Since Easter, we have been reading passages from “The Acts of the Apostles” sequentially, if not comprehensively until now. Today we double back from last week’s examination of the Council of Jerusalem in Chapter 15 to the stoning of St Stephen in Chapter 7. This is to prepare us for the coming of the Holy Spirit next week at Pentecost. To understand this change in order, we need to look at why Stephen was executed and how he received it.

Stephen was one of the first Deacons. He was Greek speaking and filled with “grace and power” and worked great wonders and signs among the people. (Acts 6:8) He excelled in debate and defeated other Greek-speaking Jews in public discussions. Embarrassed, they brought him to the Sanhedrin, the council of Jewish leaders, for punishment as others did Jesus and the Apostles.

Like the Apostles, he answers his accusers not with philosophical arguments but with the history of Israel. (Acts 7:1) He differs from Peter and the other Apostles by accusing the leaders of acting like the foreign enemies of Israel who fought against God himself. He ends his sermon with:

51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors.

52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.

53 You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it.” 

(Acts 7:51–53)

This is where we take up the story today.

First, note that he is telling Jewish leaders that they failed in their responsibility as Jews and leaders by not being to a light to the nations. They were called to bring people to God but kept Him for themselves. This reflects Jesus’s experience in the synagogue at Nazareth.

25 Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land.

26 It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. (Luke 4:2-26)

The leaders were infuriated and “ground their teeth at him”.

We begin today with Stephen’s response to the Sanhedrin:

55 But he, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Acts 7:55

The opening of the heavens was St Luke’s way of saying that God himself was directly communicating something serious.

At Jesus’s baptism we read:

21 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened

22 and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:21–22

Jesus instructs Peter that there are no foods which could prevent a person from being a member of the Church through a vision: 11 “He saw heaven opened and something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered to the ground by its four corners.” Acts 10:11

What Stephen sees is so clear for a Jew that its meaning does not require words. He calls out:

 “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7:56 (NAB)

This is telling the members of the Sanhedrin to remember the words of the prophet Daniel.

13 As the visions during the night continued, I saw

One like a son of man coming,

on the clouds of heaven;

When he reached the Ancient One

and was presented before him. Daniel 7:13

The Son of Man is a complicated image, but it always contained the sense of divine judgment. It is very interesting that this the only time in Luke that the title “Son of Man” is used by anyone other than Jesus. Luke wishes us to be clear that Stephen is speaking for Jesus, not only about Him.

 

 

Let us remember that when Jesus was himself before the Sanhedrin when asked if he was the Messiah he responded “

67 “If I tell you, you will not believe,

68 and if I question, you will not respond.

69 But from this time on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied to them, “You say that I am.” Luke 22:67–70

Accepting Jesus as the Son of Man and at very least the true Judge is a Christian requirement.

They did not listen to Stephen as they had not listened to Jesus, and like Jesus brought him out of Jerusalem to execute him. We should also not forget Jesus’ experience in Nazareth here as well:

29 They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. (Luke 4:29).

As we have seen many times in Luke/Acts, envy, jealousy, and other forms of pettiness are always lurking around the more theological explanations.

It is at Stephen’s execution that we see the closest parallels with Jesus and the clearest lessons for ourselves.

59 As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Acts 7:59

 46 Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last. Luke 23:46

Like Jesus Stephen clearly is offering himself up to God, but note Jesus entrusts himself to the Father and Stephen to Lord Jesus, clearly affirming that Jesus is God.

As important, however, is the attitude of forgiveness. Stephen’s last words are:

60 Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:60

He thus reflects Jesus’ appeal from the cross:

 “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

Next week we will go further back to the empty room in Jerusalem and the Holy Spirit. It is among the most inspiring sections of Holy Scripture. Having read of the progress of the early Church from Peter and Stephen to Paul and Barnabas, we should ask ourselves if we have truly been filled with the Holy Spirit and acted like apostles

The Apostles were martyrs in the strict sense of the word: they gave up their lives to proclaim the Good News. Martyr, however, means witness. There are other ways to bear witness to Jesus than handing over our bodies for destruction. We bear witness by what and why we act. Our reading of Acts this Easter Season has shown us that we are Apostles and Martyrs, not by giving up our physical lives, but our spiritual pride.

 

Sixth Sunday of Easter – To Remain the Same, Everything Must Change

Detail of icon painting by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

St. Philip Neri
Sunday, May 26th is the feast day of St. Philip Neri (1515 – 1595), the founder of the “Congregation of the Oratory”. Priests of the Oratory staff two of our neighboring churches, Assumption and St. Boniface. St. Philip was known for his love of music – the “Oratorio” developed from his group. For his sense of humor, he has been called the “laughing saint”. Most endearingly, he is often pictured caring for his cat. We extend our best wishes to our neighbors on their feast.

 

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 15: 1-2, 22-29

May 26, 2019

Today’s reading from the “Acts of the Apostles” gives us the highlights of the Council of Jerusalem. This is one of the most important events in the Church’s history, not only for what was decided, but how and by whom. Although this will be merely an overview, it will nonetheless be somewhat longer than usual. I hope you are reading it on the beach or in London.

The situation begins with “some people” from Jerusalem arriving at Antioch and telling the disciples that: “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1b). As we have seen these last few weeks examining Acts the Apostles Paul, Barnabas and indeed Peter have been led by the Spirit to accept Gentiles, those not born Jews, into the Church by Baptism not circumcision. St. Peter we may remember baptized the Roman Cornelius when the Spirit came upon him and gave them the gift of speaking in tongues.

47 “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the holy Spirit even as we have?” 48 He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Acts 10:47–48

Peter, also earlier in Acts, says: “There is no salvation through anyone else,” for God has not given human beings “any other name under heaven … by which we are to be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

It is important not only that we see that if Paul and the leaders of Antioch accepted this, it would have strangled Christianity at its birth, but that they realized that they could not solve this themselves but had to go to Jerusalem to receive a decision from the Apostles and Elders.

Our reading then skips 20 verses to reach the conclusion of this story. To understand this, we must look however briefly at what occurred in them. Paul and Barnabas are greeted by the church where the apostles and presbyters (elders) presided over a debate between Paul and Barnabas, who realized that Christianity was a new religion and needed to establish its own customs, traditions and teaching, and the “Judaizers” who held that Gentiles must first become Jews – for men that meant circumcision.

After this, Peter speaks. He reminds those in attendance that

7 After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them, “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. (Acts 15:7)

He reminds them as well that we believe that “… we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.” Acts 15:11

For Peter, this is a clear and basic fact upon which there can be no compromise. This would be sinful and as such must always be fought. (Acts 10: 10).

12 The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them. (Acts 15:12)

Then James, the brother of the Lord and leader of the church in Jerusalem and a man deeply committed to this Jewish heritage spoke:

13 “My brothers, listen to me. 14 Symeon has described how God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name. Acts 15:13–14

He calls the gentiles “A people for his name”, reflecting the call of the Jews themselves.

2 For you are a people sacred to the LORD, your God, who has chosen you from all the nations on the face of the earth to be a people peculiarly his own. (Deuteronomy 14:2)

James continues with a series of quotes from the Old Testament to show that when the Messiah came the doors would be open to all. (Acts 10:16-18)

It is then decided by the leaders that Baptism would be the only means of initiation into the church. It is here that we pick up the story.

 

They have made an official decision and now it must be officially communicated. As would have been expected in this world this would have been by a letter delivered by trustworthy people who could verbally witness to it. The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers. (Acts 15:22) .

It very strictly followed the form of a letter of command that would have been immediately understood and taken very seriously.

 

First, who is sending it is clearly stated: “The apostles and the presbyters, your brothers, (Acts 15:23A)

Second to whom it is being sent: “to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin”: (Acts 15:23b)

Note it is being sent not from one person nor one group of people but the Apostles and the elders. Also, it is being sent not for correction but for instruction and edification, from brother to brother.

Third: it states the situation: “we have heard that some of our number (who went out) without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind” (Acts 15:24) Note also that they clarify that those who disturbed them were not officially sent and had no authority to speak. From the very beginning there was a structure to Christianity.

Unlike those who unofficially went to them the Apostles and elders it clearly states that Barnabas and Paul are beloved and dedicated to the gentile mission.

Fourth: they give them instruction on what is expected of them after Baptism. These are among the requirements stated in Leviticus for all those who live in Israel: Jew and gentile alike

First: to abstain from the blood of meat sacrificed to pagan gods. This would be difficult to determine as most meat was obtained through temples, but they were concerned that people would revert to pagan worship if they used it. Paul also had difficulty with this 1 Corinthians 10:20.

Second and Third: from blood from meats of strangled animals, Strangled animals still had blood in it. It was thought that blood was the sign and means of life and therefore belonged to God. 4 “Only flesh with its lifeblood still in it you shall not eat.” (Genesis 9:4)

Fourth: unlawful marriage. This most definitely includes incestuous relationships, but it may also mean adultery. Paul himself had difficulty with people interpreting his preaching of freedom from the law as a license to do basically anything.

These rules were established only partly for theological reasons. There is a good deal of common sense and cultural sensitivity here as well. The early Christians needed to live a common life, to associate and most of all to share table fellowship together. They could not do this if they were nauseated by the sight of blood, suspicious if the meat was offered to idols or that someone was dating his sister.

Peter was clear that there would be no compromise on the basic issue but understood that much compromise would be needed for people of different cultures to eat and pray together.

This is one of the few incidents in the New Testaments for which we have another perspective. St. Paul gives his view of what occurred in the second chapter of the letter to the Galatians. Paul is very much special pleading, but we do see the outlines of the process and the conclusion. It was the unified leadership of the church that made the decision. We would not yet call them bishops, but they were people who had been commissioned by the Spirit to lead the church. Paul does not leave very happy from this encounter, but he is obedient to the wishes of the Apostles and elders.

We are all the beneficiaries of God’s decision to create a Church that is based on the connection to God through Jesus and the community of the Baptized. Looking at history, we must acknowledge that there have been many changes over the years. The center of the Church has moved from Jerusalem to Rome and it is no longer a purely or predominately Mediterranean organization, but indeed worldwide. The adaptations to each time and place were successful enough for the Church to last two millennium, but so specific to times and places that the structures had to change over time and will change again. As Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in the great Sicilian novel The Leopard (Il gattopardo)said, “For things to remain the same, everything must change”

Things will need to change in our time in ways we will perhaps find strange and unexpected. For example, what could “Elders” mean now in the decision making of the Church? It is in this way that the same Spirit that has molded and guided the Church since Pentecost can do so for us today.

 

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.