Following is the homily from the closing Mass of the Catholic Chicago Men’s Forum on April 27, 2019, by Bishop Joseph N. Perry.
In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, notice, Jesus’ disciples were forbidden by the authorities to teach about Jesus to anyone. The townsfolk had witnessed Peter’s miraculous healing of a crippled man. Because the rulers and temple elders were in no position to accept as good news the miraculous healing of the man, at the same time, they knew they could neither deny nor hide the reality of this phenomenon, so they instead tried to silence the disciples. The name of Jesus was not to be mentioned by them or anyone.
Sometimes, we act as if that prohibition has been passed down to us. We are uncomfortable referencing our faith before others. We might feel uncomfortable making the sign of the cross and saying grace before we eat out at a restaurant. If someone use the name of God in vain we remain stone silent. If we don’t try deliberately to hide our faith we at least do not often express it in public places. Actually what has been handed down to us is not a prohibition but the calling to be loyal to Jesus, to “teach all nations”. Jesus gave us this instruction in today’s passage from the gospel.
The gospel is often called the Good News. But many of us receive it as though it were bad news. We act as if being Christian prevents us from having friends. But the joy of the gospel, the good news of Jesus’ resurrection is our birthright as Christians. We own the patent to the story!
If we are naturally somewhat shy we may not want to impose on others’ lives. Or we don’t want to risk alienating them. After all, many of our friends and in-laws and outlaws are not so religious. And we want to stay in their company. And among buddies and in the public arena it’s not cool to seem pious or religious, we often think.
The true story is told in one of the parishes that: One Sunday afternoon a baby girl was being baptized. She had a brother a few years older than herself. And on the way home, the boy was found crying crocodile tears in the back seat of the car. Dad was driving but his mother leaned back and asked him what was the matter. And the boy said: “Father said that he wants all boys and girls to grow up in a good Christian home. But I want to stay with you guys!”
Out of the mouths of babes!
When Mary Magdalene saw the risen Jesus she could hardly wait to tell his other friends. She ran through the streets of Jerusalem and pounded on the door to get their attention. They didn’t believe her. As we share our faith experiences with others we also can expect skepticism, hesitancy, disbelief and yes, sometimes, even ridicule. We lose friends while we’re active Christians, no doubt. But then, there are those friends who re also mealy-mouthed in their loyalty to us and admit for sure their admiration of you for your sound faith in Christ.
But, there are other, sometimes more effective ways to share our faith with others. Also in today’s gospel is mention of Jesus joining two disciples on a country road. We can powerfully influence others’ lives by walking with them, listening and not being afraid to mention the word “God” in our conversations with others. By affirming and validating feelings that others express we can help them open themselves to God’s grace.
This reminds me – during one of the last major offenses of World War II, Dwight Eisenhower, the great general, was walking and gathering his thoughts one day when he came upon a young soldier who seemed depressed. “How are you feeling, son?” the general asked. The soldier answered, “General, sir, I’m awful nervous.” “Well,” said Eisenhower, “you and I are a good pair then because I’m nervous too. Maybe if we just walk along together, we’ll be good for each other.” What a powerful support that was for that young soldier.
Sometimes we are tempted to compromise God’s Christian Call of us with what seems expedient or practical, whether among friends, in the office, engaging with coworkers in racist chatter; or in the voter’s booth, deciding an issue on the basis of selfish interest rather than the common good; or in the quiet of our heart giving in to confusion and disbelief. The first Christians and certainly Christians through the centuries knew how challenging it was to live the faith. For that reason they are sympathetic to us when we fail to act on our convictions or when our faith seems to not mean much to us.
We live in a society that claims to get along quite well without religious faith and practice; other things are important and command our energy and thoughts. There are people out there, even baptized people we know and befriend, even love, who admire Jesus Christ as a good man who lived back then and somehow ran afoul of the authorities and was given a death sentence. Somehow his wisdom has endured through the ages. But, these same people whom we know and love will not hand their lives over to Him.
People tend to think of Jesus as a figure from the past instead of as a power in the present. For some people Jesus is just a vague figure mentioned in religion classes of our childhood. Truth be told, Jesus doesn’t want our acknowledgment of Him. He wants our discipleship. There’s a difference. Acknowledging Jesus Christ as a figure from history will not get you saved. Being a disciple of Jesus, however, demands a conscientious, calculated, and determined commitment made to Him and his message.
The Easter gospels we hear through the season remind us how slowly even those who had been with Jesus during his ministry came to believe in and act by the power of the risen Christ.
Looking back we can often see God’s hand in the events of our lives and slowly but surely as the months and years pass by these events begin to make sense. For the followers of Jesus his death made no sense. It was only in hindsight after the resurrection that they could see the fulfillment of God’s plan. Because of the outpouring of the Spirit at that first Pentecost they were able to preach the message of Christ to folks gathered in Jerusalem – that He was not dead but alive and that He was the promised Messiah and therefore the fulfillment of all their hopes.
Peter was able to trust in Christ’s healing power working through him and the others. Peter finally was able to speak courageously before the very group that turned Jesus over to Pilate and demanded his death. When told by the authorities not to speak of Jesus again, Peter says in the reading today from the Acts, “It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” May Peter’s resolve also be ours’!
Peter follows the instruction of Jesus given in today’s gospel, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” The change in Peter after Pentecost was a miracle, I suppose, as the healing of the crippled man. Peter was still Peter – ordinary, and profane in respects. However, empowered by the Holy Spirit, there was no stopping him.
We are talking about the faith of confirmed Christians here. God uses us as we are, where we are. He uses us with the gifts we have at this moment. The important thing is that we use them. How bold are we with our proclamation of our faith? Some say, “My faith is private.” Certainly, Jesus said it was just the opposite: “Proclaim, preach heal.” There is nothing private about that.
Each one of us might ask, “Is there any aspect of my religion which, although I certainly don’t deny it, I don’t fully live it either … because doing so would require more change, more effort than I’ve been willing to give?”
I was visiting one of our parishes for the sacrament of Confirmation recently and the pastor happened to mention to me that his brother paid him a visit not long ago and the two of them sat down for a meal together; that his brother looked around the room they were in and remarked in reference to the pictures on the wall and the statues: “You sure have a lot of religious crap around here!”
What do you expect, it’s a church rectory where priests live! When I visit homes I always look around for signs that tell what is important to the persons living there. Are there religious art and symbols of our Catholic faith or are there just material possessions, nice things?
If we are compelled by the Spirit, we will have the wisdom to speak and act in effective ways as a Christian. The same Holy Spirit that empowered Peter to charge the people who condemned Jesus is available to us. If we truly believe, is it possible that we can keep silent about what we have seen and heard?
May we today pray for the boldness to preach by our words and actions the signs of God’s reign among us. We can strive in our dealings to be nonviolent in word and deed. We can extend compassion to the poor. We can practice neighborly regard in Christian ways to people because all are redeemed by the blood of the Jesus we love and admire.
Some years back, I remember a saying printed on cards that could fit in your wallet or purse. And the saying went like this: “Should it ever happen that you are arrested for being a Christian and hauled into court, would there be enough evidence to convict you!” This was the mantra of many a saint and Christian martyr before us.
Put another way, the first letter of Peter in the New Testament says it this way: “Have reverence for Christ in your hearts and honor him as Lord. Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you, but do it with gentleness and respect. Keep your conscience clear so that when you are insulted those who speak evil of your good conduct as followers of Christ will become ashamed of what they say.” (3, 15-16)
Most certainly, there will never be another act of love so pure. There will never be a triumph so celebrated as the humility of the Cross and the miracle of the empty tomb. Life is so vibrant in everything around us at springtime and because of Jesus all that is within us rejoices as well. The Lord has given us peace through hope, forgiveness through love. And He has given us eternity through his act of his sacrifice.
Those of you about to be confirmed – in your pronunciation of the baptismal vows of our faith today you state your willingness to enter upon and live these mysteries of our faith. Glory awaits each of you with the Lord if you can remain faithful.