The Power of God for New Beginnings

Homily, Wednesday of the 7th Week of Easter

Today is a day of goodbyes. Three years St. Paul spent with the Church in Ephesus, and today he encourages their leaders to remain faithful to the Gospel and to watch over the flock in his absence. Three years Jesus lived and worked and ate and drank with his Apostles, and today Jesus continues His prayer at the Last Supper, entrusting them to the care of His heavenly Father. And for four years I have lived and taken classes and seen manifestazioni [public protests] and put up with scioperi [strikes] and experienced some wonderful history, art, architecture, food, drink, and friendships here in Rome, and today is likely my last time preaching before I say “Ciao for now” to this eternal city.

But, as often happens, goodbyes are also occasions for new beginnings. St. Paul will set sail for Jerusalem and eventually for Rome to continue his mission to the nations of the earth. Jesus will hand himself over to accomplish His work of redemption, on the Cross and through His Resurrection. I will head home to South Dakota to be ordained a priest, to preach the Gospel and to give new life through the sacraments. And today, Robert and Debra will renew their marriage vows and pray that their life together will continue to be a source of life and joy to each other and to everyone around them. With the whole Church, we give thanks for all the blessings God has already given to us, and we pray for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit as we approach Pentecost this weekend, and everything that lies ahead.

I am always encouraged by the Scripture that tells us that even God’s weakness is stronger than human strength, that even when I feel like I’ve given everything I’ve got and still come up short, God’s grace is more than enough. In the person of Christ on the Cross, God shows His all-powerful weakness, the madness of His love for us that would submit even to death to rescue us from our sins. God’s weakness redeemed all of creation, something that human strength could never accomplish. And if the weakness of God could accomplish all that, just imagine what the strength and power of God can do. The Psalm today speaks of God’s glorious power, and in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we see the effects of that power. It transforms the fear and passivity of the Apostles into unstoppable zeal and love for Jesus Christ, leading them to accomplish the same works that Christ Himself performed, and even to rejoice in suffering for His Name. Come, Holy Spirit. Fill our hearts with the power of God. Bring a new beginning of grace to all of us and to all creation. Renew in us the love that conquers all and drives out all fear. Come, Holy Spirit.

Unsettled but Set Free

Homily, Tuesday of the 5th Week of Easter

Yesterday, in the reading from Acts, Barnabas and Paul arrived in the city of Lystra, and when they cured a crippled man, the crowds were convinced that they were Zeus and Hermes. Today, the story is a little different. The crowds that they barely managed to keep from worshipping them as gods and sacrificing to them yesterday, these same crowds are now persuaded to take Paul, chuck rocks at him, drag him out of the city, and leave him for dead. Now, if I had been with St. Paul on this mission trip, I probably would have suggested taking a different route back to Antioch. The crowds seem to be more than a little unstable lately on the route they came. But Paul reacts calmly enough. After they tried to kill him, he simply gets up and returns to the city. And after spending some time in Derbe, they return to Antioch through the same unstable cities, always encouraging the disciples there to persevere and showing that they would “undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Paul doesn’t write them off, just because they tried to worship him, and then tried to kill him, just because they were unsettled by the Gospel of Christ. Perhaps Paul remembers how he himself didn’t react so well when he first encountered Christians. He knows from experience that those who seem to be the most unsettled by the Gospel may be the very ones, who in God’s providence, are the closest to conversion. So what does Paul do? He returns to them, in the peace of Christ, in a peace and calm that the world cannot give. He forgives them and prays for them, just as he witnessed St. Stephen pray for those who martyred him. Paul returns to them, and by his calm and confident perseverance, shows them the persistence of God’s love for them and the peace that Christ longs to give them, however unsettling the Gospel may seem at first.

The Word of Truth still has the power to save, and if that’s the case, then it also has the power to challenge and to shake people out of situations and ways of life that are harmful to them. May the peace of Christ always dwell in our hearts, that we may calmly persevere in loving those we meet and showing them by our own lives that the Gospel is really good news.