4th Sunday of Easter

Again, happy Mother’s Day. At the end of Mass today, I’ll offer a blessing for all mothers and those who share motherly roles.

“Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” According to Alexander Graham Bell’s notes, that was the transcript of the first-ever telephone conversation. Since then, the telephone has become one of the world’s most prevalent electronic devices. Over 7 and 1-quarter billion telephones are estimated to be in use today, enough for over 90% of all human beings to own one. Bell’s invention of the telephone was a groundbreaking event. It was revolutionary and world-changing. 

Over the weeks of the Easter Season, groundbreaking has been the theme of my homilies. The Resurrection was history’s most significant groundbreaking event. Think about it! Jesus of Nazareth, a man who lived two thousand years ago, was only thirty-three when He died, was the native of a tiny village in an out-of-the-way corner of the world is history’s most notable person. He was a carpenter who never wrote a book, never exercised political or military power, and probably never traveled much more than one hundred miles from home. By all human logic, Jesus should have sunk into obscurity long ago. Yet, He is the most famous person ever to live. One-third of the world’s population worships Him as God, and His name is known in every corner of the earth. 

Jesus of Nazareth’s fame all comes down to Easter and the Resurrection. He owes His notoriety to being who He said He was and because He could do what He said He could do. When Jesus ministered on earth, He told His followers He was the Son of God. Jesus predicted He would be put to death by the religious and Roman authorities, and on the third day, He would resurrect from the dead. All this came to pass. If you can predict your death and bring about your Resurrection, you can do anything. Evermore astounding, Jesus predicted His disciples- those who tried to pattern their life by his example- would also be Resurrected on the last day. That is groundbreaking, earth-shattering, and a real game-changer. It is the most incredible event in human history, and why Easter is extraordinary. 

Jesus’ Resurrection is important because it also gave birth to the Church. Jesus’ disciples were so committed to sharing the message He taught that they went out into the world and proclaimed that message. They did that despite persecutions and hardships. All the apostles except one would give their lives sharing Jesus’ message of Good News. Thousands more, right down to today, would share their fate as martyrs for the Good News.

During the Easter season, the first reading in the Liturgy of the Word comes from a book of the Bible called the Acts of the Apostles. If you aren’t that familiar with the Bible and don’t use it as an inspiration for your prayer, I’d suggest you might start by reading the Acts of the Apostles. Luke, the evangelist, wrote it in a narrative style that is easy to read and understand. It tells us a great deal about the early Church and how it grew and lived out Jesus’ message. 

Acts tells us of how they shared the groundbreaking message of Jesus. Groundbreaking ideas like how all life is sacred from conception to natural death. Teachings such as it is better to give than to receive and that from suffering, sorrow and loss can come blessings from God. 

Last week’s reading from Acts taught one of the great lessons of the early Church. We heard how Peter and John were on trial before the Jewish religious court and were commanded not to speak of Jesus. They responded they must continue to speak of Jesus because they needed to obey God and not men. The disciples were people with a crystal clear message and mission. If we observe individuals, groups, companies, or organizations that are successful, we realize the most successful are ones with a clear and focused purpose. They have a vibrant message, and they express it with amazing clarity. We need that today in the universal Church and as a parish. 

To understand the success of the early Church, we need to know a bit about life at the beginning of the first century. In those days, most people were religious, and there were many different sets of gods. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all had their pantheon of gods, and even individual cities and towns had their own set. Among these gods, there was a hierarchy from greater to lesser. Whoever was your god, it was believed they ruled your life. If you were a great person, one of the great gods was your patron. If you were disadvantaged, well, you were a child of a lesser god. These gods were very demanding, and pagan people lived on the edge, always trying to appease their gods. Keeping your god patron soothed was tricky, and it required skill and a strategy to prevent their displeasure and punishment. 

Keep that in mind as we delve into today’s reading from Acts. It comes from the thirteenth chapter, so we have jumped ahead quite a bit from last week. Today we hear about an incident from St. Paul’s first missionary journey. The Church has just begun spreading the Gospel. Paul started from Jerusalem, first went to Crete, and then to an area near where he grew up in Asia Minor or today’s Turkey. 

Today he has entered Antioch, an important city in the region. Paul had a formula he followed when he was new in town. He would always go first to the Jewish synagogue and participate in the Sabbath worship service. It was a custom to invite strangers to speak at the service, and Paul always took advantage of that opportunity to preach about Jesus to his fellow Jews. He preached about how Jesus fulfilled the promises of the prophets written about in the Jewish scriptures. 

Paul did that in today’s reading, and he gained some Jewish followers. The word got out to even Gentiles that Paul was preaching about a God that didn’t need to be constantly catered to and appeased. Paul was preaching about a God who wasn’t always demanding sacrifices of food and animals. No, Paul’s God wanted to initiate relationships with everyone. This God so desired a close relationship with people that the Father sent the Son into the world to reveal God to all people completely. Paul spoke about a God who so loved the world He would sacrifice that Son for our sins.

This message intrigued some Jews but especially the Gentiles who felt burdened by their gods. The Gentiles wanted to hear more from Paul, so the Book of Acts says almost the whole city was there to listen to Paul on the following Sabbath. Acts tells us that this angered the Jewish leaders, who became jealous when they saw the large crowd Paul’s preaching had drawn. These religious authorities opposed sharing the Gospel with non-Jews because they wanted to keep God exclusively to themselves. They tried to contradict Paul and started to get the influential people opposed to him. 

Persecution would happen over and over again to the Apostles and early Christians. It was what the religious authorities tried to do to Jesus, it backfired then, and it backfired when they did it to the early Christians too. A saying is that the blood of the martyrs nourishes the seeds of faith, which was the Apostles’ experience.

The rejection of the Gospel by many Jews caused Paul to change his methods. He recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah, “I have made you a light to the Gentiles.” Paul began to share his preaching with them. This sharing of God with non-Jews was a groundbreaking turn of events. The disciples' realization they were to share the Gospel with others besides the Jews gave them a sense of urgency. They preached with bravery and boldness. It led them to want to sacrifice themselves more and more to advance the Gospel’s spread. They offered their money, time, energy, comfort, and lives to help more people hear Jesus’ message. They did everything in their power, short of sin, to tell others of the grace and favor won for us by Jesus on the cross. 

The Book of Acts tells us that when the Gentiles heard there was one true living God and a relationship with Him was open to them, they rejoiced. When they heard God would give them grace and favor for free, they wanted to establish a relationship with God, and they told their friends and neighbors. 

We need to have the same sort of reaction today. Today, Jesus’ disciples need to be as excited about sharing the news of a loving God who wants to enter into a relationship with everyone. Each of us needs to be bold about proclaiming the Gospel, and we need to make sacrifices similar to those made by the Apostles. We need to sacrifice our money, time, energy, comfort, and maybe even our lives to help spread the Good News.

One of the ways we do that is through our support of the Catholic Appeal here in our diocese. Last week was the first week of the Appeal, and it will continue until June 30. The Catholic Appeal provides funding for many of our diocese’s charitable and pastoral works. It funds social services for those struggling with family and personal problems, gives shelter to the homeless, and food for the hungry. The Appeal also pays for pastoral care like hospital chaplains, the Office of the Permanent Diaconate, aid to Catholic Schools, assistance to those with special needs, and many other services.

I make my support of the Catholic Appeal one of my most important donations each year. I budget ten percent of my income for charitable gifts. Five percent I donate to this parish and two and a half percent to the Catholic Appeal. This year my donation was $1,500. I donate generously to the Appeal because I feel its work to help spread the Gospel is essential. 

I ask everyone in our parish to prayerfully make a sacrificial gift to this year’s Appeal. I hope you feel making a sacrifice of some of your financial gifts from God to help share the Gospel message with the world is worthwhile. Last week registered parishioners received a letter from me, a pledge card, and an Appeal brochure. If you didn’t receive one, extras are in the pews. Please send in your donation today. 

Today’s Gospel speaks of how Jesus told the disciples He was a good shepherd who the sheep loved and responded to His voice. We receive a call to imitate Jesus through our baptism by being a good shepherd who speaks the Gospel to our community. Today be a groundbreaking Good Shepherd who speaks the Gospel message generously through your donation to this year’s Catholic Appeal and all your words and deeds.