Homily for May 6, 2012: 5th Sunday of Easter

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This past week, I had a chance to preside at a wedding here at the parish.  As many couples do, the bride and groom selected for one of their readings the famous letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians on love.  “Love is patient, love is kind, love never fails…”  Usually, a couple will ask one of their young friends to do the reading.  So I was a surprised to see the person this couple selected: the groom’s 80-year-old grandmother.

During the wedding, when the time came for her to read, she had to be helped up the stairs and into the pulpit.  I worried whether she’d even be able to read the text.  But when she opened her mouth and began to read that passage, it was a revelation.  It was as if we were all hearing it for the first time.  It was beautiful and bold, heartfelt and deeply moving.  This woman brought 80 years of lived experience to that passage. We were hearing her life – and, I think, it was a kind of gift to the bride and groom, and to all of us.  A gift of wisdom, and gentleness, and truth.

It made me realize that what St. Paul was speaking about was more than just pretty words to be read in Corinth and then, 2,000 years later, to be repeated at countless weddings.  No.  It was also his lived experience of Christian love.

And I think it was formed, in part, by what we heard today in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

At this moment, Paul – still known as Saul — was a fresh convert to the faith, newly arrived from Damascus. As the account makes clear, many Christians were afraid of him.  They knew his reputation – a persecutor, a Christian-hunter.  It’s fair to say that, among the Christians in Jerusalem Paul probably wasn’t the most popular kid at the lunch table.  Understandably, nobody trusted him.
But one person saw something more.

That person was Barnabas.

Barnabas believed Paul’s conversion – and believed in him.   Today’s reading says he “took charge” of Paul.   But scholars think it was more than that. One commentator has suggested that there would not be a Paul if there wasn’t first a Barnabas – a mentor and guide, but also a figure who must have had great courage, patience, and perseverance.

In other words: someone who personified Christian love.

Years later, when Paul wrote to the Corinthians about love – how it bears all things, hopes all things, and never fails – this, I believe, is what he meant.  Not something romantic or flowery.  But something that is a gift of self, that demands sacrifice and faith. It is unafraid.  Steadfast.  Willing to risk.  Willing, even, to see beyond someone’s past.

In other words: a love willing to “believe all things” – even to believe that a lowly tentmaker from Tarsus, a man who was a sinner and persecutor, might have the potential to be a saint.

How many of us are able to love that way?

How many of us today would dare to be a Barnabas?

So often, we live in fear of what we do not know – suspicious of “the other,” someone we may not understand, or agree with, or even like. You don’t have to look far for examples.  We see it today in politics, on talk TV, and even within our own church.  We live in a world divided, polarized, in constant conflict.  We let our fear and mistrust get the best of us, often all too eager to believe the worst about someone.

But that is not the way of love.  It is not the way of Christ.

In the first letter of St. John that we heard this morning, the “beloved disciple” wrote: “Those who keep God’s commandments remain in him,” he wrote. “His commandment is this…love one another…”

Of all the commandments engraved in our hearts, that may be the one we Christians most routinely and most frequently break.
Yet it is also the one that binds us most closely to Christ – as Jesus put it in the gospel, like branches connected to a vine.

St. John understood that.  So did St. Paul and St. Barnabas.  Do we?

Preparing this Sunday’s homily, I was curious to find out more about Barnabas.  He was born into a wealthy Jewish family.  At some point, perhaps moved by hearing Christ preach, he sold his estate and became a disciple.  Later, after Paul arrived on the scene, it was Barnabas who introduced him to Peter.  Some scholars think Barnabas and Paul had known each other when they were younger and had studied together under the same rabbi.

For several years, Barnabas and Paul worked together as missionaries.  But they eventually had a falling out over Barnabas’s cousin Mark – the same Mark who wrote the gospel – because Paul had doubts about Mark’s dedication to the faith.  But by one account, when Barnabas was finally martyred, around the year 61, it was Paul who helped to bury him – perhaps because, as he had earlier written to the Corinthians, “love never fails.”

Tellingly, Barnabas is not the name he was born with.  His given name was Joseph.  But just as Saul became Paul, he, too, was given a new name by the Christians.  Barnabas, in fact, means “Son of Encouragement.”  Encouragement is what he gave to the growing community of Christians – and it surely describes what he offered to Paul, as well.

To offer encouragement means to support, to uplift.  It is taking time to give of self – to give a hand to hold, a shoulder for support, an ear to listen, a voice to calm all doubts and erase all fears.

It is, quite simply, a kind of love.

Let us pray to love like that.

To uplift one another.  To teach one another.  To encourage one another.

Let us pray to be Barnabas to one another.

Comments

  1. Excellent Homily!

    Thanks for the info on Barnabas, love stuff that.

  2. L Daily says:

    Deacon Kendra,

    Your homily is beautiful but doesn’t reflect the reality of your blog or other Catholic bloggers who can’t seem to keep a thought to themselves. Your posts rarely “uplift, teach, encourage,” rather attack, demean, or cast doubt on the faith of others. Catholic bloggers who know little but speak often are in large part responsible for the division in our church. Post your good homilies, but otherwise I suggest silent prayer and reflection.

  3. Notgiven says:

    It is a beautiful homily and it DOES uplift, teach and encourage…and, I believe, most who post here would support that. It sounds like you have a personal issue with Deacon K. Why don’t you work that out with him privately instead of publicly?

  4. Actually, L Daily, I think what you say is not so much true of Deacon Greg’s posts as it the comments that people sometimes leave in response to his posts. The Deacon’s posts are almost always thoughtful and thought-provoking — in the sense that they set out issues or events that people might want to mull over and discuss.

    But yes, those who comment on this blog and other Catholic blogs (myself included at times) are less than charitable. Sometimes we get heated up and assume ill intent on the part of others when we’d be better off stating our own point of view and giving the benefit of the doubt to others when that is possible — since it’s often difficult in cyberspace to pick up on the writer’s intended tone. There are times when taking a deep breathe and stepping back from the keyboard is a Christian act. And that’s not advice I’m offering to you, but rather to myself. A log in my own eye from time to time.

  5. PaulJames says:

    Can’t we just get along and love one another???

  6. Fr Peter says:

    Good reflection. Just wish u dwelt much on the gospel to draw a connection with all the readings. Thanks for nourishing us this sunday

  7. It is an excellent homily. I wish I could have heard that grandmother read that passage. My wife and I had that read at our wedding as well.

  8. That was an excellent homily Deacon. I was actually thinking about that in Church today, how lightly the account in Acts passes over the Apostles reaction to Paul. “Afraid?” They must have been terrified of this serial killer. It would be like Hitler showing up at a Jewish Temple, asking to be circumsized. It certainly took some doing to welcome him into their community. But with God all things are possible.

  9. Jim McConnell says:

    Greg you don’t know it but we’ve been lunch buddies for several years. I read your blog everyday while having my sandwich.
    I just wanted to tell you about how valuable, among many other things, your homilies are. I’m a EM in my parish and when it’s my turn to do a communion service at the nursing home I turn to your homilies to see what you’re going to say that Sunday. It’s been incredibly helpful. And BTW ignore the self righteous knuckleheads

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  1. [...] Homily for May 6, 2012: 5th Sunday of Easter This past week, I had a chance to preside at a wedding here at the parish. As many couples do, the bride and groom selected for one of their readings the famous letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians on love. “Love is patient, love is kind, … Read more on Patheos (blog) [...]

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