Tag Archives: Evangelisation

Homily – Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

Vigil Mass:
Acts 3:1-10
Ps 19        R. Their voice goes out through all the earth.
Gal 1:11-20
Jn 21: 15-19
Mass during the Day:
Acts 12:1-11
Ps 34        R. The Lord has set me free from all my fears.
2 Tim 4:6-8, 17-18
Mt 16:13-19

pavel

In our times today, many people want to pit St. Peter and St. Paul against each other. St. Peter, they say, was the Apostle who wanted everyone to obey him; he was authoritarian, that’s why he’s the first Pope: everyone had to listen to him and follow his lead. St. Paul, on the other hand, was independent; he was the firebrand Apostle who was never afraid to speak, didn’t play by the rules, and went wherever he felt the Spirit was leading him. In this way, he was the first Protestant, they say, and a truer disciple of Christ…

Nothing could be further from the truth! In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke clearly sates that the disciples of Jesus were of one heart and soul (4:32). Their union with God translated visibly into a union with each other; this was a hallmark of the early Christian community! Sts. Peter and Paul were no different: both dedicated their lives to preaching Christ and bringing people to repentance and union with God; both laid down their lives for Jesus in the Roman persecutions of Nero (64-68 AD). Both believed with one heart, preached with one heart and died with one heart. It’s for these and other reasons that the Church has held, nearly from the beginning (ca. 258 AD), a solemn feast to celebrate these two Apostles together.

When Jesus first called Peter to become a disciple, it was from the shore, as Peter and his brother Andrew were fishing. Jesus said to them, follow me, and they did (Mt 4:18-20). When Jesus was walking on water, he called out to Peter and said, come (Mt 14:29). Peter himself later even said, Look, we have left everything and followed you (Mt 19:27).

But when Jesus was arrested, and the other Apostles left Jesus, Peter, who had claimed he would follow Jesus unto death (Mt 26:33, 35), followed Him only at a distance (Mt 26:58) and even went on to deny Jesus three times (Mt 26:69-74).

After the Resurrection, Jesus again appeared to Peter from the shore. Three times He asked, Peter do you love me? (Jn 21:15-19). Having said yes, Jesus, once again called him, Follow me (Jn 21:19). And this time Peter did, even unto death. Having experienced the depths of Jesus’ love — Jesus never gave up on Peter, never rejected him, never condemned him —, Peter finally gave himself over to God’s love: Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (Jn 21:17). And because of this abandonment to God’s love, the Holy Spirit was able to transform Peter from a man of fear and denial into one of courage and fidelity. We see this very clearly on that first Pentecost, as Peter preached the first homily and baptised 3000 people.

For his part, St. Paul started out as what he thought was a perfect Jew (Phil 3:4b-6). He was zealous for God and the Law, and strove with all his power to perfectly obey the will of God. That’s why he was able to approve of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1), and dedicate himself to stopping the Christians (Acts 8: 1, 3; 9:1-2).

But then Paul heard God’s voice: I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting (Acts 9:5). The man who once arrested Christians and would have happily killed them for God, was now awakened to God’s true identity. Paul’s zeal for the Law had blinded him to God’s identity, but God, in His loving mercy, reached out to him and turn his zeal for the Law into a zealous love for God and people. Jesus, in His mercy, called Paul to repent and be an instrument of salvation (Acts 9:15). St. Paul spent the rest of his life helping others to love and follow Jesus.

My dear brothers and sisters, our weaknesses and sins only become obstacles to following Jesus when we keep them away from Him. When we accept Jesus’ love and mercy, and give ourselves over to Him, allowing His love to transform us, our sins become shadows of the past and our weaknesses, sources of strength. Jesus was able to turn an impetuous, quick-tempered apostate and a prideful accomplice to murder into two of the greatest Saints of the Church. He turned their stubbornness and zeal into instruments of salvation for the world, and their bodies into sacrificial offerings to God. If He can do that with Peter and Paul, what will He accomplish with us if we follow Him?

As we remember these two giants of faith — upon whose faith we stand today as Roman Catholics —, may we turn to them for their example and invoke their intercessions, as we strive to give our hearts over to Jesus, so that with them, we too, might be of one heart and soul with Christ and with all believers. Amen.

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Homily – Sunday OT 31 C


Ws 11:22-12:2
Ps 145       R/.  I will bless your name for ever, my King and my God.
2 Thess 1:11-2:2
Lk 19:1-10

When I was a young boy, we had a series of little comic books about the Bible — now you can get them in one volume, called the Action Bible.  My brothers and I would read these little books all the time.  It’s actually the way I learned all my Bible stories, and I still remember them today because of that.  But there was always one New Testament passage that got my attention over and over again: Man in a Tree.

Me at the beginning of my climbing phase (18 mos.)

Me at the beginning of my climbing phase (18 mos.)

You see, I was a small short kid, so I completely identified with Zacchaeus not being able to see Jesus over the crowd.  I also loved to climb things: trees, sheds, bookcases, scaffolding, houses…  So this story about a short man in a tree captivated me, and I’ve always had a soft spot for Zacchaeus.

As I grew up, other aspects of this passage came to life for me.  I realised that Jesus called Zacchaeus by name the first time He spoke to him.  It’s as if Jesus already knew him.  Then, the math didn’t make any sense to me: half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I’ve defrauded anyone … I will pay back four times as much (v. 8).  Either he was a good investor or a bad counter, because giving back four times what he took with only half of his money left…?  It just didn’t add up for me.

But as I began to study Scripture in the seminary, this passage, and many others like it, began to open up to a deeper content.  Now, it’s not that there was anything hidden in the story; it’s all completely visible, I just didn’t know to see it.

You see — and I’ve said this several times already since I’ve been here —, Bible passages must always be read within their context: the immediate context of the chapter and the specific book, but also in their wider context of the whole Bible.  And for Zacchaeus’ story, this give us so much!

By this time in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is on His final journey to Jerusalem where He will be crucified.  He knows this very clearly, because He’s already talked to His disciples about it three times (Lk 9:22; 9:44; 18:31-33).  And the closer He gets to Jerusalem, the stronger His language becomes.

In the paragraph before today’s story, Jesus arrived at Jericho (Zacchaeus’ town) and He healed a blind man who had been crying out: Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me! (Lk 18:38). You probably remember the story.  Now a crowd had already been following Jesus, but now with the healing, you can imagine the crowd got bigger.  And this is where we meet Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus may already have heard about Jesus before, but Luke gives us the impression that he certainly heard about the healing: He was trying to see who Jesus was (v. 3).  Zacchaeus’ interest was piqued by what he had heard about Jesus, and he wanted to know who this man was, who could heal the blind.  And clearly his curiosity was quite strong; it’s not everyday that an adult would run ahead and climb a tree (cf. v. 4) to see who’s passing by.

Now that’s just Zacchaeus’ actions.  Jesus’ actions are all the more powerful!  Notice how Jesus calls him by name: Zacchaeus, hurry and come down (v. 5).  Again, Jesus looked at him with the heart of God, and loved him.  That’s why he then proceeded, not to condemn him for being a sinner, a tax-collector, but rather welcomed him and invited Himself over: I must stay at your house today (v. 5). Zacchaeus met Jesus, and Jesus welcomed him; Jesus accepted Zacchaeus and loved him despite his sins.  Think on that for a minute!  Whereas the crowd grumbled and rejected Zacchaeus, Jesus accepted and loved him despite his sins.

No wonder Zacchaeus got so excited and generous in his response!  See what love does!  See what God’s grace does to the sinner!  That’s why Jesus said he came to seek out and to save the lost (Lk 19:10).  Love brings to conversion when it’s encountered.  Jesus welcomed Zacchaeus, whom He already loved; and Zacchaeus, through that loving welcome, encountered the generous love of God, and immediately repented of his sins and changed his life.  That’s why Jesus was able to say: Today, salvation has come to this house (v. 9). Encountering Jesus Christ brings with it conversion; repentance brings with it salvation.  This is the beautiful gift that our Lord came to bring us!  This is the Good News!

Encounter with Christ is why we have the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist; it’s why we have so much Scripture at Mass; it’s why we really do need to daily spend time in prayer.  Repentance is why we acknowledging our sins by beginning each Mass with the Penitential Act; it’s why we have Confession.  And we gather for the Eucharist as a community so that we may also encounter Jesus in and through each other.  All of this works for our salvation.

But we also need to become ‘encounters’ for others.  How many people do you think Zacchaeus told about his meeting with Jesus?  How many people do you think he told about having Him over as a houseguest?  We too need to talk about our faith, but not so much about the doctrines of our faith.  As Pope Francis recently said, doctrine doesn’t make sense without knowing Christ (“Interview with Pope Francis”, La Repubblica, 9 October 2013).  Rather, we need to talk about the experiences we’ve had of Christ, who continues to welcome us and work in us.  This is our mission as disciples: to share the encounter we’ve had of Jesus with everyone around us.

But to do this, we must imitate Jesus: we are not to condemn the sinner, but to welcome and love him.  Now that doesn’t mean we put up with sin; but we do put up with people, people who are loved by God, and so should be loved by us also.  Who knows what that Love will do?  Who knows what that encounter with Jesus will do in their hearts?  Maybe, like Zacchaeus, they too will repent and respond with a generous love for God.  Amen.

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Filed under Homily, Ordinary Time