Tag Archives: Apostles

Son of Encouragement

13 May

A significant figure in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is St. Barnabas.

This saint is of particular significance to my family, as we named a child whom we miscarried 15 years ago Barnabas, and every year on his feast day (June 11) we especially remember the gift of this precious child, even though we never got to hold him in this life.

It’s intriguing that St. Barnabas, the companion of St. Paul, is honored by the Church as an “apostle,” even though he was not one of the Twelve (nor an official “substitute” like Matthias, whose feast we celebrate tomorrow). Surely as a first-generation Christian leader who was sent on missionary journeys to Cyprus, Perga, Iconium, and Lystria, and possibly even to Rome and Alexandria, among other places, his title is well-deserved (cf. Acts 14:14).

In Acts 4:36 we learn that he was given his name by the apostles, and that it means “son of encouragement.” Later, in the portion of Acts chosen for today’s Mass, we read that when St. Barnabas arrived in Antioch and found the faith alive among the people, he rejoiced and then, true to his name, he “encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 11:23-24).

We who are catechists, who strive to be good men and women, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith, do well to imitate St. Barnabas as we encourage our students and families to “remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart.”

We then hear that St. Barnabas went and tracked down Saul (St. Paul) and the two of them “for a whole year” devoted themselves to teaching “a large number of people”–presumably those who had already been “added to the Lord.” In other words, they devoted themselves to the noble work of catechesis. And their work bore great fruit: In Antioch the disciples were called “Christians” for the first time!

St. Barnabas, pray for us!

Be On Your Guard!

11 Nov

millstoneToday’s Gospel from Luke 17:1-6 brings together some important teachings of Jesus. First He says that while scandals will happen, woe to the person through whom they occur. Better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around one’s neck than to cause a little one to sin.

Then He tells His disciples that even if their brother sins against them seven times in a day, each time he returns to say he’s sorry they should forgive him.

Lastly, the Apostles ask the Lord to increase their faith. It’s just one of many instances in which Scripture confirms that faith comes in many shapes and sizes. It is not a one-size-fits-all or all-or-nothing proposition, but rather is something that can and should grow within us as we cooperate with God’s abundant graces.

And why would St. Luke this include this request to increase the Apostles’ faith right after the discussion on scandal and forgiveness?

Scandals will come, but Our Lord says be on guard. By “scandal” the Church means conduct that leads others to sin (see Catechism, nos. 2284-87). Some sins are quite complementary. For example, sins of immodest dress and behavior can lead others to lust and sexual sins. Misconduct among Church leaders, even without the rhetorical flourish and exaggeration that we come upon in the media, can cause us to sin against faith and charity, and possibly provide the impetus for people to leave the Church. I’ve seen it happen.

Just because scandalous activity occurs, however, doesn’t mean we have to let it lead us astray, as though the millstone were around us, too! Our Lord gives us two positive things we can do when confronted with scandal: forgive and pray for an increase of faith. The latter helps us to see things through God’s eyes, and the former enables us to be “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18-20).

Acts of the Deacons

17 Apr

St. Philip the DeaconDuring the Easter season we hear at Mass readings about the early Christians taken from the “Acts of the Apostles.” After the Holy Spirit, the Apostles certainly are the main protagonists of this inspired book, as they were the ones chosen by Christ as the leaders of His Church.

This week, however, we’re hearing plenty about the “acts” of deacons, particularly Sts. Stephen and Philip.

In today’s reading from Acts 8:1-8, we hear about Stephen’s burial, which led to a severe persecution and scattering of the Church. Yet, we also hear that “those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). This statement reminded me of the axiom that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” We see this principle in action, as Stephen’s death has the effect of spreading the seeds of Gospel to an even wider audience.

We then hear about the evangelization efforts of Philip, who in fact is later called “Philip the Evangelist” (Acts 21:8). His words and mighty deeds captivated audiences. But what really struck me was the last verse of the reading, where we discover that Philip’s ministry brought about “great joy” in Samaria (Acts 8:8). This is a powerful reminder to us that the Gospel truly is “good news,” and that if we allow it to penetrate our hearts we will, like Philip, become ambassadors of joy.

To Whom Shall We Go?

9 Apr

Eucharist2Next week my youngest child, Raymond, will make his First Communion. For the first time, my entire family will be able to receive the Eucharist at Mass!

A couple weeks before my daughter Virginia made her First Communion, I took her to lunch and talked with her about the Eucharist. To test her, I said, “Now Virginia, the Eucharist symbolizes Christ, right?” Virginia looked at me partly in horror and partly in surprise at my apparent ignorance. “Oh no, Daddy,” she said. “The Eucharist really is the body and blood of Jesus.”

I affirmed her response and told her that sometimes I go out to speak to groups of people about the Eucharist. So I asked for her “advice” as to what I should tell people. Reveling in her new role as theological consultant, Virginia replied, “Daddy, I would start by telling them about Jesus: Jesus is God. He can do anything. Of course He can make Himself present under the appearance of bread and wine.”

I am so grateful to God for Virginia’s child-like faith that has now continued into her college years. I pray that she continues to deepen her relationship with Our Eucharistic Lord as she matures into adulthood.

Sadly, though, many adults don’t have Virginia’s faith. It is said that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, so I have a healthy distrust of polls that attempt to quantify Eucharistic belief. Even so, despite the welcome resurgence of Eucharistic adoration and devotions and other positive signs of life in the Church, far too many Catholics have an inadequate understanding of the Eucharist.

And how can we love what we don’t know?

When we consider the various problems and scandals in the Church, we most typically point to secondary, external causes and effects. Yet, underlying these things is the perennial mystery of evil and sin. So why does sin seem to be having such a field day right now? I think the heart of the matter is a crisis of faith. And while faith in Christ identifies us as Christians, our belief in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and the authority entrusted to the successors of Peter and the other apostles is what identifies us more specifically as Catholics.

When Our Lord gave His great Eucharistic discourse in John 6, many of those who were already numbered among His disciples could not accept this teaching and returned to their former, pre-Christian lives (cf. Jn. 6:60, 66). No other recorded teaching of Christ had such an effect.

There are many today who do not believe in God, let alone His Incarnate Son. Then there are Christians whose rejection of the Eucharist sadly perpetuates divisions dating back to the 16th century. And there are those who consider themselves Catholic but who hold out for a different Christ and a different Church.

After many disciples left because of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you also want to leave?” (Jn. 6:67). And Peter’s response, the response of the Church, was, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe . . .” (Jn. 6:68).

Our Lord’s question–which goes out to each of us–demands an act of faith, an adherence to revealed truth. Indifference about the Eucharist, ambivalence about the Church, is clearly not an acceptable response. Yet the actions of many baptized Catholics manifest such indifference and ambivalence. That’s why today–and always–the Church needs heroic witnesses, indeed martyrs, to the truth about Jesus Christ, to the truth about the Church, to the truth about the Eucharist.

Chair-man of the Board!

22 Feb

Pope seatedToday the universal Church celebrates the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. When I first returned to the Church way back when, I thought this feast sounded really strange. I was okay with celebrating events from the life of Christ, and even with celebrating feasts in honor of special saints. But a chair?

Then I read that ever since the fourth century, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter has been celebrated in Rome as a sign of the unity of the Church founded upon that apostle. Hmmm. There must be more to the story . . .

One thing I learned early on is that the word for “chair” in Latin is cathedra. And so when the Pope teaches authoritatively in the area of faith and morals, he is said to speak “ex cathedra,” or “from the chair,” indicating the binding nature of the teaching on the Christian faithful.

And because cathedra literally refers to the established seat of the bishop, the “mother church” of a diocese that contains this seat is known as a “cathedral.” The chair or seat of a bishop symbolizes his authority as a successor of the apostles, and in a special way it symbolizes his “magisterium” or teaching office, in that he called to guard and proclaim the deposit of faith for the benefit of the local Church.

As Pope Benedict teaches, “When the bishop takes possession of the local Church that is entrusted to him, he, bearing the miter and the shepherd’s crosier, sits on the cathedra. From that seat he will guide, as teacher and shepherd, the journey of the faithful in faith, hope and charity.”

The first “seat” of the Church was the Upper Room where, in all probability, there was a special place reserved for Simon Peter as they awaited the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:13-15).

From there the “seat” of Peter moved to Antioch, the city where “for the first time the disciples were called Christians” (Acts 11:26), as Peter became that community’s first bishop.

From there, providence led Peter to Rome, where his service to the Gospel was crowned with martyrdom.

In this way, Rome came to be known as the “See” of the successor of Peter and the home of the Pope’s “cathedra,” which represents the mission entrusted to him by Christ to shepherd His entire flock. Incidentally, the Pope’s cathedral church as Bishop of Rome is not St. Peter’s, but St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome, identified as the “Mother and Head” of all the churches in the world.

Rome’s significance as the See of Peter is attested by the most ancient Fathers of the Church. For example, St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (c. 200 A.D.), described the Church of Rome as “greatest and most ancient, known by all; . . . founded and constituted at Rome by the two glorious Apostles Peter and Paul . . . With this Church, because of her outstanding superiority, the universal Church must be in agreement, that is, the faithful everywhere” (Against Heresies).

In celebrating the “Chair” of Peter we recognize its spiritual significance: It is a special sign of the love of Christ who, as one form of the penitential rite at Mass provides, came to “gather the nations into the peace [and unity] of God’s kingdom.”

During this time of papal transition, let us make our own the words of St. Jerome: “I follow no leader save Christ so I consult the chair of Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built!”