Giving the Word of Exhortation, Fourth Thursday of Easter, May 15, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Memorial of St. Isidore the Farmer
May 15, 2014
Acts 13:13-25, Ps 89, Jn 13:16-20

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Yesterday we celebrated the feast of St. Matthias and pondered that just like he was chosen by lot to be an apostle, so we’ve all been been chosen by the Lord to give witness to the fact that God has come into our world and is alive, to be his disciples and apostles, to follow him and bring news of him, life of him, love of him to others. Today’s readings highlight that great Christian commission of sharing our faith with others, which the Church has us ponder throughout the Easter season.
  • In the first reading, Saints Paul and Barnabas are asked by the leader of the Synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia, “My brothers, if one of you has a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.” God wants us all to have that “word of exhortation” and to give it. In the Psalm, we prayed, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord” and professed that “through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.” The Lord wants us to be so inspired that we’re always singing of his goodness, to us, to the world, to others, and to proclaim his fidelity to all his promises. Many times in life rather than singing of the Lord’s goodness, we’re complaining monotonously about our problems, or we’re criticizing, or we’re spreading bad news rather than Good. Many times rather than praising God’s faithfulness, we’re praising ourselves. Rather than sharing a word of exhortation and encouragement, we’re often deflating others with pessimism. A Christian who grasps the meaning of Easter, who lives a new life with the Lord, is a Christian who’s singing with joy even in the midst of challenge and hardship, and that’s the type of hymn the Lord wants all of us to be singing each day in chorus.
  • In the Gospel, Jesus, as part of the many ordination instructions he gave on Holy Thursday that would be remembered and put into action after his’ resurrection, talks about the messenger and the one who sent him, saying “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Jesus in some degree — we don’t want to take it too far, but we do need to ponder his words — is making others’ reception of the Father and the Son who he sent at least partially dependent on their receiving those whom he sends out, meaning us. And how can they receive us — and the Son and the Father as a consequence — unless we give ourselves to be received? To give this word of exhortation, to sing the goodness of the Lord, to proclaim his faithfulness, to continue Jesus’ mission as his ambassadors, this is meant to become the driving force of Christian life and is an incredible gift for others.
  • Christian missionary work is first something for which we must make the effort. We see that effort concealed in the beginning of today’s first reading. Pamphylia, where Saints Paul and Barnabas landed, was a malaria infested swamp. It would be like traversing the Everglades. But they did it. Then there was a perilous journey 3,600 miles up a rock face to Antioch in Pisidia, one of the ancient world’s most dangerous climbs. To make matters worse, the path upward was full of bandits. But Paul and Barnabas courageously persevered because of their hunger to share the Gospel, to share God, to share the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and the whole Church with those they had never met. Proclaiming the Gospel, as we know from the sagas of so many missionaries in every age,  is seldom easy work. It requires zeal. It requires effort. But as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.” The question for us is if Paul and Barnabas could overcome so many dangers to proclaim the Gospel to total strangers, will we overcome the much smaller impediments to proclaim the Gospel to our family, friends and neighbors? What efforts are we willing to make to share our faith? At the end of our life, what “Acts” will be able to be written about our own missionary journeys? Will a heavenly chronicler be able to list the swamps we’ve traversed and the mountains and obstacles we’ve surmounted?
  • The second thing we learn in today’s readings is a basic outline of how to give this word of exhortation and sing of the favors of the Lord. Odds are that when we proclaim the Gospel, we’ll be proclaiming it to a group other than Jews in the Diaspora. But St. Paul gives us a model we can apply to every situation. Today he beings a 26 verse homily. Today we have the first 13 verses. Tomorrow we’ll have the next 8. And you’ll have for homework praying through the last five. But throughout we see how St. Paul puts the Gospel into a context of what is relevant for his listeners. He begins by discussing his listeners’ hopes and expectations, their longing for a Messiah, so that he can show how Jesus is the fulfillment of their deep desires. He shows there’s a purpose to history. Second, he declares forthrightly that Jesus is the fulfillment of their hopes. That’s what we see at the end of today’s passage. Tomorrow, he’ll discuss how even though Jesus is their hope, many, in blind folly, rejected him, but that rejection didn’t have the final word, because God raised him from the dead. Then Paul makes that news actual, brings us to a moment of decision. He describes how this is Good News, joy, for all of us who accept Jesus and begin to live by his ways — and bad news for those who disobey that summons.
  • This is the pattern of proclamation for us in every age. We begin with the context of people’s aspirations and hopes, how Jesus fulfills them, how God has triumphed over people’s sins and rejection in the past, and how he wants us to share in that victory, but we must choose to respond to that incredible offer. Paul would elsewhere describe his own conversion and how he was among those who initially opposed, but came to grasp this life and that’s what motivated him to share Jesus with others, to exhort them to learn from his mistakes, to sing of the favor of the Lord’s mercy and invite others to join that chorus of praise. Likewise it’s from our experience of mercy, from our failure to correspond fully and yet being given a second, or third, or 70th times 7th chance, that we find the passion to share that same gift.
  • And the way we’re called to do it normally is not through extraordinary missionary journeys but through our ordinary work. Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Isidore the Farmer, the patron saint of those who till the soil and the efforts of the Church to proclaim the Gospel out in the countrysides. He died in 1130, famous for the way he sanctified his work. He began his day with prayer and Mass and then turned the fields into a sanctuary, praying while he worked. So many were inspired by him, but he, too, was opposed. Once when his fellow laborers got tired of his getting to work after Mass, even though he would work longer than they and be more productive, his boss came to investigate. He saw, somewhat miraculously, that Isidore’s guardian angel was plowing right beside him. Isidore knew he wasn’t working alone. He teaches us all something very important. Not only do we accomplish far more in our work when we seek to unite it to the Lord, but we also are able through our work to bring others to God, both through our explicit conversations, invitations and example, but also through the way we work differently from all the rest, treating our work as a divine encounter rather than simply a toilsome means to earn a paycheck. Isidore’s Pamphylia and Perga were his fields and in exerting himself there like Paul and Barnabas did on the southwest coast of Asia Minor, he was not only growing in holiness but singing the goodness of the Lord and giving a word of exhortation to all his colleagues.
  • As we begin our day the way St. Isidore would begin his, at Mass, we ask through his intercession that we may be inspired to sanctify all the work that the Lord has given us to do today, especially that most important work of spreading the Gospel. Jesus gave us this words during the Last Supper, right after he washed his disciples’ feet. As we prepare to enter in time into that new and eternal Passover and receive Jesus’ very risen life inside, we ask that, like Isidore, we will be “blessed” by “doing this in memory” of Him.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
ACTS 13:13-25

From Paphos, Paul and his companions
set sail and arrived at Perga in Pamphylia.
But John left them and returned to Jerusalem.
They continued on from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia.
On the sabbath they entered into the synagogue and took their seats.
After the reading of the law and the prophets,
the synagogue officials sent word to them,
“My brothers, if one of you has a word of exhortation
for the people, please speak.”So Paul got up, motioned with his hand, and said,
“Fellow children of Israel and you others who are God-fearing, listen.
The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors
and exalted the people during their sojourn in the land of Egypt.
With uplifted arm he led them out,
and for about forty years he put up with them in the desert.
When he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan,
he gave them their land as an inheritance
at the end of about four hundred and fifty years.
After these things he provided judges up to Samuel the prophet.
Then they asked for a king.
God gave them Saul, son of Kish,
a man from the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.
Then he removed him and raised up David as their king;
of him he testified,
I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart;
he will carry out my every wish
.
From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise,
has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.
John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance
to all the people of Israel;
and as John was completing his course, he would say,
‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he.
Behold, one is coming after me;
I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’“

Responsorial Psalm
PS 89:2-3, 21-22, 25 AND 27

R. (2) For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
The favors of the LORD I will sing forever;
through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.
For you have said, “My kindness is established forever”;
in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness.
R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
“I have found David, my servant;
with my holy oil I have anointed him,
That my hand may be always with him,
and that my arm may make him strong.”
R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
“My faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him,
and through my name shall his horn be exalted.
He shall say of me, ‘You are my father,
my God, the Rock, my savior.’”
R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Gospel
JN 13:16-20

When Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, he said to them:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master
nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.
If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.
I am not speaking of all of you.
I know those whom I have chosen.
But so that the Scripture might be fulfilled,
The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me.
From now on I am telling you before it happens,
so that when it happens you may believe that I AM.
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send
receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”