Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

May 2, 2021
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Acts 9:26-31
Psalm 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32
I John 3:18-24
John 15:1-8

The Acts of the Apostles tells us today about Saint Paul’s entry into the Church. Three years after the Lord had appeared to him on the road to Damascus, Paul presented himself to the disciples in Jerusalem. But his reputation as Saul the Pharisee had preceded him, and the leaders had trouble believing that he had changed from persecuting the Church to be its defender.

Barnabas, who had proven himself to be trustworthy, spoke up for Paul. He confirmed that Paul really had changed and went on to praise Paul’s work of proclaiming Jesus’ Resurrection. Only with the help and support of Barnabas was Paul accepted by the community. But even as a believer Paul continued to be controversial — probably since he was so firm and outspoken about what he believed. We are told that he got into some heated debates with the Greek-speaking Jews, and finally had to be rushed away to Tarsus to avoid being killed. He remained there until he discerned his call to be the Apostle to the Gentiles.

This little segment from the Acts of the Apostles speaks about internal difficulties in the growing Christian community, not difficulties in proclaiming the Gospel nor difficulties in loving one’s enemies, but the problem of treating fellow Christians with charity. See how they love one another is a goal that we strive for as Christians; see how they do not always love one another may be a more accurate description of how we live every day. As the Church, we need and are required to come and pray together at Mass on Sunday and take part in activities of the local church. It is our prayer together and worship of God in the Sacrifice of the Mass that enables us to recognize the face of Christ in each other. Concretely, this translates into respectfully listening to each other, paying attention to those who are struggling, finding ways to give of ourselves. The Christian life focuses on Christ and the service of one another. Service is indispensable for a healthy and spiritually fruitful life as a Catholic.

Therefore, the most significant character in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles might not be Paul but rather Barnabas. We know about Paul’s colorful character: his dramatic call and conversion, his eloquent and forceful preaching, his courageous martyrdom. What we might overlook is the role of Barnabas: how he defended Paul and accompanied him on his journeys. A disciple must not forget that Jesus is the vine and that the disciple must stay connected to Jesus to have life. And not only is Jesus the vine; he is the true vine. Unlike the other disciples, Barnabas saw something in Paul that made him put his own reputation on the line. He saw the face of Christ and the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in him.

Barnabas truly exemplifies and bears witness to this unity of the Church with Christ as the Vine. He recognizes and trusts in the action of Christ in calling Paul to conversion, he risks himself in being an advocate for Paul and the authenticity of his conversion and discipleship, and in so doing he reminds the Apostles of their own reliance on Christ for the unity of the Church that they are called to lead through service.

Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement,” is imbued with the humble confidence spoken of in the second reading taken from the First Epistle of John, because Barnabas keeps God’s commandment to “believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as He commanded us. Those who keep His commandments remain in Him, and He in them, and the way we know that He remains in us is from the Spirit He gave us.” To believe in the name of Jesus is to trust Jesus even in the face of persecution because of God’s unconditional love and the fullness of the Truth who is Jesus. Barnabas vouches for Paul not because he sees Paul to be perfect but because He trusts Jesus and in trusting Jesus, he can clearly see the action of the Holy Spirit in the actions of Paul.

We are left with memories and a challenge when we hear this reading. Memories of those who have been a Barnabas to us — those who have trusted us and given us strength and hope … those who have put themselves on the line for us … those who have seen the face of Christ in us. Our challenge is to pay attention for Christ and to do the same for others.

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