February 9, 2020 – Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I will be delivering the following homily at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Indianapolis today:
I am sure many of you know who Abby Johnson is. For those that may not, Abby is an anti-abortion activist who previously worked at Planned Parenthood as a clinic director. She resigned from that position in October 2009 after being asked to assist with an abortion and for the first time she watched the procedure in real time on an ultrasound machine, which led to a conversion experience. Her memoir, Unplanned, was made into the 2019 movie of the same name.
There are those who may not appreciate the blunt approach to her pro-life message, but no one can question her passion or the expertise that comes from being a former player for the “other team.”
I thought of Abby recently when I read an article entitled, Some Character Traits of Paul, the Apostle by Wayne Jackson. In the article, he wrote, “No single event, apart from the Christ-event itself, has proved so determinant for the course of Christian history as the conversion and commissioning of Paul.” In other words, no one, other than Jesus Christ himself, has had a greater impact on Christianity than the post-conversion Paul.
In today’s passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we get a glimpse into how Paul saw himself. He wrote: When I came to you…proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power…the power of God.
He admitted to being weak and fearful. He confessed that his message did not flow from his own human wisdom, but from the gift of the Spirit that came to him through his conversion.
Like Abby Johnson, he had played for the other team. His conversion necessitated speaking out – he had no choice. Like me or don’t, accept the tone of my message or don’t, put up with my intensity or don’t – but I must share the news of Jesus Christ.
In the previously-mentioned article I read, there were a number of Paul’s character qualities examined. Here are a few of those qualities that played a crucial role in making him one of the most influential voices of the Church.
Paul was persistent, a true work horse. In a little over 30 years of post-conversion work, he traveled thousands of miles by land and sea, evangelizing in over 50 cities. Never once, in any of his writings, does he mention being tired or complain about the hardships. We read only of his joy in serving the Lord.
Paul was courageous. It is unrealistic to imagine that Paul was never afraid. At one point the Lord spoke to him in a night vision, cautioning him to “stop being afraid.” Courage is not the absence of fear; it is doing what is right even when you are afraid. Throughout his travels, he was beaten, stoned, mocked, and chased out of multiple towns. However, he continued his work.
Paul was humble. Because he had a strong voice and strong personality, this descriptor of humble may not come to mind when considering Paul. His place of authority in the young Church offered him many opportunities to assert his power. However, he knew it was important that disciples take ownership of the Church in their own cities. In fact, many cities pleaded with him to stay and lead their Church. However, the mission was more important than his own ego. He would humbly move on to the next city, so that the gospel message might not be restricted.
Paul was authentic. He never shied away from who he was. He readily admitted to his sinful past – his role in the torture and death of many Christians in his former life. He shared the story of his conversion. He expressed joy in getting a second chance and vowed to bring hope to other sinners. Paul told his story – God needs storytellers.
The fact that he was a former player for the other team made his witness even more powerful and engaging. Again, like Abby Johnson, people could question his methods or his intensity, but they could not question his passion or his resolve.
What are we left with today? Week after week we hear the letters of Paul read to us. Each time we are offered a message upon which to reflect or instructions to follow. Today, we look to the letter writer himself for our inspiration.
He was certainly among the first to answer the call to go out and preach the gospel to all people, but we are called, too.
Are we persistent? How far would we go to share the good news? Maybe we can’t travel thousands of miles to evangelize, but we have people in close proximity that need to hear God’s word. We have people among us that need to feel God’s love and know they have value. Have we given up?
Are we courageous? Chances are we have never been beaten or stoned or run out of town because of our beliefs. Odds are very good, however, that we’ve been afraid. Has that fear immobilized us? Has our fear convinced us that spreading the gospel message is someone else’s job? That the Church is just fine without us? Remember, courage is not the absence of fear; it is doing what is right even when we are afraid.
Are we humble? The mission is more important than our own ego. We do the work of the Church to draw attention to God rather than to ourselves. The world needs the message of Jesus Christ.
Are we authentic? People can smell phony a mile away. God offers us sacramental moments daily; he reveals himself to us on a regular basis. We don’t need to make things up, we simply need to share those authentic sacramental moments with others. We need to tell the story of God’s active presence in our lives; God needs storytellers.
Citation for the article I referred to in my homily:
Jackson, Wayne. “Some Character Traits of Paul, the Apostle.” ChristianCourier.com. Access date: February 4, 2020. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/1385-some-character-traits-of-paul-the-apostle