May, 2021 – Fifth Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 9:26-31, 1 John 3:18-24, and John 15:1-8
The following is a homily I delivered on these same readings back in 2018:
I saw a different side of Fr. Jim last Saturday night at Mass. Pacer star Victor Oladipo was at the Mass and was standing in the back of the church. During the singing of the Alleluia verse, he made his way to the front to find a seat. So, he was walking down the main aisle just as I was going to Father to receive my blessing to read the Gospel.
The blessing goes like this: May the Lord be in your heart and on your lips, that you may proclaim his Gospel worthily and well, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
This is what Fr. Jim said, “Bless…um…” He finally snapped out of it, gave the blessing, and said, “Sorry, I was distracted.”
He called it distracted. Fr. Jim was star-struck!
This led me to wonder if the reverse would be true – if Victor would be distracted if Fr. Jim walked into the arena. As a precaution, I’ve asked Father not to attend any Pacer games…at least not during the play-offs.
I am not sharing this story only to poke fun at Fr. Jim, although that is a secondary benefit. The story also fits in well with the overall theme of my homily.
Here is a brief summary of the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles: The church was at peace. It was being built up…and it grew in numbers.
And from the Gospel of John: Jesus said: My Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit…
So, the take-away from today’s readings: We bear fruit when we build up the Church.
The readings of the entire Easter season are focused on the apostles’ effort to share the good news, the joy of the Resurrection. Their actions allowed for the building up of the Church, with the number of Christians growing from those eleven men to the 2.3 billion believers in the world today.
The apostles were sent out to bear fruit, to grow the Church. They did this by sharing their personal experience of the Risen Christ.
All Christians have that same responsibility.
While that 2.3 billion number certainly sounds impressive, it is a number that has remained flat in recent years and has even declined in many areas of the world. Even sadder, our world has become increasingly more secular, with many having no belief in God at all.
The number of non-believers world-wide is at 1.3 billion and growing rapidly. Approximately 25% of American adults claim no religious affiliation. We are becoming a Godless world…and it shows.
So, what can we do about it? Well, for starters, we can take the directives from today’s readings seriously. We can bear fruit by growing the church.
The manner in which we do this will be different than it was for the original apostles, but the bottom line is the same – we share our experience of Christ. We tell our story. We share with others the awe and wonder of God’s presence in our lives.
I assisted at the First Communion Masses here at St. Pius yesterday. Fr. Jim had the kids come forward to sit on the steps and help him with the homily. Each time he asked a question, their hands shot into the air. They couldn’t wait to share what they knew about Jesus.
Later, the excitement and reverence with which the children put out their hands to receive the Body of Christ was inspiring. I saw firsthand the awe and wonder of their initial encounter with Christ in the Eucharist.
What has happened to our sense of awe? Where has it gone? Are we no longer appreciative, or even aware of God’s presence in our daily lives? Are we no longer star struck or distracted by God? Does God no longer amaze us?
Or has our sense of awe been high-jacked? Do we only experience beauty, fascination, and amazement in worldly things? Have we become that secular?
God is active in our lives. I believe He still elicits a sense of awe and wonder for us. In my heart, I know God is still relevant. I believe He is still important to people and truly impacts their lives.
The problem is, we don’t share our experiences. We keep them to ourselves, as if we are not allowed to talk about them.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone. For instance, when I went home after Mass last Saturday, I told several people about my encounter with Victor Oladipo, and told no one about my encounter with Christ in the Eucharist.
I once made it a point to talk to my son at length about a YouTube video of a cat turning on and off a light switch. However, the other night when I took the trash out, there was a full moon and a slight breeze in the air. The moonlight came through the trees and left a shadow on our porch. I stood and took it all in. I took a moment to pray in gratitude for that moment in time, that epiphany moment when God revealed Himself to me through the beauty of His creation. However, up until now, I shared that moment with no one.
I am in a position professionally to share my faith on a regular basis. I help with retreats, I do public speaking, and I deliver homilies here at the parish and at school. I use those opportunities to share my personal experience of Christ and stories of God revealing Himself to me.
However, in my one-on-one encounters with the people I see every day, faith rarely comes up in conversation.
During a break in your work day, you find yourself chatting for a few minutes with a co-worker. How often is that time spent mindlessly discussing the weather? What would happen if you said, “I was going to take a moment to pray, would you like to join me?”
When you go to a party with friends, you discuss jobs, sports, movies, the kids…even politics. How often do you hear anyone say, “You won’t believe how God touched my life today” or “Let me share how God revealed Himself to me today”?
When you sit down with your kids for dinner, you ask them about the highs and lows of their day. You hear about recess, a good grade on a paper, and how someone got sick in gym class. What if you asked a different question like, “Where did you see God today?”
Why are we so hesitant to talk openly about our experience of God? What are we afraid of? Are we afraid of what people will think? And what will they think…that we love God? That we are proud of our faith? What is the downside?
Perhaps, like many people, you use the excuse, “I don’t talk about my faith; it is personal.” Faith is personal, but it is not private; it is intended to be shared.
Like you, my relationship with Jesus Christ is unique. No one’s relationship – no one’s faith – is exactly like mine. That makes it personal. However, that does not give me permission to keep it to myself. I am called to share my faith.
There is nothing wrong with being distracted by a star athlete. There is nothing wrong with talking about the weather, or movies, or the kids…or even about cat videos. But your experience of Christ, your faith story, should be included in your conversations.
It is those conversations that will bear fruit and build up the Church.