God's Word on Sunday: Church needs constant spiritual support

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  • May 12, 2019

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 19 (Year C) Acts 14:21b-27; Psalm 145; Revelation 21:1-5a; John 13:1, 31-33a, 34-35

There were two important tasks for the early apostles of the Lord. The first was to build faith communities while the second was to impart encouragement and hope.

Paul and Barnabas did both of these so well. Paul was a tireless visitor and letter writer, and even the closing lines of each letter greeted and encouraged people in distant communities. As for Barnabas, his very name meant “son of encouragement,” and the name was fitting.

The two men raced from city to city, visiting the struggling young communities and praying with them. One of the key words of encouragement concerned the persecution and push-back they were getting from their fellow city dwellers. Paul and Barnabas made it clear that this went with the territory.

It was through struggle and persecution that they entered the kingdom of God. Community, meaning, love and support — these are fundamental human needs and in the end they are what draw many people to the faith.

A recent article in The New York Times titled “Becoming Catholic in the Age of Scandal” highlighted these needs in the lives of many being baptized this Easter. There were a fair number — approximately 1,000 each in Newark and Brooklyn.

They came from many walks of life and backgrounds, and their motives varied. Marriage to a Catholic certainly played a role, but many came from rough and shattered lives. Most of them felt that they had found a home in the Church, a place where they could be nurtured spiritually and emotionally in an increasingly anonymous and isolating society. The scandals were not a major factor in their decision — they focused on what was essential.

The ministry of Paul and Barnabas provides a good model for building church communities today. Personal interaction, faith sharing and spiritual support are the only elements that are going to give life to church communities.

Note the success and positive influence today of many Alpha programs. And this must be continual. It is useless to bring someone into the Church and then walk away from them. The care and the encouragement must be constant.

It is a scary world and we live in uncertain and perilous times — that’s the bad news. The good news is that many are searching for light, hope, warmth and community. God is calling us to a mission. Are we listening and do we have what it takes?

Despite the fact that the passage from Revelation is often read at funeral liturgies, it has little to do with death and the hereafter. It provides a vision of God’s hope and plan for humanity.

There are echoes of Isaiah 25, as the voice refers to the abolition of death and suffering. God will no longer be distant and hidden but will dwell in the midst of humanity and all will know God. The voice on the throne declared that all things were being made new.

The “new creation” is referred to often in the New Testament, especially by Paul. It means that God is at work in our physical and spiritual evolution. We cannot even imagine what God has in store for this world and for humanity. This is one more reason why we should not cling to the past or long to return to an earlier time. God’s creation is always in motion and the motion is always towards the future.

After Judas scuttled out into the night on his treacherous mission, he was likely unaware that he had been the catalyst for the glorification of the Son of Man, whose mission was approaching the end. Jesus showed just how much He loved people — He loved them to the end and to the cross. There was no price too great to pay for the salvation and well-being of others.

Jesus left His followers with the deceptively simple command to love one another. Is that all? But He added, “as I have loved you.” That is a game-changer, because He loved them to the end, to the cross, and He calls us to the same quality of love.

There is no substitute; the quality and depth of our love is the only way others will know that our faith is authentic. It is also the only thing that can reach and convince a skeptical and cynical world.

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