Fr. Barry homily, 5th Sunday of Easter, 5/19/19
After Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.
They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith… Then they traveled through Pisidia and reached Pamphylia.
After proclaiming the word at Perga they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now accomplished. And when they arrived, they called the church together and reported what God had done with them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. (Acts 14)
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13)
Happy Sunday in Eastertime again! What do we have in the Word today? It’s a missionary map of St. Paul with various city dots and areas circled on the map of his stops and where he started forming churches. It’s a Word picture from Acts—like a string of post cards from the early Christian churches, or a map of them. Greetings from Lystra, Hello from Iconium, Wish you were here in Perga! Paul’s in Derbe, Attalia, and Antioch in Pisidia, too! We hear or Scripturally see the first missionary trip enterprises that Paul and missionary companions went on. These places were cities in lower lands of Asia, and the territories of Galatia and Pamphylia. They are in the first Gospel tour to the Gentiles, under the apostle Paul, of when God “opened up wide the door” to this whole new sector for Christianity.” Paul reports back to Antioch and to Peter’s church, and excitedly tells them of congregations starting out in Gentile territory. They are all founded to be linked together, all to be of one Church of Jesus. These are the first official places in Asia Minor to fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission, to go out to all the nations, preaching the Good News. Paul comes to Peter to share of these breakthroughs. It is 48-49 a.d.
St. Luke, the author of Acts, and part traveler to the region, explains how elders or presbyters were appointed to be leaders in those new places, like in Derbe or Perga, as to serve under its missionary bishop there, that being Paul, or John, or later Barnabas, but that they had the apostles and deacons and priests’ order of leading these communities, for one worldwide Church, even as early as this time just 15 years after Pentecost. The Acts of the Apostles account shows how important was the matter to link everyone as part of the one whole Catholic Church, clearly already under Peter and other apostles, those men who had all been commissioned by Christ Jesus, then to do so onto other, by apostolic way and the laying on of hands for Holy Orders (for more bishops, deacons, and priests to be added, in this New Way of Jesus).
In the list of places in Acts 14, these were communities all linked to be “church” under Christ the Shepherd, and not to be independent ones, but all part of the whole. This is an important section of Scripture in Acts because we are still following it to this day in the Catholic Church, as laid out by Jesus and given for His apostles to do. Note that verse 23 of Acts 14 shows a good snapshot of the initial organizing of the Catholic Church, in which you recognize today. “They appointed presbyters for them in each church (of those missionary cities) and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith.” This is the model for how the Church was to start and how it was to continue. I am an appointed presbyter to you, at Resurrection church, as ordained by the apostle James Hickey on May 21, 1988, and sent here on July 1, 2017 to be your next presbyter here, and my fifth pastorate to this Church of Washington. These Holy Orders came down to you through time, and into this modern era. Today, we Catholics still have our apostles and pope in Peter’s chair, leading the one enterprise of The Church, with presbyters (or priests- pastors) to help shepherd the flock aright, and assisted by various church lay leaders, or deacons, and working with other zealous servants in The Faith, to keep a parish going, and in oneness to Christ’ Church established.
I think the meaning of that first reading in this Easter time Mass is how important it is to see that continuity of the Church, as we read from the Bible of the beginnings of the Catholic Faith, and see how we follow that here faithfully today as Catholics. The bishops and priests all follow in an apostolic line, of laying on of hands, for consecration, after much time of those men learning the Faith for its faithful passing on, and their being sent out to communities, only after much discernment and prayer. The verse says, again: “They appointed presbyters for them in each church (of those missionary cities) and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith.”
On this upcoming June 15th at the National Shrine of Mary, ten more men will be ordained as priests for the Church of Washington, and perhaps one of them will pastor here someday. The appointment of bishops or archbishops, by the pope, also fits in to the Word picture today, and we await the May 21st day of the next and seventh archbishop of Washington, his Excellency Wilton Gregory. I’ll be down there to pray in the installation Mass Tuesday at the National Shrine.
So, I am concentrating my homily today on the first reading, as we ponder places that most of us only have seen on a Bible map or heard of in Acts, of the cities of Attalia, or Symrna, or Antioch—Asia Minor; those each are the early faith communities (or parishes) under St. Paul. Speakling of Attalia, there is one town in America called by that name, in Walla Walla county, Washington, which they named after this bible church. As for Symrna, there’s a town in Georgia also so named, by some founder who knew their Bible. As for Antioch, there are three places in America that so named themselves after the bible city, and presumably a Christian had the naming rights in Antioch of Ohio, Antioch of California, and Antioch of Tennessee. Me, I like the city name of Derbe, from Acts 14. St. Luke says in verse 21 that in Derbe he had a good first response to the gospel, in that “they had proclaimed the good news to that city and made a considerable number of disciples.” (That’s the opening line of today’s epistle.) I have never been to any Derbe, anywhere, but it sounds like a horse racing town to me! Maybe it should be in Kentucky near Lexington somewhere, right? Or, like in around Baltimore, the first diocesan city of America’s Catholic Church, the city up the road who just had a famous horse race, the Preakness Derby. Did you see the race on tv or internet or even in person? It was an exhilarating one and a bit funny too. “War of Will” won it, riding the rails with grit and determination, like he did in the Kentucky Derby, but unlike that first Triple Crown race, no horse illegally veered into his way in Baltimore’s horse race, and War of Will passed inside quickly of Warrior’s Charge (my own private pick) in the home stretch to win it in Baltimore. The horses were running very fast for this race, even a jockey-less horse who ditched his rider at the gate, ran well to the finish line absent of him. I wonder what happens when a rider-less horse comes in first? Or what if the jockey chasing after him beats all the horses? Who wins,then? Well, War of Will crossed the finish line first. And that’s my connection to a St. Paul parish named Derbe.
Derbe and Perga and Lystra are dots on a map of early parishes in Christianity, much like we had some dots on the map in our Montgomery County Catholic communities, getting first established about 200 years ago or more. Comparing Paul’s early parishes to our county’s first start-ups, there is St. John’s in Forest Glen-Silver Spring that began officially in 1774, then over to Rockville you have St. Mary’s church beginning in 1817, or up in Clopper Road Gaithersburg area, one that began at the Seneca River plantation, now known as St. Rose of Lima church, begun in 1812. They were the first ones in this area of Maryland, as God “opened the door” to our region for beginning parishes, under the apostle bishops of Baltimore. It led on to later parishes like our own getting on the parish map in 1981 on this east end of the county, or to Mother Seton parish in Germantown getting on to the county’s far northwest, or to Our Lady of the Presentation church in Poolesville in the west, or to St. Peters and St. Andrew Kim up north in Olney. They are dots on the map for Christ’ Church, much like Perga or Derbe or Lystra were of old, as told in Acts.
In finishing up the homily, I refer to the gospel today from John that defines what a parish ought to be doing, wherever it is in the Church. Jesus says: “A new commandment I give to you, Church, to love one another, even as I have loved you.” That is our definitely our mission, especially in a parish called The Church of the Resurrection. (The Church of the Resurrection—Burtonsville!) We are to love one another, as a witness to the Living, Risen Christ. How have you done that lately? How will you do it this week?