Posts Tagged ‘Witnessing for Christ’

The First Confirmation

Sunday, May 17th, 2020

6th Sunday of Easter

Acts 8: 5-8, 14-17; 1 Pet 3: 15-18; Jn 14: 15-21

Deacon Larry Brockman

Today we hear all about the Sacrament of Confirmation.   

First, we hear a clear description of the Sacrament in Acts.  For while Philip Baptized the Samaritans; it was clear that Peter and John recognized the need for their “Confirmation”.  Confirmation is the Sacrament in which we receive the Holy Spirit; and it is normally administered by the Bishop to large groups.   

Now at first blush, Confirmation may seem confusing because we are also taught that when we are Baptized, we are reborn in the Spirit.  So, if we receive the Spirit at Baptism, then why Confirmation?  The Church teaches that when we are Baptized, our sins are forgiven and we receive the Spirit of grace, of justice, and of Sanctification.  We become children of God and neophytes in the Church of God.   

But just as is implied in the reading from Acts; we need something more than that to navigate our way through the secular world.  Jesus says it best in the Gospel.  He says that we need another “Advocate”, and that after He leaves the world,,He will send that Advocate to those who keep his Commandments.    

Let me dwell on this part of the Gospel a bit.  We hear that the Advocate will give us the Spirit of Truth “which the World cannot accept because it neither sees nor knows it.”  This is truth in the eyes of God.  How true that the world neither sees it nor knows it.  It includes knowledge and confidence that there is life beyond life in this world.  That is something that the secular world is very skeptical about.   

It includes a welcoming sense of acceptance of God’s law in the heart.  This was the subject of Jesus’ entire three-year ministry- to instill in the Apostles the truth about God’s law- a law of love for God, neighbor, and self; not just a sense of law which meant abiding by strict precepts handed down by tradition.  It is true, of course, that many of those laws were based on God’s revelation to Moses and the prophets.  But their true meaning had been morphed to a set of black and white laws.  Compliance with the law was based on physical compliance; not necessarily on compliance in the heart.   

And it includes a sense that the most important thing for us to do in our lives, is to comply with God’s will for us, whatever that it.  The Gospel is the story of the pattern for doing this.  It is the story of Jesus Christ’s mission on earth to live his life in accordance with god’s will.   

Clearly, the Spirit of truth then, if accepted by a person, would be a Spirit of strength.  That’s because when we accept the truth and are committed to it with our hearts; then we have the inner strength to bear with whatever the world throws at us. 

The gifts of the Holy Spirit accompany the Spirit of truth.  They are: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge , Piety, and Fear of God.  It is easy to see inner strength in a person who has these gifts in their Faith.   

Now the word Advocate here is based on the original Greek word in the book of Acts, which is Paraclete.  It is only used 4 times in the Scriptures.  But the sense of the Greek word is “one called in as helper, pleader, defender, patron, advocate”.   

Putting this all together then, Jesus is telling his Apostles that he will send them the Spirit of Truth, God’s truth.  This Spirit of Truth would instill in them the strength that they needed to deal with the secular world and that this Spirit would be their advocate when they stood before God for judgment.  All of this equally applies to us as it did to the Apostles.   

Our second reading shows us what it is like to be a Confirmed Christian.  Peter describes a person who is always ready to be a witness for Christ.  That means they have the wisdom and knowledge of their faith that they need to defend it or explain it to others. and it means that they have the patience and the forbearance to do it in a way that is “gentle and with reverence”.  It also means that they have the fortitude to defend their faith in word and deed despite the possibility of ridicule.   

Yes, today’s readings are all about Confirmation; and what it means to be a Confirmed Christian.   

It is Christ That Unifies Us

Sunday, February 9th, 2020

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 58: 7-10; 1 Cor 2: 1-5; Mt 5: 13-16

Deacon Larry Brockman

Today, all three of our readings tell us that the most important thing we can do in living our lives from day-to-day is to live the message of Christianity rather than preach it in words.  And what is more, that is something that all of us can do.  We can all spread the light of Christ by our attitude and enthusiasm for our faith; and by working together in doing it.  We don’t have to be gifted in all the details of theology to do that.  Our actions speak louder than words.   

Notice that St. Paul tells the Corinthians that when he came, he did not use fancy words, or wise arguments, or clever catch words to preach Christ.  He did not package his message with slick Madison Avenue sales gimmicks.  Rather, he came with “a demonstration of spirit and power”.  In other words, Paul projected a sense of commitment and fervor in what he believed; and people could see he was the genuine article because he demanded nothing in return.   

Elsewhere in the Epistles we learn that Paul accepted no pay or hospitality but carried his own weight by working as a tentmaker.  Paul did not work mighty deeds, make bold promises, or guarantee worldly success.  Paul just lived the message he preached.  That was novel and different in the Roman World of the first century.  It as a tactic that worked.   

And then we have the words of advice from Isaiah.  Who says: “Your light shall break forth like the dawn.”  That’s similar to the message Paul expressed, isn’t it?  Because Isaiah is recommending that the people show their commitment to God by the actions that they perform.  Isaiah recommends that the people simply be kind to each other, especially to those who have less.  At the same time, Isaiah asks for harmony- that the people should “remove oppression and false accusation” from their midst.  This is a script for doing away with factions and divisions.  These factions get in the way of the real progress that man can make in living together in peace.    

That brings me to the Gospel.  Jesus had just preached his sermon on the mount to a large crowd of people.  The Beatitudes were the essence of that message and precede this reading.  The Beatitudes are all about emptying self and doing God’s will.   

But just after Jesus finished preaching the Beatitudes, he tells his disciples that they need to be the “salt of the earth”, and a “light to the world”.  He tells them that it is not good enough to just accept his message and live it quietly; rather, they have to go out and spread that message.  And they have to deliver the message with salt- because it brings the taste of the message to life.  How else could this be done unless the people lived the message with zest and commitment.   

And they are to go out and spread the message like light disperses.  It is like the image given in Isaiah: Light breaking forth like the dawn.  For indeed, light pours out of small racks and spreads everywhere; and when the sun rises, it brightens and permeates everything.  That is the nature of light.   

So, how do we do that?  How do we maintain the zest in salt and spread our faith like a bright light?  We do it by the way we treat each other and the way we project ourselves as we live our lives.  We do it by engaging in the community that we live in; not by hiding in it.  We do it by being witnesses for what we believe- by speaking up at the right time; by being there for others when they need us; by failing to embrace the secular values when they are pushed on us; by being enthusiastic about life and Jesus Christ.   

It means a whole lot of little things.  Do we all say grace before meals when we are in public?  Are we enthusiastic about the religious activities we engage in when we talk to others?  Do we praise God for the beauty of his creation?  Do we refrain from gossip and forming factions?   

And from what I know about this small group of Catholics in in isolated community.  You do all that.  You are engaging the wider community and witnessing that you are Catholic.  You are doing it with zest and it is working. 

We Cannot Hide Our Chritianity

Thursday, January 30th, 2020

Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

2 Sam 7: 18-19, 24-29; Mark 4: 21-25

Deacon Larry Brockman

Today’s first reading tells us all about the chosen people, Israel, and the House of God.  In a sense, this is analogous to the Church of today.

And in the Gospel, Jesus talks directly to his disciples, who are to be his witnesses to the end of the earth.  Today’s Gospel follows immediately after the parable Jesus told a great crowd on the lake in yesterday’s reading.  It was the parable of the sower and the seed.  Clearly, that parable was addressed to the crowd.  Jesus told his disciples he spoke in parables so that those who sought the truth would see; but those who weren’t seeking the truth would be blind to the analogy.  Those who would turn from his message at the first distraction; or be deceived by the devil or be drawn to the things of the world were identified and rejected.

Jesus was seeking to find those who were hungry for his message and would produce fruit in the long run by living according to it.  But then he told his disciples that they were especially gifted with knowledge of the Kingdom. 

So, today’s Gospel is the sequel to the parable of the seed.  He is not talking to the people in general but to the disciples who are especially gifted.  But he uses the same language as yesterday to challenge his disciples to look beyond the surface meaning and see the hidden message in the parable.  Jesus says: “Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.”   

Since Jesus is addressing his disciples, what does it all mean to us?  Well, we are the chosen people now; and we are also his disciples.  Jesus intent was to propagate the Christian message throughout the world.  All of us are blessed as the House of Israel was blessed by virtue of our membership in the people of God.  We achieve that membership when we are Baptized into the Church.  

And when we are Baptized, the Priest or Deacon Says: “I anoint you as priest, prophet and king.”  And so, we are sent out to be God’s witnesses to the end of the earth.  This means that although Jesus was addressing His disciples in real time; He is addressing all of us today.   

You see, our Church needs witnesses; witnesses who are not afraid to share their knowledge, to share the light of Christ that they have received.  And what is more, this is what God expects of us.   

In fact, the disciples are being told that just because they have been chosen to hear about the kingdom of God directly,  They are not to keep it to themselves;  They are to spread that light, let it shine everywhere.  It would be inappropriate for them to keep this “secret” knowledge to themselves; and it would be unacceptable for them to receive special “gifts” and not use them to spread that message.   

Then Jesus repeats his challenge to the disciples a second time.  He says: Take care what you hear”.  And tells them: “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you”.  And: “To the one that has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”   

When we come into this beautiful building to worship, we experience a communal bond of fellowship and common belief.  It reinforces our faith and makes it vibrant and strong, especially when we receive the Eucharist.  But, this morning’s message is that this is not enough.  It is not enough for us to just support each other and to be comfortable in our faith.  The secular world is out there, and the light we have cannot be hidden in this Church.  It needs to be spread all around.   

Just like the disciples, all of us have been gifted in special ways.  God wants us to use those gifts to be his witnesses.  We should not hide these talents and savor our knowledge in closed communities.  If we do, we may just lose what we have.  We are the people of God now and it is our job, all of us, to spread the light of Christ.  In today’s world, the folks all around us are in just as much need of enlightenment as those in the remote corners of the world. 

So, let your light shine. 

Being a Witness for Christ

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1: 15-23; Lk 24: 44-53
Dc. Larry Brockman

You know, I experienced a kind of “aha” experience when I first read the readings for today.

When Jesus was alive and living amongst his disciples, his prayers and meditations and communications with God the Father were very much like our own are right now. Jesus was bound by the same limitations that all of us have as mere humans because Jesus was fully human. But over time, and with constant prayer and meditation, Jesus came to know God the Father and trust in him. His relationship with God became very close- much closer than ours. And Jesus came to know who he was- the Son of God and the Messiah. But still, he was like us, so his ability to communicate with the Father remained limited. As a result, there was a lack of clarity, of certainty, of completeness in his knowledge and in his words. Jesus’ ability to communicate God’s plan to us was thus limited. Notice that he even admitted that when he said that “Only the Father knows”.

But after the Resurrection, Jesus was fully divine, and had full knowledge of God and everything God the Father knew. And so, Jesus words after the Resurrection are powerful and direct messages to us, unfiltered and unencumbered by any of his former human limitations. That’s what makes the post Resurrection accounts in the Gospels over the last six weeks so special. The words convey important messages to us and they convey them in a manner that we can understand within the human limitations that we have. They are direct words from God. Such is the case for the Ascension.

In today’s account from Acts, Jesus finds the Apostles still in a state of doubt and uncertainty about what his role as the Messiah was all about. They wanted to know if the Kingdom of Israel was going to be restored right then. Jesus answer is very cryptic: “It is not for you to know”. You see, he is not talking about a worldly restoration of a Kingdom at all. Rather, he is talking about the Kingdom of Heaven. Then he tells the Apostles that they will be empowered by the Holy Spirit and that they are to be his witnesses over the entire world.

Do you know what it means to be a witness for Jesus? It means two things: First, it means that the events in the Gospel need to be retold, repeated, and remembered for all in the future. The promise of salvation and everlasting life needs to be repeated. But it also means that the way of life that Jesus admonished needs to be lived by his witnesses. His witnesses need to bear witness to both his testimony and his way of life.

The Gospel of Matthew says something similar. First, Jesus says that all power has been given to him on heaven and earth. This statement validates that Jesus is now fully divine and has full knowledge of God the Father and His will. Then Jesus says that the Apostles must go forth and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This direction from Jesus is one of the most direct messages from God that we have received. It is after the Resurrection, after Jesus has been fully empowered and is no longer encumbered by human nature.

So, this is what all of us have been commissioned to do: To be Witnesses for Christ, and to convert the World by Baptizing all nations. And Baptism means confessing our sins, repenting of them, and dying to self. Through Baptism we are all reborn by water and the spirit to a new life dedicated to Jesus and the Church.

Now, all of us have this mission; not just some of us, but all of us. It is a life-long commitment and mission.

In the very beginning of his Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Paul commissioned the first Christians in Ephesus by blessing them and sending them forth to perform this Baptismal Mission. It was a beautiful blessing that requested that the Ephesian converts be given wisdom and knowledge of God,and that they work through the Body of Christ, His Church. All of you gathered here today are part of the body of Christ, his Church. You are the witnesses of both the events of the Gospel and the way of Christ for this community. You have been blessed with the knowledge and wisdom of Christ.

Many of your companions will be depressed, disheartened, or even despairing in the face of old age and physical or mental impairments. But your Faith as Christians can save them. You are the witnesses that they need to realize that God loves them and has an incredible future in store for them. You are their messengers of hope and a joyful future. Amen.