Homilies for May 2021

For the Fifth Sunday, Sixth Sunday, and Seventh Sunday of Easter, Ascension Thursday, Pentecost Sunday (May 23), and the Solemnity of the Trinity (May 30)

Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 2, 2021

Readings: Acts 9:26–31 • Ps 22:26–27, 28, 30, 31–32 • 1 Jn 3:18–24 • Jn 15:1–8            bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/050221.cfm

I love to hear family stories. I love to hear about the combined fourth and fifth-grade class where my parents met each other. I love to hear about the places in Germany, Sweden, and Great Britain where my ancestors lived. I love to listen to the stories of the travels and trials and triumphs of my ancestors.

Luke shares our family stories with us in the Acts of the Apostles. Luke collected the family stories. He was part of the family story. Luke traveled with Paul. He probably knew Mary and Peter and Mark. Luke tells us the family story and during the season of Easter, we hear each and every day of the stories of our ancestors in the faith and the community of the Risen Lord. Over the last few weeks, Luke has told us about unity, conversion, and healing. Today we hear the story of welcoming a new member to the family.

While we do not hear it on Sundays during the Easter season, we remember the story of Saul on the road to Damascus. Saul persecuted Christians. He was part of the murder of Stephen. He was struck blind and he heard the voice of Jesus. Ananias brought him healing and baptism. And Saul began to preach about Jesus. He had been a persecutor and now he was a preacher. Saul, who will later be called Paul, is certainly one of the most interesting characters in our family story.

Today, Saul comes to meet the community of disciples in Jerusalem, and they are afraid to welcome him. The fear in the community prevented a spirit of welcome. But not for Barnabas. Barnabas took charge of Saul and brought him to meet the apostles. Barnabas introduces people. He is a man with a spirit of welcome. In fact, Barnabas is his nickname. It means, “son of encouragement.” That is what the apostles called him. Barnabas encourages the community. He welcomes people. He introduces people. He walks up to people and says, “Hello, I am Barnabas.” He builds the community because he encourages and because he welcomes.

Think for a moment about how different our family story would be if Barnabas did not welcome Saul that day in Jerusalem. What if Barnabas had said to himself, “I know enough people in this community; I have my friends and I will let someone else welcome this visitor today.” How different would our family story be if Barnabas did not take the time to welcome Saul on that day in Jerusalem? Would we have the missionary journeys? Would we have the letters to the cities and the churches? Would we even have the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, because Luke heard about Jesus from the preaching of Paul? How different would our family story be if Barnabas did not take the time to welcome Saul into the community on that day in Jerusalem?

Fortunately, Barnabas welcomed Saul. He took charge of him. He brought him to the apostles and introduced him. It was a simple gesture with a profound impact. To greet someone we do not know and welcome them might be difficult, but it is not complicated. Barnabas showed us. Barnabas welcomed a new member into the family. He encouraged the community not to be afraid to welcome the new life that Jesus was giving. The simple act of welcome and introduction added a new member to the community and expanded the family story forever.

Our family stories are filled with what seems like simple moments of welcome and introduction. My parents were in the same elementary school class. A couple I married last September met each other here at Mass one Sunday morning. There are often people we have not met or spoken with at the Church on the weekends. There is always an opportunity for a spirit of welcome and a moment of introduction. We have the opportunity to be like Barnabas and welcome someone to the community. We can also welcome someone back to the community. There are so many people we have not been able to see during the pandemic. We want to welcome them back. We want to be a place of welcome and introduction.

And now, the Lord Jesus welcomes us to his table. We have heard his word. We have shared his story. Here he will feed us and nourish us and strengthen us with the courage to offer a word of welcome from this community to every child of God.

Sixth Sunday of Easter – May 9, 2021

Readings: Acts 10:25–26, 34–35, 44–48 • Ps 98:1, 2–3, 3–4 • 1 Jn 4:7–10 • Jn 15:9–17    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/050921.cfm

Six Sundays ago we celebrated Easter. Throughout this month we will celebrate First Holy Communion in our parish and next Sunday the Ascension of the Lord. Two weeks from now we will celebrate Pentecost. And in seven months and sixteen days, we will celebrate Christmas. Time moves quickly: so many parents and teachers in our community know this. It seems like the first day of first grade was only a few days ago. And now there is a high school or college graduation. It seems like the baptism was only a few months ago and next Saturday is First Communion. Time moves quickly. The images of our memories move quickly. The images of our relationships move so very quickly through our memories.

Images are powerful. Images are filled with memory and emotion. They speak to us. Images tell our story. They tell us our history and our values. Images tell us about our relationships. I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. Images tell us about our unity. I am the vine and you are the branches. We are precious in the sight of the shepherd and we draw our life from the vine. We are fed by the shepherd and nourished by the vine. The images move so quickly. Time moves so quickly.

And maybe that is why, when there was only a little time left on that Holy Thursday evening, Jesus spoke so directly: I no longer call you slaves, but my friends. I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. Jesus Christ calls each of us his friend.

A sheep is purchased or born into a flock and a branch springs forth from the vine; a friend is chosen. A friend shares in the joys. A friend shares in the meal. A friend shares in the hopes and the dreams, the tears, and the triumphs. A friend shares in the suffering and the grief. A friend shares in the silence when words are no longer necessary. And Jesus calls each of us his friend.

Friendship is dangerous. It is easy to get hurt. When Jesus calls the disciples his friends at the Last Supper, Judas has already left. Peter, who will deny him only a few hours later, is still reclining at the table. The other disciples will abandon Jesus so quickly when the guards arrest him. Jesus calls them friends and soon afterward they run away. Friendship is dangerous. It is easy to get hurt. An open heart is easily pierced. And yet, Jesus Christ calls each of us his friend.

Jesus calls us friends. He chose us to be his friends. Jesus came to meet us. Simon and Andrew were not looking for Jesus while they were fishing. Jesus was looking for them. Matthew was not looking for Jesus. Matthew was sitting at the customs table. Jesus was looking for him. Jesus chose his disciples and he chooses to call them his friends. Jesus called us to be his disciples and he chooses to call us his friends. We are friends of Jesus Christ. He has called each of us his friend.

And that means that we share in the joys and the sufferings in the heart of Jesus. We share in the agony in the garden. We share in the scourging at the pillar. We share in the cross . . . and we share in the empty tomb. We share in the victory over sin and death. We share in the glory of God which shines on the face of Jesus Christ. Jesus shares everything with us. We are more than sheep. We are more than branches. We are friends of Jesus Christ.

And now, Jesus Christ invites us to his table. We come quickly to the banquet where Christ the Savior, the High Priest of our confession, and the Lamb who once was slain but lives forever, calls us his friends and feeds us for eternal life. Amen.

The Ascension of the Lord – Thursday, May 13 (or Sunday, May 16), 2021

Readings: Acts 1:1–11 • Ps 47:2–3, 6–7, 8–9 • Eph 1:17–23 • Mk 16:15–20                  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/051621-Ascension.cfm

A little more than sixty years ago, my grandparents moved from Wisconsin to North Carolina. Before the family moved, my grandparents made the long drive and searched for a house. Since they did not find one to their liking, they made the long drive back to Wisconsin, and they agreed that my grandfather would find a house while he was working in North Carolina. My grandmother, however, gave one very clear instruction about the house. She said to my grandfather, “I do not care what the house looks like, just get me a nice kitchen.” That was the end of the discussion. The next time my grandmother came to North Carolina, she and my mother and my uncles moved into the house where my grandmother would spend forty-one of the happiest years of her life. She had never seen the house before, but she was happy because her home had been prepared by one who loved her.

Today we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. Forty days after his resurrection, the Lord Jesus returns to the glory of the Father. Entering the temple of heavenly glory, the Lord Jesus continues to bear the marks of his passion, but now his wounds are trophies of victory. Every wound and every suffering is now radiant in the splendor of the Kingdom. Sin and death have been conquered by the blood of his cross, and now the Lord Jesus returns to the Father. He goes to prepare a place for us. And though he has returned to the glory of the Father, he has promised to remain with us always. The Lord Jesus has promised to be present to us until the end of the world.

With the ascension of the Lord Jesus, the power and presence of Christ’s earthly ministry passes into the sacraments. The promise of the Lord Jesus to remain with his disciples always is fulfilled through his presence in the sacraments of the Church. What that means, dear brothers and sisters, is that in every sacramental celebration, we are offered a personal encounter with the Risen Lord. Like Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and like Mary Magdalene at the tomb, each of us is offered an encounter with the Risen Lord. Our encounter with the Risen Lord is no less real than the encounter of those who walked with him in Jerusalem. The way that we experience the encounter is different, but the One whom we encounter is the same. We meet the Lord Jesus in the sacraments, and the Lord Jesus meets us in the sacraments of his Church.

Though each of the sacraments is celebrated in the context of a public liturgical celebration, each of us receives the sacraments individually. These moments of grace, where God in his love and mercy has promised to act in a particular way, are personal. One by one we were baptized and one by one we were confirmed. One by one we are absolved in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and one by one we receive the holy anointing. One by one we receive the precious body and blood of the Lord in Holy Communion. The promise of the Lord Jesus, which is offered to all of us, is received by each of us.

And the promise of the Lord Jesus which is offered to us in the Sacraments prepares us for eternal life. We receive the very life of God as a gift of God in each sacrament. The life of God dwelling within us during our life on earth prepares us to dwell forever in the life of God in heaven.

My grandfather found a nice kitchen, and my grandmother was happy for many years. The Lord Jesus Christ has gone to prepare a place for us, and through his sacraments, the Lord Jesus prepares us for his place. As we now enter into the worship of heaven, let us welcome the Lord into our souls so that one day he will welcome us into his Kingdom. Amen.

Seventh Sunday of Easter – May 16, 2021 (when Ascension is celebrated on Thursday)

Readings: Acts 1:15–17, 20a, 20c–26 • Ps 103:1–2, 11–12, 19–20 • 1 Jn 4:11–16 • Jn 17:11b–19    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/051621-Sunday.cfm

Every day and every Sunday during the Easter season we hear one of the stories of our ancestors in the family of faith in Christ Jesus. We have been traveling around with Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. We have heard about unity and conversion, about welcome and extension and ascension. And today, Luke takes us back to one of the earliest events in the Acts of the Apostles. They need help. They need a volunteer. The apostles need the help of the community to select someone to take over the mission that Judas abandoned. In a certain sense, today we hear about the second round in the draft for the apostolic team.

Peter, always the leader of the apostolic team, presents the issue to the community; he presents the problem. We need a new member for the team to take over the place of Judas. Then Peter proposes the solution and sets out some qualifications. We need to select a new member of the team and this person must have known Jesus during his earthly ministry and seen him after his resurrection. The person selected will become a witness to the resurrection with the original eleven apostles. We have the problem, the proposed solution and the qualifications. Peter presents all of these to the community.

Now the community has a role and a responsibility. The community has to look among themselves for someone who meets the qualifications. The members of the community have to look around and recognize the grace of God already at work in the members of the community. They need eyes to see and ears to hear what God is doing among them. We do not know if anyone approached Matthias or Judas called Barsabbas, also known as Justus, individually. We do not know if someone saw one of them, spoke to them and said, “I think the Lord might be calling you to this kind of service.” Luke only gives us the briefest details. The community proposed two. The apostles and the community prayed. The community cast lots, they had an election. One was chosen to become a witness to the resurrection of Jesus with the eleven apostles.

It seems like a fairly simple event from the early days of our family of faith in Christ Jesus. Peter recognizes a problem and proposes a solution. He sets some qualifications. He invites the participation of the community. The community responds to the invitation. They pray. They take action and move forward. Luke shows us this pattern from the early days of our family of faith. We see this pattern a few times on the Acts of the Apostles.

We see this pattern in our own community of faith. A parish community always needs the help and assistance of the members of the parish community. We need eyes to see and ears to hear what God is doing among us. We need the vision to see the grace of God at work in the lives of our people. We need the courage to offer a word of encouragement and say, “I think the Lord might be calling you to this kind of service.” We need the spirit of openness and cooperation to respond to the call of the Lord and the community. And we need the spirit of prayer to enlighten our minds and our hearts and strengthen our unity with the Lord and each other. We need the Spirit to come to our aid. We need the Spirit to strengthen us and form us to live as a whole community of witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.

And next Sunday, on Pentecost, the Spirit will descend. The Spirit will open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts to the work that God wants to do in this community. The Spirit will descend, and he will empower us to proclaim that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and abundant life is open to us. The Spirit will descend, and life will be new.

And now the Spirit draws us to the table of the Savior. Here we will meet the Risen Lord and here we will be nourished so that we can take our place and play our part on Christ’s apostolic team. Amen.

Pentecost – May 23, 2021

Readings: Acts 2:1–11 • Ps 104:1, 24, 29–30, 31, 34 • 1 Cor 12:3b–7, 12–13 or Gal 5:16–25 • Jn 20:19–23    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/052321-Day.cfm

Five months ago, we were gathered together at Bethlehem. We were there on the night that the Lord Jesus was born. We saw the manger. We saw the shepherds. We heard the angels and we saw Our Lady and St. Joseph and we beheld the face of the invisible God in the face of a baby.

Fifty days ago, we were gathered at the empty tomb. We were there on the morning of the glorious resurrection. We saw the stone that was rolled away. We saw the burial clothes. We heard the announcement of the angels and the message of Mary Magdalene. We heard the voice of Jesus and we recognized him in a gardener who knew our name.

A little more than a week ago, we were gathered on the mountain. We were gathered as the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven and took his place at the right hand of the Father. We received his blessing. We heard the voices of the angels. We were filled with joy because the Lord promised to remain with us always. And we were told to await the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Today, gathered in the Upper Room, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we are sent out. We are sent out to all of the world, or some small part of it. We are sent out with the power from on high that appeared in tongues of fire over the heads of the apostles. We are sent out with the message of forgiveness and mercy and life and holiness. We are sent out from the Upper Room.

But honestly, dear brothers and sisters, I was comfortable at Bethlehem. I was comfortable at the empty tomb. I was even comfortable at the mountain of the Ascension. At Bethlehem, at the empty tomb, and at the mountain of the Ascension, we were accepted, and we were loved. We were gathered together in the presence of the Lord. We were embraced by the love of God that comes before us. We were embraced by the love of God that surrounds us. We are embraced by the love of God that is promised to us. At Bethlehem, at the empty tomb, and at the mountain of the Ascension, we were accepted, and we were loved. I am comfortable there, and maybe you are too.

But the Spirit sends us out. The Spirit sends us out from the Upper Room. The Spirit sends us out to the world, and in the world, we meet rejection. In the world, we meet hostility. In the world, we meet hatred and jealousy, and persecution. I was comfortable in the Upper Room, and maybe you were too.

But the Spirit sends us out. The Spirit sends us out with the power from on high. The Spirit sends us out with the joy of the Gospel. The Spirit sends us out equipped for every good work to build up the Kingdom. The Spirit embraces us. The Spirit empowers us. The Spirit sends us forth, and by the fire of his love, he burns away the fear in our hearts.

Do not be afraid to be sent by the Spirit. Amen.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – May 30, 2021

Readings: Dt 4:32–34, 39–40 • Ps 33:4–5, 6, 9, 18–19, 20, 22 • Rom 8:14–17 • Mt 28:16–20  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/053021.cfm

I get asked a lot of questions, but not the kind that you would expect. Rarely does anyone ask me what happened at the Council of Ephesus in 431. I know the answer: a fight broke out. Rarely does anyone ask me what happened at the Finance Council meeting or the Presbyteral Council meeting. Most of the questions are pretty simple: “Does it bother you to have to wear the same thing every day?” My favorite of these simple questions and one that I get asked on an annual basis begins, “Since you only work on weekends . . .”

But sometimes the questions are a little more pointed. Sometimes the questions are a little more personal. “Are you ever lonely, Father?” “Do you ever feel isolated, Father?” Those are more than questions of history and clothing, aren’t they? Those are the questions you cannot run from too easily. Those are the questions for which we all have an answer and ultimately, those are the questions we all have to answer.

Adam was alone in the garden, but then the Lord gave him some animals to name. But Adam still felt like he was alone in the garden, and the Lord created Eve. We remember that beautiful scene in the garden when Adam first sees Eve and says, “At last, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” At last, Adam was not alone in the garden.

But when Eve was alone in the garden, the serpent came to tempt her. When King David was alone in the palace and he gazed on the rooftop of his neighbor, he embraced temptation and sin. When the Lord Jesus was alone in the desert, and later when he was alone in the garden, the devil came to tempt him. Temptation, it seems, often finds us and searches for us in isolation and in loneliness.

But we were not created for isolation and loneliness. We certainly experience them. We certainly suffer from them. Sometimes the people who were supposed to be there with us are the ones who place us in isolation and separate us. Sometimes the ones who are supposed to gather us are the ones who separate us. We experience it. We suffer from it. We fight against it. But we weren’t created for isolation and loneliness. We were created for something else. We were created for something better because God was not alone when we were created. We are not the result of the Lord God looking for company. We were not created as the answer to the question of God being lonely and isolated. From all eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have lived in perfect harmony, perfect blessedness, and perfect communion. Nothing is needed. Nothing is lacking. There is no loneliness. There is no isolation. There is only love.

The Holy Trinity needs absolutely nothing for blessedness, happiness, perfect communion, and harmony, and yet, we exist — because from that love and for that love, we were created. We are not needed, we are wanted. We are not needed, but we are loved. We are not needed, but we are desired by the God of heaven and earth. For God created us not for isolation and loneliness, but for communion with Him and with creation and with each other. The tragedy of sin, the echo of the “No” of Adam and Eve, fractures the communion, it damages those relationships. Sin leaves us at times in isolation and loneliness. But the triumph of God’s grace, the echo of the “Yes” of Mary, the ever-present reality of the “Yes” of Lord Jesus, and the continual “Yes” of the Church to her Lord, our “Yes,” draws us step by step and day by day into the communion for which we were created.

The Lord Jesus who conquered sin and death by the blood of his cross desires to conquer our loneliness and our isolation. Now, as he draws us into the mystery of the Eucharist, into that holy communion where the choirs of angels and the citizens of heaven above sing in exultation, we admit our need. We admit our loneliness and our isolation. We cast the brokenness of our hearts into the fires of his Sacred Heart. As we do, Jesus will say to you and he will say to me, as he said to Peter and Andrew and Matthew and John, “Come, follow me.” And the Lord Jesus will lead us into that perfect communion where he lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever. Amen.

About Fr. Benjamin Roberts

Fr. Benjamin A. Roberts is a priest of the Diocese of Charlotte and Pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Monroe, NC. He holds a DMin in Preaching from Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis and is the author of the recently published book The Voice of the Bridegroom: Preaching as an Expression of Spousal Love, from Wipf and Stock.

Comments

  1. what happened to the other one who was rejected.when mathias was chosen . did he continue to be inthe church. how could he overcome the bitterness/

  2. FR. S. AROCKIA JUSTIN says:

    DEAR FR. BENJAMIN A. ROBERT

    YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE WORD OF GOD MAKES ME TO REALIZE MY CHRISTIAN LIFE.

    THANK YOU
    FR. JUSTIN

  3. I would love to have a copy of the visiting priest’s homily on May 30th, 2021. It was the best homily I have ever heard. He was a JOY. Don’t remember his name but he was a visitor priest.

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