In this morning’s first reading, we read how the Apostles and the disciples were praying together. They did this because they were on a mission and by praying together they also supported one another. The mission was to preach the name of Jesus everywhere and to everyone. They wanted the whole world to know that Jesus is God’s Son, that he became one of us, showed us the Father’s love, then died on a cross and rose from the dead to save us from our sins. All this the followers of Jesus could do because they were inspired and strengthened by the Holy Spirit whom we receive when we are baptized and confirmed.
Two men in their company were particularly great preachers of the faith. One was Saul and the other one was Barnabas. You might know Saul by a more familiar name – we call him “Paul” – and he is the one who wrote many parts of the New Testament. Saul was not always a Christian – in fact he was an enemy of Christianity – he went about persecuting Christians until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus… and that encounter completely changed his life. We don’t know as much about Barnabas. We think he was a Jewish convert from Cyprus and a cousin of Mark, who wrote one of the Gospels in the New Testament and he was certainly St. Paul’s companion and co-worker.
At any rate, everyone knew that Paul and Barnabas had a “vocation” to preach the Gospel of Jesus not only in Jerusalem but all over the world. So what did they do? The Holy Spirit inspired them to lay hands on Paul and Barnabas and then sent them off on their mission. So in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the vocation of Paul and Barnabas was confirmed, and, it would seem that they were “ordained” … In the power of the Holy Spirit they began their missionary journeys, preaching the Word of God to Jews and to Gentiles.
It would not be an easy vocation or a comfortable life. Paul and Barnabas travelled everywhere and they didn’t go first class. They suffered shipwreck. They got into trouble with local authorities. Sometimes people didn’t want to hear what they had to say. And once they got the Church going in places like Ephesus and Corinth, they still had issues to deal with (which is why we have St. Paul’s letters in the NT). Ultimately both Paul and Barnabas died as martyrs…witnesses for Jesus & the faith.
II. Our Vocation
You might wonder if this still happens today. I’m here to tell you that it does. A few days ago, I was talking to Msgr. Bob Weiss. He is the Pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Newtown, Connecticut. I know him because I used to be the bishop of that part of Connecticut where Newtown is located and I knew many of the families who lost their loved ones on that tragic day at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Msgr. Weiss came to visit me last week and we talked for a long a time about what happened at Newtown. This good priest – he’s been a priest for nearly 40 years – this good priest would never say so – but he is the glue that is holding Newtown together. St. Rose Parish is one of the greatest parishes anywhere – not only is it large, it is young, active, and growing – it really is the heart and soul of that town. Long after the cameras have left, Msgr. Weiss and the two priests with him, together with their many helpers in the parish – are helping these families to put their lives back together. They are helping these families to connect with Jesus, with his Cross & Resurrection, and to connect with one another in mutual support and love. Those priests are not travelling around the world like Paul and Barnabas but they were on a mission nonetheless – a mission to bring Jesus and His Good News to suffering homes and hearts.
Or take the example of Father Emil Kapaun. Most of us have never heard of him until recently when he was inducted into the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Father Kapaun was born in a little town in Kansas and went to public schools. Most people didn’t think he’d become a priest or a hero or ever be on his way to being recognized as a saint – but that’s what happening. After serving as a parish priest in Wichita, he became a military chaplain and served during the Korean War. The men liked Fr. Kapaun because he was one of them. He was a chaplain and an officer but he worked side by side with them, he went into battle with them, saved many lives, put himself at risk, and when he was sent to a POW camp, he took care of his fellow prisoners and gave them hope – not just of escaping – but some hope that fighting and death are not the last word about human life… In that POW camp, the light of Jesus shined through Fr. Kapaun, and many prisoners who had no faith and no connection to Jesus came to believe. Fr. Kapaun had the same mission as Paul and Barnabas. Instead of going to Ephesus or Corinth, he wound up in a prisoner of war camp where he died – all man and all priest – as his fellow soldiers said of him.
III. Your Vocation
Paul and Barnabas, Msgr. Weiss, Fr. Kapaun – we can’t say such lives are easy or even successful the way the world defines success. But I can tell you that their lives are meaningful. I can tell you that these men would not have done anything else with their lives. And I can tell you the same thing about myself after having been a priest for 36 years next month.
A meaningful, happy life is a life that is lined up with God’s will. If you are doing what God has called you to do with your lives, and that will always mean giving of yourself to other people – then your life will be meaningful and happy. If on the other hand you live only for yourself, you’ll wake up one day and wonder if your life has any worth, no matter how successful you become.
I hope and pray that some of you, at least, will consider whether or not God is calling you to undertake the same mission that Paul and Barnabas, and Msgr. Weiss, and Fr. Kapaun – undertook so generously – so that people in our times will not go through life thinking that this life is all there is – but instead find that that life and that love for which they were created. May God bless you and keep you always in His love.