Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19
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May 2, 2021
[St. John the Baptist Church, Kalihi; Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Ewa Beach (Confirmation & First Communion)]
Have you ever been bullied? You know how terrifying that is. This person is constantly harassing you and putting you down, and you feel powerless to do anything about it. You are very much afraid of the bully. But then imagine that the bully suddenly wants to be your friend, treats you nicely and tries to apologize for hurting you. It would be very understandable that you might not trust that person and would not be too anxious to let him be your friend. That seems to be the situation we heard about in our first reading regarding St. Paul. He was a bully to the early Christians. He made their lives miserable, and had some imprisoned and put to death because of their faith. He considered them stupid and dangerous for what he considered their ridiculous belief that Jesus of Nazareth was God, and that after his death, he rose from the dead and was still alive.
Then something radically changed in him. What was that? Even as he was on his way to round up more followers of Jesus and have them put into prison, Jesus himself appeared to him, very much alive. The vision of Jesus was so stunning to him that he could not see anything else for days and was blinded by such a divine light. Then he received the Holy Spirit and changed totally from being a bully toward Christians to being one of the greatest preachers of Jesus that has ever lived. Yet the Christians he had bullied did not trust him, until Barnabas, whom they did trust, stepped in and assured them that Paul was no longer a threat to them. Jesus had cast out demons and hatred and closed-mindedness from Paul’s heart. But do you remember what Jesus asked Paul at that life-changing encounter? “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul (the name of Paul before his conversion) did not think he was persecuting Jesus, because as far as he was concerned, Jesus was dead and gone forever. But he learned, through that glorious vision, that one cannot separate the Vine from the branches or the body from its Head before death will set in. If Jesus really were dead, Paul did not need to persecute his followers, because in a short time they would just fade away anyway. Yet these followers of Jesus were willing to suffer persecution and even death, because they were so full of joy and peace because they knew Jesus was alive and loving them right then and there. They, too, had encountered the risen Jesus. He had breathed his Holy Spirit upon them. They were fed by his own Body and Blood, so that the life of Jesus could flow through them, so that, with Jesus, they could live forever.
Today an amazing thing is going to happen. It may not look so dramatic; in fact, it will look very simple and routine. You who are to be confirmed will have the breath of God poured out upon you as you receive the Holy Spirit. You who are going to receive your First Holy Communion will have a physical encounter with the risen Lord Jesus as he gives you his Body and Blood to be the food that flows through your veins and keeps you as close to him as a vine is close to its branches. You will be able to do amazing things, not by your own power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit and the power of the risen Jesus.
There are many bullies, who like Saul, do not want you to believe in Jesus, because Jesus is God, and they think they are god. They consider Jesus and all he teaches competition, so they try to persecute Jesus by persecuting those who are attached to him. There are bullies who want you to be attached to them and their ideas rather than be attached to Jesus, and they may bully you, persecute you, and harass you to make you stray away from what is good, which they consider to be bad. But now that you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you can have the strength to stand up to these bullies and not allow them to lead you into falsehood. There is the biggest bully of all, whom you already renounced in your Baptism and who you will renounce again today: Satan. This evil spirit will do anything to bring you down, but you will now have a defense that he cannot possibly overcome, the Holy Spirit, so you need not fear him. And if you stay close to Jesus by receiving him in Holy Communion every Sunday of your lives, he will give you strength to resist any bullies and even to change bullies into brothers and sisters.
What will happen to you today as you receive these sacraments of initiation may not be as dramatic as the conversion of St. Paul, but you are encountering the same Jesus and are filled with the same Holy Spirit, so that the life of Jesus, with all its joy and all its peace, can flow through you to all the world he loves so much.