Father Donald Senior, CP

May 2: Fifth Sunday of Easter

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Love One Another

Acts 9:26-31; Ps 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32; 1 Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8

Several years ago, I was invited by the Spiritan Missionaries to give a series of lectures for their men stationed in the Diocese of Arusha, Tanzania. It was a wonderful adventure for which I will always be grateful. 

During my stay there, Father Christopher, the priest in charge of the mission, drove me to visit a Masai village deep in the hinterland of the diocese. The Masai are among the most traditional tribes in East Africa, and the Spiritans worked a long time to bring the Gospel to them.

Because the dirt roads become impassable during the rainy season, some of the villages, such as the one we were visiting, could be reached by a priest only a few times a year during the dry season.

When we arrived, Father Christopher asked to see Paul, a recent convert and catechumen. To Father Christopher’s amazement, he learned that Paul was off preaching to some of the even more remote villages. 

“I wonder what he is preaching?” was Father Christopher’s question, realizing Paul had only a very rudimentary knowledge of the catechism. I reminded Father Christopher that perhaps this was the consequence of his taking the Christian name of Paul because the apostle Paul, who as we see in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, was as a somewhat impulsive and minimally prepared preacher.

Acts tells us that after Paul had his profound encounter with the risen Christ, he immediately began to proclaim his faith “boldly” in Damascus, so much so that the authorities there went after Paul and he had to escape by being let down in a basket from the city wall.

When this firebrand convert reached Jerusalem, the Christians there were understandably afraid of Paul because of his reputation as one who had fiercely opposed them and hounded them. To the rescue comes Barnabas, one of the most remarkable members of the early Christian community.

At every turn, Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, speaks well of Barnabas. He was born in Cyprus and his original name was Joseph, but apparently the apostles themselves gave him the nickname “Barnabas,” which in Hebrew means “son of encouragement.” This is a quality that seems to have described Barnabas well. 

We first meet him selling his property and giving the proceeds to the community to take care of the poor. In the scene from today’s reading, he intervenes when Paul is threatened and introduces him to the Jerusalem Christians. Eventually to protect Paul (and get him off their hands?), the Jerusalem Christians send him back to his home region of Tarsus, in southern Asia Minor.

Later, it is Barnabas again who will rehabilitate Paul, searching for him in Tarsus and bringing him to the Christian community in Antioch, where Paul, in fact, will be trained for his great mission to the Gentiles.

It was Barnabas again whom the Jerusalem apostles sent to Antioch to make sure the inclusion of Gentiles in the Jewish Christian community in that great city was aboveboard. When Barnabas reported back that the inclusion of the Gentiles there was the work of the Spirit, his judgment was fully accepted by the leaders in Jerusalem.

Not all was sweetness and light, even in the early church. Later we learn that the missionary team of Barnabas, Paul and John Mark breaks up because Paul (with his strong opinions again) has lost confidence in John Mark. To make peace, Barnabas teams up with John Mark and Paul sets out on his missionary journey with Silas.

The reading from 1 John today admonishes, “let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” Barnabas, from all accounts, fits that description. 

One of the realities in today’s world, and in the church itself, are sharp divisions, mutual recriminations and harsh polemics. We need more people in our church and in our communities like Barnabas, daughters and sons of “encouragement.” 

We need people able to speak the truth with love and be effective agents of reconciliation. We need Christians who follow the teaching and example of Jesus himself cited by the author of 1 John: “love one another just as he commanded us.”


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