Author’s Note: This is the Homily for last week. Unfortunately, I had trouble with my router and could not use the internet for a few days. So here we go!
HOMILY FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Readings: Acts 9:26-31/1 Jn. 3:18-24
Psalm: 22:26-28, 30-32
Gospel: Jn. 15:1-8
I remember as a kid playing a game in school called “Telephone.” Someone would have a simple message and whisper it in the ear of one person and they would whisper it in the ear of the next person until it reached the other end of the room. By the time it got there, though, the message was nowhere near what the message was in the first place. Words would get changed or removed or extra words would be put in just because the person didn’t make out what they heard at first. It was a fun game as a kid and was a good learning tool for critical listening. We all like to hear good stories, and the more we add to them the better they are. In some odd way, when we add something to the story, it is as if we give endorsement of what a person does as showing something that is greater than they are or have shown before.
The art of communication can lift a person to heights unimagined. They can also bring a person down to the depths of the netherworld. The most dangerous form of communication is known by the word gossip. We as a society can gossip on the smallest thing: how a person looks, how they walk, how they talk, how they act, etc. Just the slightest word toward someone can make the difference in another’s eyes if they are the greatest or the least among us all.
Now here comes the hard part. Say, for example, that a person who was not the best person in the world. They have finally realized it and are trying to make amends and turn their life around by helping the same people who they caused so much pain. How would you react? Would you still hold grudges? Would you distrust them? Would you still gossip about them by adding on to the things they had done in the past, making them worse than they actually were? This was the scene in the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The reputation of Paul had preceded him. The disciples in Jerusalem still saw him as Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of Christians. He was a faker; a con artist trying to find the “inner circle” and rid Jerusalem of this group forever.
The gossip of what he had done was going on at a furious pace, and I imagine that a lot of extra embellishment on top of those things that Paul had actually done. If you want to really bury a person’s reputation, don’t just use the facts; be sure to add a bit of sweetener that sounds like something they would do. It took Barnabas, one of their group who later accompanied him in his mission, to proclaim Saul’s conversion. He was now Paul, just a Christian as they were as well as under threat of death as they were. Just as it is today as it was then, being a follower of Christ is not all rainbows and happiness. It is a conversion experience that can require everything from us, including our lives.
Why did Barnabas do it? I think he was being the example of John’s words from the Second Reading today. John admonishes his readers that we should “love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” How do we do that? John says we do that by keeping his commandment: “We should believe in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another as he commanded us.” In John’s Gospel, God prunes the branch from Jesus so that it can bear more fruit. That is all that Barnabas was doing; being that branch that God pruned so that Paul could grow as the fruit of the vine. Barnabas stood up for him by speaking the truth of what he was and what he became and destroying every story that was nothing more than gossip.
Gossip can be just as dangerous as an act of terrorism. Pope Francis last December made that comparison. It creates distrust when speaking badly of someone behind their backs. “It is a kind of terrorism,” he said, “destroying everything.” He made that same point again during Easter Week when he stated that when we gossip, particularly as we leave Mass, the gifts we are given had not been received in the way God wanted. Francis said. “Jesus enters in our hearts and in our flesh so that we may express in our lives the sacrament we received in faith. But if we leave the church gossiping, saying ‘Look at this one, look at that one,’ with a loose tongue, the Mass has not entered into my heart.” Gossip can take us away from God just as fast as any act of sin that we can commit, because it damages the life of another. Francis suggests that if the urge to gossip comes up that we bite our tongues. “You might harm your tongue,” he says, “but you won’t harm your brother or sister.”
Over the next few Sunday’s, churches across America will welcome our youngest into the Church by inviting them to the Table of the Lord in their First Holy Communion. They are the new fruit that comes from our branches. So, it is our responsibility to be the kind of branches from the vine that produces good fruit by being the example that is expected so that they will carry on the faith as they grow older rather than the one that God cuts away and throws into the fire. This day is as much about us as it is about them. Let us recall that day in our lives, remember the joy it brought us, and keep that in our hearts by being the good fruit that, like Paul, brings those around into the comforting arms of God. The phone is ringing; the message is sent; will you be the one who hears it and pass it on as it was passed on to you? With the Grace of God, there is no doubt.
MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND ALL THAT YO DO THIS WEEK
 Cindy Wooden. “Pope Francis: avoid ‘terrorism’ of gossip” in Catholic Herald December 2, 2017 (http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2017/12/02/pope-francis-avoid-terrorism-of-gossip/)
 Junno Arocho Esteves, via Catholic New Service “Leave Mass praising God, not gossiping about other, pope says” in National Catholic Reporter April 4, 2018 (https://www.ncronline.org/news/vatican/francis-chronicles/leave-mass-praising-god-not-gossiping-about-others-pope-says)