Sunday, April 25, 2004

What Kind of Example Are You Getting? What Kind of Example Are You Giving?

(Third Sunday of Easter (C): This homily was given on April 25, 2004 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Acts 5: 27-32; 40-41.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday of Easter 2004]

What kind of example are you getting?

What kind of example are you giving?

The first question is primarily for the young people; the second is primarily for the adults.

In the early Church, the people of God were given an almost perfect example of faithful living by Peter, James, John and the other apostles. This is clear from today’s first reading, taken from the Book of Acts, chapter 5. Obviously, the events described here are best understood in their proper context. The setting is the city of Jerusalem, after Pentecost. The Holy Spirit had already descended upon these men in the upper room, and since that time they had been preaching about the risen Christ to all who would listen. They had also performed a number of miracles in the Lord’s name, and driven out many demons. This, of course, did not make them very popular with the Jewish religious authorities. Consequently, they were arrested and brought before the high priest, who chastised them and said, “We gave you strict orders . . . to stop teaching in that name [i.e., in the name of Jesus]. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

To which Peter and the other apostles gave a clear and uncompromising response: “We must obey God rather than men.”

We must obey God rather than men.

And that’s exactly what they did—until they died. And, lest we forget, most of them died as martyrs.

Young people in the early Church received that kind of bold, that kind of courageous example from Peter and John and their companions. They were blessed!

What are young people in today’s Church receiving?

Well, from our Holy Father, thankfully, they’ve received an example of 25 years of faithfulness and self-sacrifice; one that I would say is on par with the example given by the 12 apostles.

And this is certainly one of the biggest reasons why John Paul II has been so incredibly popular with youth! It’s why he consistently draws millions to his World Youth Days! Young people deeply respect this man, because they sense that he doesn’t just talk the talk, he also walks the walk.

From some priests and religious, today’s youth have also received a good example to emulate. But from others, sad to say, they have not. The scandals of recent years are a tragic reminder of that fact.

In popular culture, it’s obvious that good witnesses to Christ are—at best—few and far between. Some, like Mel Gibson and Charlton Heston, make an effort to take their faith seriously. But for every celebrity in that category, you have 1,001 others who are living a pagan lifestyle and who are proud of it!

In the political world, our young people get messages about Christ and Christianity that are even more confusing. Senator John Kerry, as some of us know, is fast becoming the poster-boy for this problem. Every chance he gets, he proclaims himself a “good Catholic,” and yet he publicly supports almost everything the Church opposes: abortion (including partial-birth abortion), embryonic stem-cell research, homosexual civil unions—and on and on the list goes. And he refuses to tell the Catholics in this country whether or not his present marriage is valid in the eyes of the Church!

The apostles said, “We must obey God rather than men.” Unfortunately, from many politicians, celebrities and members of the clergy, young people today are getting exactly the opposite message.

But, even more tragically, they’re often getting the message that they should obey men rather than God in their own homes, from members of their own families!

When parents, for instance, say to their children, “We’re Catholic,” but then add, “Although we don’t believe everything the Church teaches”—what kind of example is that?

When parents say they’re Catholic, but then put their daughters on birth control or take them for an abortion, what kind of example is that?

When they take their children on vacation, and don’t make the effort to find a Catholic Church on Sunday morning or Saturday evening, what kind of example is that?

When parents say to their children, “We’re Catholic,” but then talk and behave just like their pagan neighbors do (in the St. Pius X parking lot and other such places), what kind of example is that?

While we’re on the subject of personal behavior, I have to share this story. Last week I was out to dinner with some friends from another parish, and a certain person’s name came up in casual conversation. At that point, one of the men at table spoke up and said, “He’s the quarterback. He’s the quarterback on the All-Hate Team.”
I said, “The All-Hate Team? What, in heaven’s name, is that?”

He answered, “It’s like what they have in football, Fr. Ray. In pro football, as you know, they have the All-Pro Team, and in recent years they’ve added the All-Madden Team. Well, some of my friends and I decided to put together what we refer to as the ‘All Hate Team.’ This is made up of the many people we know who seem to hate everyone else! They never have anything good to say about anybody, and it’s terribly disturbing. Now, please don’t misunderstand: it’s not easy to get on this team, but sad to say we know more than enough individuals who qualify!”

Now, part of me wanted to burst out in hysterics when I heard all this, but another part of me wanted to cry, because I know that many of those on this “team,” are Catholic! Can you imagine what kind of example they’re giving to their children and, in some cases, to their grandchildren?

Let me conclude today with a final word to the young people and a final word to the adults. First of all, to the youth here present: Make sure you read the Bible and become familiar with the lives of the saints. That is so important! Because in doing this, you will become familiar with good Christian role models—good examples of faith—that you can emulate in your lives. And remember to pray every day for your parents and the other adults you know. Ask God to make them faithful, obedient disciples of his Son—and then thank the Lord whenever they act that way and set a good example for you to follow.

And finally, to the adults: Pray for the grace to be like the apostles we heard about in today’s first reading: the grace to be faithful, the grace to obey God rather than men, the grace to be the best examples of faith that you can possibly be. And, as you strive for those goals, please make every effort to stay off the All-Hate team!