"Four Aspects of a Blossoming Faith." Sunday, May 17, 2020 homily by Father François Beyrouti, Ph.D./D.Th.
This is the link to Sunday's homily: https://youtu.be/r3IQ-gDp_cs
The full homily and readings are below.
Four Aspects of a Blossoming Faith.
Sunday, May 17, 2020 homily by Father François Beyrouti, Ph.D./D.Th.
Acts of the Apostles 16:16-34, John 9:1-38.
Sunday of the Man Born Blind.
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God bless you,
Father François Beyrouti, Ph.D./D.Th.
Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church
451 West Madison Avenue
Placentia, CA 92870-4537
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It is exciting to see things grow. How happy do you feel when you see flowers bloom, especially ones you planted? The colors on your flowers always seem nicer than most other colors and they definitely smell more fragrant than anything else you have ever smelled. How about a fruit tree you planted? Nothing tastes better than a fruit from a tree you put in the ground with your own hands. When you get a chance to savor the fruit, you enjoy the taste and you also enjoy the feeling that some small thing you planted has grown and produced something big.
However, a plant does not grow by itself, it requires good soil, the right amount of sunlight, enough water, and a lot of care. The elements of our life that grow and mature also require the right environment. Our bodies do not grow without the right nourishment and our personality does not grow if we do not make the right decisions.
The sections from the Acts of the Apostles that we read during the forty-day period after Easter focus on the life and growth of the early Church after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The followers of Jesus miraculously went from fear to exceptional courage as they proclaimed their faith to everyone. This growth took place under a unique environment.
Just like plants and trees only grow with the right amount of water and nourishment so too the faith grew with a very specific kind of nourishment. But what is the nourishment that the early Church received that resulted in such amazing growth? How did a group of scared men and women, who were hiding behind closed doors after Jesus died, end up changing the entire world with their courage and faith?
Four important and interrelated words can summarize the amazing growth of Christianity: Personal, Prayer, Persecution, and Perseverance.
The first word is “personal.” Jesus was very personal with everyone He met. In today’s Gospel, Jesus took a personal interest in the man born blind. Jesus touched him, spoke with him, cared for him, and healed him.
Even after Jesus rose from the dead He maintained a personal relationship with His disciples by appearing to them many times, by spending time with them, and by eating with them. Saint Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles: “To the apostles He presented himself alive after His passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days, and speaking of the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). The personal relationship they had with Jesus convinced them He was real and that His message was real.
The second important aspect of the growth of our faith is “prayer.” We see an example of this in the blind man’s response to Jesus: “He said, ‘Lord, I believe’; and he worshiped him” (John 9:38). In the Acts of the Apostles the early followers of Jesus always gathered to pray. Today’s reading begins: “As we were going to the place of prayer” (Acts 16:16). When they wanted to heal the girl they prayed “in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:18). And when they were thrown in jail we read until midnight “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25).
The third important aspect of the growth of Christianity is “persecution.” We naturally prefer things that are more comfortable. We want a chair that is more comfortable, a car that is more comfortable, a house that is more comfortable, a job that is more comfortable, and we sometimes also want a faith that is more comfortable and convenient. Unfortunately, we overlook that although God is comforting faith in God is not always comfortable, especially when we are standing up for what is right.
The early Church embraced suffering and persecution but often we in our lives fear and run away from all discomfort. In a letter Pope Francis wrote called The Joy of the Gospel he says: “The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism is … the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures and a blunted conscience” (paragraph 2). Isn’t it true that in our society, pleasure and comfort have become more important than sacrifice and self-control? How different this is from how the early Christians lived who felt it was a great blessing when they were expelled from the synagogues, criticized, beaten, put in jail, and even killed.
Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives us an example of persecution against Paul and Silas. “The crowd joined in attacking them; and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.  And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely.  Having received this charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks” (Acts 16:22-24).
The apostles were not afraid of persecution because they focused on witnessing to everything God had done for them not on their personal comfort. In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul says: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
Persecution killed Christians but it did not kill Christianity. Persecution strengthened the faith and the early Church was proud to proclaim: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity.” For three hundred years those who were not Christians but saw Christians being beaten and killed for their faith also became convinced that Jesus was worth following, living for, and yes also dying for.
Today we continue to see the persecution of Christians throughout the world. We also see various kinds of persecution in our daily lives that may not kill the body but attacks our soul. If you believe in Jesus and if you have committed to living the teachings of Jesus you will be criticized even mocked at work, school, and even among your family and friends.
For example, the Christian belief in marriage as a lifetime commitment between one man and one woman is regularly mocked in the press, at universities, and in other settings. Why? Because commitment itself is not highly valued.
A common attitude that is reflected in many songs is that a commitment that lasts more than a day is rare. For example, as one song puts it “I need the kinda love that can outlast the night” (Riley Clemmons, Fighting For Me). Another related theme in songs is not to expect anything more than a one-day commitment. For example, as another popular song puts it: “Are you gonna stay the night? Doesn’t mean we’re bound for life” (“Stay the Night.”).
I recently watched an online presentation by Lindsay Fay, called “Three Things I Wish Every Young Person Knew About the Theology of the Body” (353. tobvirtualconference.com). Lindsay described a conversation she had with one of her female college friends when they were going to a party. After she told her friend her views on the importance of marriage for the more intimate aspects of a relationship, her friend told her, “Why would you buy a car if you haven’t taken it for a test drive?”
Our course this is a common attitude in today’s hook-up culture, the answer to a question like this is rather simple. “I don’t see myself nor the person I’m with as a used car.” Second, “Using another or being used is not how I see myself or others.”
For some, commitment in relationships is seen as some sort of oppression. However, for us as men and women of faith commitment is one of the essential building blocks of our relationship with each other and God. God commits himself to us and human and spiritual maturity is not possible without commitment to each other and to God.
You probably have many examples of people criticizing or excluding you for speaking of or living a very basic aspect of your faith. Today, persecution for our faith comes in various forms. In some countries it may be imprisonment but for us it is in subtler ways. That is why we have to know what we believe, why we believe it, and be ready to defend it.
In addition to a faith that is personal, daily prayer, and a readiness for persecution, the early Christian community also persevered. We see an example of perseverance in both of today’s readings. Perseverance proves that our faith is authentic. If we cannot persevere through difficulties it shows that our faith is not strongly rooted. A farmer perseveres despite periods of drought and we need to persevere in our faith despite any of the daily challenges we face.
Yes, growth is exciting. We can be proud that Christianity is larger than any other religion in the world. We can also be proud that with over 1.2 billion Catholics, we are the largest of all Christian groups, but this growth did not come accidentally. Personal, Prayer, Persecution, and Perseverance; these four words were at the heart of the growth of Christianity and are still the foundations of an authentic faith.
Just as plants only grow under the right conditions, faith is very similar. Our faith can only continue to grow when it is personal with God and those around us, when daily prayer guides every aspect of our life, when persecution does not shake us, and when we persevere despite whatever wind or storm comes our way.
A commitment to these four elements were at the heart of the life of the early Church and need to be at the heart of our daily faith if we want to experience any real personal growth and a blossoming of who we are as men and women of faith.
A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles (16:16-34).
In those days it came to pass that as we the disciples were going to pray; we were met by a girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her masters much profit by her soothsaying. Now, she was following Paul and us, and kept crying out loudly, “These men are servants of the most high God, and they announce to you a way of salvation!” This she did for many days. But Paul could not stand it, so he turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ: get out of her!” And it went out of her that very moment. But seeing that their hope of profit was gone, her masters seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the market-place before the authorities; and bringing them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city. They are Jews, and they advocate practices it is not permitted for us to adopt or observe, since we are Romans.” And the crowd opposed them too, and the magistrates tore off their cloaks and ordered them to be beaten with rods. And after inflicting many blows on them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to keep them under safe guard. And he, receiving this command, consigned them to the inner jail and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight, while Paul and Silas were singing hymns to God, the prisoners listened to them. And suddenly, there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and at once all the doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose. But when the jailer woke up and saw all the doors of the jail open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, thinking the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Do not hurt yourself, for we are all here!” Then calling for a light, he ran in, and trembling with fear, fell at the feet of Paul and Silas. And he let them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved together with your household.” And he spoke to him the word of the Lord, and also to all his household. And he took them at that same hour of the night, and washed their wounds; and he himself was baptized, and all those of his household immediately after. And taking them into his house, he set a table before them, and rejoiced with all his household over his faith in God.
The Holy Gospel According to St. John the Evangelist (John 9:1-38).
At that time as Jesus was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who has sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither has this man sinned nor have his parents, but the works of God were to be made manifest in him. I must do the works of the one who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” When he had said these things, he spat on the ground and made clay with the spittle, and spread the clay over the man’s eyes, and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (which is interpreted ‘sent’).” So, he went away, and washed, and returned seeing. The neighbors therefore and those who had seen earlier that he was blind began saying, “Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is.” But others said, “He only looks like him.” Yet, the man declared, “I am the one.” They therefore asked him, “How were your eyes opened?” He answered and said, “The man who is called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ And I went and washed, and I see.” And they asked him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees. Now, it was a Sabbath on which Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. Again, therefore, the Pharisees asked him: how he received his sight. But he said to them, “He put clay upon my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Therefore, some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner work these signs?” And there was a division among them. Again therefore they said to the blind man, “What do you say of the one who opened your eyes?” But he said, “He is a prophet.” he Jews therefore did not believe of him that he had been blind and had got his sight, until they called the parents of the one who had gained his sight, and questioned them, saying, “Is this your son, of whom you say he was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered them and said, “We know this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we ourselves do not know. Ask him; he is of age, let him speak for himself.” These things his parents said because they feared the Jews. For already the Jews had agreed that if anyone were to confess him to be the Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue. This is why his parents said, “He is of age; question him.” They therefore called a second time the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God! We ourselves know this man is a sinner.” He therefore said, “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.” They therefore asked him again, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, but you did not listen. Why would you hear a second time? Would you also become his disciples?” They heaped abuse on him therefore and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know God spoke to Moses; but as for this man, we do not know where he is from.” In answer the man said to them, “Why herein is the marvel, that you do not know where he is from, and yet he opened my eyes. Now we know God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God, and does his will, him he hears. Not from the beginning of the world has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered and said to him, “You were altogether born in sins, and do you teach us?” And they turned him out. Jesus heard they had turned him out, and when he had found him, said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?” He answered and said, “Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?” And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen him, and he it is who speaks with you.” And he said, “I believe, Lord.” And falling down, he worshiped him.