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Summary: Like Barnabas, we can be sons and daughters of encouragement if we see and make real the connection between Word and Sacrament.

Feast of St Barnabas 2012

Verbum Domini

This annual celebration of one of the early Church’s lynchpins, St. Barnabas, brings to mind first of all the meaning of his Hebrew name: Bar-nabas, son of encouragement. (Acts 4:36) When you use that idiom about somebody, it’s like saying, “this is your defining trait.” Thus James and John were called “sons of thunder,” because of their tendency to rain curses on those that rejected Jesus. We first meet Barnabas when he is encouraging the poor of the Jerusalem church by selling a field and bringing the money to the church as a gift for the poor. We see him encouraging Paul when everybody suspected him as a Jewish spy, and introducing Paul to the Church, endorsing his mission. And here we see him in this half-Jewish, half-Gentile community of Antioch, encouraging them and bringing them together around the teaching of Paul, to such an extent that from this community, Paul and Barnabas could begin their first missionary journey into Asia Minor. The pattern for these foundation visits to new areas was established in today’s Gospel. Preaching and sacred action–mostly healing–went together. The proclamation of the kingdom of God through the Word was intimately connected with the action of the Word of God, which we can call sacramental action because it makes the effective power of the Holy Spirit physically present to those touched by God’s Word.

The Synod and the Holy Father insist on the vital connection between the proclamation of the Word and the sacramental celebration, especially in the Eucharist. The central act of our redemption is the Paschal mystery, which we affirm weekly in the Profession of Faith. Be careful to note that we say “For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” The sacred action is closely connected with the Word of God that promised and brought about that sacred action. The Constitution on the Liturgy says, “By recalling in this way the mysteries of redemption, the Church opens up to the faithful the riches of the saving actions and the merits of her Lord, and makes them present to all times, allowing the faithful to enter into contact with them and to be filled with the grace of salvation.” (SC at 102)

Often we are blissfully ignorant of that intimate connection between word and sacrament. Oh, we know that in every sacramental celebration, even in every blessing, we read a passage from Scripture before doing anything else. But recall that the Hebrew dabar, which in Greek is Logos, in Latin is Verbum, and we translate “word,” has a depth of meaning way beyond a sound made by the human mouth. The Word is creative and transformative. It is always connected with a divine action, as we read in Isaiah 55: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” In the liturgical action, we encounter the Word of God as that Word accomplishes what it says. “This is my Body,” Christ–the priest acts in his person–says the Word and the Word transforms bread into the Living Bread–his resurrected Body. “This is the Blood of the New Covenant”–and this Word transforms mere wine into his precious blood, which we take and as we do, he transforms us and forgives us all our venial sins.

The Holy Father continues: we think of Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life in the synagogue of Capernaum (cf. Jn 6:22-69), with its underlying comparison between Moses and Jesus, between the one who spoke face to face with God (cf. Ex 33:11) and the one who makes God known (cf. Jn 1:18). Jesus’ discourse on the bread speaks of the gift of God, which Moses obtained for his people with the manna in the desert, which is really the Torah, the life-giving word of God (cf. Ps 119; Pr 9:5). In his own person Jesus brings to fulfilment the ancient image: “The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” … “I am the bread of life” (Jn 6:33-35). Here “the law has become a person. When we encounter Jesus, we feed on the living God himself, so to speak; we truly eat ‘the bread from heaven’” In the discourse at Capernaum, John’s Prologue is brought to a deeper level. There God’s Logos became flesh, but here this flesh becomes “bread” given for the life of the world (cf. Jn 6:51), with an allusion to Jesus’ self-gift in the mystery of the cross, confirmed by the words about his blood being given as drink (cf. Jn 6:53). The mystery of the Eucharist reveals the true manna, the true bread of heaven: it is God’s Logos made flesh, who gave himself up for us in the paschal mystery.

If I may conclude as I began, how much more could we be transformed into sons and daughters of encouragement for a needy world, when we are caught up into this mystery of self-giving.

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