Sunday Word

Easy to forget

Father Ben Berinti
Acts 15:1-2, 22-29; Ps 67:2-3,5-6,8; Rv 21:10-14, 22-23; Jn 14:23-29

As much schooling as I have had—all the tests I have taken; all the reports I’ve delivered; all the quizzes that have been popped on me—I’ve never been much good at answering questions on Jeopardy! Yet, despite my shortcomings, I am always intrigued by trick questions—so I’d like to pose a somewhat simple one:

What do the following things have in common: doing the ironing; taking out the trash; saying “thank you” and “please”; wedding anniversary dates; and dental flossing?

Answer…they are all things we seem genetically predisposed to forget! Of course, if we started making our own personal inventories of things each of us seem to forget, we’d most likely have the makings of some rather long lists!

“Forgetting” is a perpetually perplexing human problem—and the implications of forgetting stretch far beyond such benign concerns as flossing, garbage, or even regular lapses of politeness.  Forgetting is the beginning of the breakdown of so many of our relationships—including our relationship with God and Jesus Christ.

Knowing how serious, pervasive and damaging a problem forgetting can be, our good and gracious God provides for us the means by which we can remember who we truly are, who we are called to be, and where our lives are directed.

After bestowing on his disciples the magnificent gift of peace, the resurrected Jesus offers them the promise of a potent, powerful force to guide and sustain them in his physical absence—he offers them the Advocate, the Holy Spirit.

And listen to what he says this Holy Spirit will do for us: “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have told you.”  Jesus knew his own apostles and disciples had a penchant for forgetting—and doing so very quickly—and Jesus knows it is our challenge as well.

The first followers of the new way of life in Christ already forgot that God’s love and welcome know no boundaries, and so they struggled with whether or not to accept the “outsiders,” the Gentiles.  With the grace of the Holy Spirit, the apostles and elders remembered God’s openness and practiced it themselves by laying no heavy burdens upon the now-welcomed Gentiles.

We forget that there is not merely one path to God, so we fan the flames of our prejudices and narrowness. But then we hear the Book of Revelation today, the Word of God speaking to us through the grace of the Holy Spirit, and we are reminded by John’s vision that God’s Holy City, the abode of God has numerous gates through which people may enter—not only one way, one gate.

Indeed, one of the most awesome gifts of the Holy Spirit is the grace to remember—to remember the truth of who we are, to whom we belong, with whom we are called to be in relationship, and for whom we are to care most deeply.

Despite our frequent forgetfulness when it comes to taking out the trash, flossing every day, or missing opportunities to express gratitude—there are matters in life far more worthy of our attention—far more in need of the gift and grace of the Advocate sent by Jesus.

Be alert this week, for I am certain the Holy Spirit is most likely trying to help each of us remember something vital to our life!

How long does new last?

Father Ben Berinti
Saturday, May 18
Acts 13:44-52; Ps 98:1-4; Jn 14:7-14

It seems that every time we turn around, someone is throwing something “new” at us—electronic devices, self-help formulae, fortified cereals, wonder diets, leafy-vegetables-of-the-moment, entertainment options, prescription drugs—and so much more. So, it keeps occurring to me, how long does “new” actually last?” When is something purported to be “new”—and all that comes with being new and what we associate with newness—no longer new? When does newness cease and oldness begin? At what point does new-and-improved slip into old-and-get-rid-of-it?

I suppose in our day and age—something, or for that matter, even someone new doesn’t last much beyond getting the thing or the person home! We live in a culture where we are led to believe that new is better than anything—and since we know that new wears out with incredible speed—we just have to keep shoving more and more new stuff in front of people.

This seems to me to be a real dilemma when faced with the Easter scriptures for this Sunday, passages that are filled with lots of talk about “new”—and consequently, the “old” passing away.
Paul & Barnabas, those incredibly revolutionary spiritual leaders, continue their extensive missionary travels, spreading the gospel of the new way of life ushered in with the death and resurrection of Jesus. They boldly assert that God has opened centuries-old sealed doors to the Gentiles, as well as to anyone else long considered outsiders.

John’s mesmerizing vision of the Book of Revelation keeps speaking about the awesome promise of “a new heaven and a new earth,” and the voice from the throne cries out, “Behold, I make all things new!”

And then Jesus, in a discourse which is spoken during the Last Supper, hours before his brutal torture and crucifixion, tells his confused and frightened apostles—something new is about to happen—and I leave you a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” He insists that it is by their faithfulness to acting on this commandment alone that people will know them as his disciples.

So, how long does “new” last? If we listen only to all those booming voices calling out from their “thrones” in our culture, I suppose anything that wasn’t acquired within the last couple of days is most likely old and outdated—meant to be cast off to the side.

But for God, whose voice is trying to penetrate all the false and mistaken messages we receive, newness lasts forever. Doing something new is a regular part of God’s on-going creative power and love.
So, how long does “new” last?” Depends upon whom you ask, or more importantly, to whom you listen!

Father Berinti, Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood, is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Melbourne Beach.

A mighty grasp

Father Ben Berinti
Acts 13:14, 43-52; Ps 100:1-2, 3, 5; Rv 7:9, 14b-17; Jn 10:27-30

The very first thing I ever noticed about him was the size of his hands! Although now well into his 80s, I could tell, looking at those large paws, that this man was never one to shirk hard work in his life. From the first time he ever grabbed my hand, to welcome me as the new pastor of the parish, and I felt that vice-like grip, I knew that this guy didn’t mess around. I imagined that whatever he laid his hands and heart to in this life, he did so with power, commitment, and relentless strength. And it is precisely these qualities I felt the last time I gripped his hand, or better to say, he clutched mine, as he briefly opened his eyes and recognized me from his sick bed, in the final stages of making his journey home to God. Once he knew it was I, he squeezed my hand firmly and resolutely, not so much wanting to cling to this side of life, but more, I sensed out of receiving and offering strength. Eventually, I had to pry my hand from his so that I could use it to bathe his forehead and those hands of stone one last time with the Oil of the Sick.

I think of that mighty grasp, and offer this image, as I contemplate the power of our Sunday Word. Celebrating this sacred moment, as I recall it now, I am certain that I tasted just a piece, a fragment, a morsel of what Jesus, the Good Shepherd, speaks to us about our God, through the Evangelist John:

“No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.”

This is the work of our God! It is this firm, unrelenting grasp that enabled Paul and Barnabas to speak boldly of the risen Christ even in the face of jealousy, violent abuse, and persecution. As these two powerhouse witnesses shook the dust from their feet and moved on to those who might embrace rather than conspire against the joy of the Gospel, they knew who held them and would sustain them in every trial and triumph yet to come. 

It is this firm, unrelenting grasp that allowed the great multitude, now standing before the throne of the Lamb, to survive their great distresses. Freed from the corrupt, corrosive, and fickle grasp of the world in which they lived, they are now sheltered and embraced by the strong hand of the one who sits on the throne.

Yet, as we repeatedly hear in this season, Easter is all about witnessing to what we have seen and experienced through the hand of God in our own faith life. And so, as we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and respond “AMEN!” to his invitation to be missionaries, to be sacraments of what we receive and experience in Eucharist—we must hold one another—in imitation of the one who holds us with a depth of love and compassion we can scarcely imagine.

As a people of faith, continuing to unpeel the many layers of Easter, despite all our feeling and thinking to the contrary, let us cling with a mighty grasp to this truth: there is never a moment when we are snatched out of the hand of the Father!

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United States Conference of Catholic Bishops