The story is told of a rather self-important man who made it his mission to visit the Sunday school classes in his church each week. Often teachers were a little intimidated by him sitting there in silent judgment. One young woman nervously asked him if he would like to speak a few words to the class. Of course he would like to! So he stood in front of the little ones, and he said,
“Why do you suppose people call me a Christian?”
No one answered. Nobody moved.
So he asked again: “Why do you think people call me a Christian?”
Silence! Blank stares.
“Come on!” he said. “Somebody can give me an answer! Why do people call me a Christian?”
And finally one small hand worked its way hesitantly above a young head. He pointed expectantly toward the girl.
“Why do you suppose people call me a Christian?” he asked her.
“Maybe,” she said with a tremor in her voice, “because they don’t really know you!”
I was caught by surprise the other day when I was reading Google News. I just opened headline news, something popped up to inform me that I have read about a certain candidates more than others. It even gave me the percentage of times I read about one candidate comparing to others. I realized that I was being watched. They watched what I read to find out what I am interested in. In studying social Psychology, the very basic question to ask is: “Why do people behave the way they behave?” We watch and observe people’s behaviors in order to understand them and their certain behaviors. We are in the presidential campaign season. If a person is campaigning for a Democrat candidate, for example, we can tell he or she is a democrat. If a person is working for a Republican candidate, we can tell that person is a Republican. We can also look at the images of a donkey and an elephant displayed at a political gathering and know the political party they are affiliated with.
In religion, when we enter a church we can tell whether it is a Catholic church or a protestant church. In the Catholic Church we look for the Tabernacle and other religious symbols, the Crucifix and statutes of Mary and St. Joseph and other patron saints. We can observe the liturgical celebrations and know it is a Catholic congregation or not. What else can we look at in order to find out our Catholic identity? We can look at the sign of unity. Our parish is in communion with the local church, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is in communion with all other dioceses and archdioceses in the world and with the Vatican. Priests are in communion with their bishops; and their bishops are in communion with the Holy Father in Rome. The Holy Father in Rome is the Successor of Peter who is the Vicar of Christ. Catholics and the Catholic Church are in Communion with Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church has preserved the Christian tradition since the time of Christ and the Apostles. And that is the reason we are the Apostolic Catholic Church. We can trace back directly to Jesus Christ and the first Christian community.
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles says, “The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.” This is a picture of the apostolic church. They are one in their faith. They confess their belief in Jesus Christ, “My Lord and my God!” They proclaim one message. That message is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus is risen. Jesus is alive in their life and in the life of their community. They are one in religious, in moral and in material resources. None of them is in need. They have all things in common: faith, witnessing and property.
They are able to unite in one because the risen Christ comes back to strengthen and unite his disciples for a single purpose. That single purpose is to continue his work of saving the world. He wants the world to be saved. He wants his message continues to be proclaimed. Anh his message is, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus gives peace to his disciples, and he wants them to bring his gift of peace to the world. We recall the suffered and painful death that Jesus had to endure. But when he returns from death, he does not go around and look for people who tortured him or executed him. He does not look for Peter and questions his loyalty. He does not chastise his disciples for abandoning him. He does not go into Jerusalem and look for the high priests and their colleague to revenge. Instead, his message to his disciples and to everyone is “Peace Be with you!” Then he sends his disciples to proclaim his message of peace and forgiveness. He gives his disciples and his Church his spirit, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” The Risen Jesus is a peaceful and forgiving Jesus. He is not back to condemn us. He is back to bring peace, harmony and order. And he wants you and me to help him to spread his message of peace and forgiveness.
A student from Korea was complaining about how difficult it is to learn the English language. He felt that American idioms were particularly difficult to comprehend. He said that he had studied English for nine years in preparation for attending the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. On his first day at the school, as he was walking across the campus, an American student casually greeted him with, “Hi, What's the good word?” The Korean boy stopped dead in his tracks. He thought to himself: “I don't know the good word! You would have thought that after nine years of studying English, someone would have told me what “˜the good word' was!”
Later, trying to solve this puzzle, he decided to turn the tables and ask an American, “What's the good word?” and listen to his reply. So, approaching a fellow student, he repeated, “Hi! What's the good word?” The quick response was, “Oh, not much. How about you?” (Brett Blair and King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com).
Obviously neither of these students knew what the good word was. It's a rather plastic greeting. But Jesus is telling us the good word for today is: “Peace be with you!” This is the greeting Jesus uses to greet his disciples after the resurrection. Peace is a most comprehensive word, covering the full realm of relationships in daily life and expressing an ideal state of life. The word suggests the fullness of well-being and harmony untouched by ill fortune. Peace is a blessing and a prayer Jesus wants for his followers here on earth and in eternity. Peace is the message of the angels when Jesus is born in Bethlehem. Jesus is Prince of peace. He brings peace to people of good will. When Jesus returns from his death, his message is also of peace. Obviously, Jesus wants to restore peace for the world. As followers of Christ, you and I are called to be the instruments of Peace in our families, in our community and in this world. Peace be with you!