One more bit from Acts of the Apostles and we’ll move on. I need volunteers. I need… a mother! That’s you! And if I need a mother…you need a father! Yes, you, sitting right next to mom. And this [I put my plastic fetus on mom’s desk] is your little girl. But it’s not born yet! Well, pretend she’s been born and she’s bigger. It looks weird. She looks just like you did when you weren’t born yet, so stop whining. How old are you? 12. Then pretend it’s your 12-year-old-daughter. And I need a St. Paul…yes, come on up here. Now, mom & dad, your daughter is deathly sick. But look, who’s in town? St. Paul? Yes. St. Paul, show the rest of the class your preaching skills, but silently…that’s it, bring them the Good News. Parents, what are you going to do about your dear, sick little girl- stay home and pray? No, we’re going to take her to St. Paul so he can lay hands on her! Great plan parents, but your daughter is so near death you don’t dare move her. Here you go mom, one of your dishrags [an old rag from my house] from the kitchen, don’t argue! But what is– be patient, mom! Father, your wife has to stay home with your daughter, but she’s giving you the dishrag…go on, hand it over. Father, what are you gonna do? Mmm…take it to Paul? Well, go on, time’s a wastin’. St. Paul, here comes the sick girl’s daddy [Paul takes the rag, wads it up in his hands a few times and hands it back]. What now, dad? [He goes back home and gives it to the mother] Well, mom? [She covers the baby with the rag] Somebody tell me what happens? The baby gets better! Yes indeed she does! Why? ‘Cause the rag had touched Paul! Yes! Acts says, “God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” By the way, back in the Book of Exodus, how’d the Israelites get water in the desert? Moses hit the rock with a stick! How’d Jesus heal the blind man? Put mud on his eyes! How’d the old woman with the bleeding problem get healed? She touched Jesus’s clothes! Yes, a tassel, the littlest piece of his cloak. How do we get sins washed away? With water! How do we eat Jesus? Bread and wine! Yes, when they become…body’n’blood! Yes; is any of this stuff magic? No! God’s power goes through the stuff, because we are made of a…bodynsoul, yes, so even today Jesus still comes to us spiritually, and…physically! Yes.
Now tell me about this rag, which is not a magic rag. Do you think it might heal someone else later on? I guess so. Sure, there’s no rule that says God’s power is exhausted with that one healing; who knows, maybe people’s faith could keep it charged up like a holy battery. [Out comes the chicken bone] It might work like Elisha’s bones, which did what? Make that man come back to life when they threw him on the bones. Yes, and even though Elisha had been dead for a good while, nothing but bones, God’s healing still went through his dead body parts. That’s why Catholics respect the bodies of saints; or even parts of their bodies, like this bone.
That’s it for Acts of the Apostles. But let’s recall how Paul would come to a new town, and set up a new church. I’m Paul, y’all are the congregation of new Christians; some Jews, some Gentiles. OK y’all, I have to bring the Gospel to another town now; goodbye, flock! Is there anything missing? You have to lay hands on somebody! Yes. Can y’all recommend anyone? Him. OK, let’s see, your name is… Timothy! [I lay hands on Timothy] Timothy, I give you my authority to shepherd this flock, and pray that you be strengthened by the Holy Spirit. ‘Bye now, I’ll probably never see y’all again.
Things may go fine for a while for Bishop Timothy, but problems will will likely arise. The Jewish Christians might insist that the Gentiles quit eating pork. Or some Gentiles might want to sacrifice an animal to Zeus every now and then just to be on the safe side. Or they might disagree about keeping the Sabbath on Sunday, in honor of Easter, instead of Saturday. Timothy, do you want to figure this stuff out on your own? No! So what’s the fix? Can you come back? No, sorry, I’m far across the sea. Flock, how can I give Timothy some guidance? Well…could you write him a letter? Yes, geniuses, that’s exactly what Paul did! In fact, St. Paul wrote two letters to Timothy, called the First and Second letters to…Timothy. Yeah…another gimme.
The Greek word for letter is epistoli [on the board] (επιστολή, fyi); what is it in English? Epistle. Yes. Let’s look briefly at the Epistles, which follow Acts in the New Testament. Paul wrote most of the Epistles because he set up so many new congregations which then needed his instruction. But other apostles wrote letters, too, such as Peter and James. Let’s look at a few things in the Epistles before we move on; we’ll see more of the Epistles when we learn about the Mass in a couple of weeks.
To start, here’s a short bit I like from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” The part I like is the “cloud of witnesses.” What’s a witness? Someone who sees what happens? Yes, and if the witnesses are in a cloud, what are they? People flying? No, it’s more like when a cloud took Jesus to Heaven…what sort of witnesses would be on those clouds? Oh…angels? Yes, and…saints! Yes. I like this passage because it reminds me that we’re never alone [I look around the room at the top of the walls]; we’re surrounded by these cloud-witnesses..hey y’all, how ya doin’? That’s funny. Hey, I’m serious, they’re here. The angels & saints love us and want us to get to heaven, too. That’s why you have a guardian angel, and should have a patron saint by the time you’re confirmed. They want to help you “run the race.” Anyway, I especially think about the cloud of witnesses at Mass. Remembering the statues in church, what witnesses in particular might be with us at Mass? Mary? Yes, and? Joseph? Yes, and? Angels. Yes. A priest was ordained at church a few years ago, and I imagined all the saints packing the church that day. What a cloud of witnesses that was. By the way, where do you usually hear about witnesses? When people have a jury? Yes, in court. Sometimes guilty people don’t want a witness to testify, and the witness may be murdered if they won’t keep quiet. The Greek word for witness is martyr [on the board]. Why do we call some saints martyrs? ‘Cause they were killed? Yes. Martyrs, God’s witnesses, were, and still are, being killed because they won’t keep quiet about Jesus. You mean like today? Yes, even today Christian witnesses are martyred for their faith.
Now I need someone to tell me what Jesus taught about the hungry and the naked and the sick and so forth. We have to give them clothes! Yes, clothe the hungry, and- no, feed the hungry! Oh, OK, and...clothe the naked. Yes, and…visit sick people. Yes. That’s because Jesus doesn’t just care about what you believe, but also…what you do! Yes, your works. And in the Epistle St. James wrote, he says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is it? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” St. James means we have to act…in…faith! Yes. He goes on: ” Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar?” Tell me about it. God had to make sure Abraham believed in him. Yes, and how did God make sure? He let Abraham almost kill Isaac. Yes. And finally James writes, “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead.” So we can’t say “la-la-la, I believe in Jesus” and do nothing; we have to act…in faith. Yes.
Speaking of body and soul separating, tell me about that bit in Isaiah when the angel put the burning coal on Isaiah’s unclean lips? It cleaned his lips! Yes, so he…could…say good things! Yes, so he could speak for God. What do we call it when something’s burned ’til it’s clean and pure? Purgatory! Close…it’s called purging, but that’s where the word Purgatory comes from. The angel told Isaiah, “see, your lips are purged.” Now let’s look at something Paul wrote about burning away the bad in order to save the good. It’s in the first epistle he wrote to the flock in Corinth, Greece, who were…Corinthians? Yes. It’s from First Corinthians. Paul says that each one of us is a part of the spiritual building of the Church; and that the building’s foundation is Jesus.
Paul writes, “Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw…each man’s work will be made known…” So Paul is comparing our work, what we do, to different stuff, like so [on the board]:
The best work is…at the top, yes, and the junk, the sins…at the bottom. Yes. Paul says our works “will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” Starting at the bottom, tell me what to erase…straw, hay and wood!…yes, when our works are tested by fire. And what doesn’t burn up? The good stuff. Yes, the good things we do. Paul writes, “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” So the bad things we do will get burned off, and we’ll be saved “as through fire.” What happens to saved people? They go to Heaven? Yes. So what’s the place where we have our sins burned away and we’re saved through fire? Purgatory? Yes. But it’s not physical fire: where are our bodies if our souls are in Purgatory? In the ground! Yes! So Purgatory’s only a spiritual purging, which might still be painful.
Hey, if your body and soul are separated at death, what eventually has to happen? They get put back together again? Yes. The last book in the Bible, the Book of Revelations, talks about that. We’ll learn about that book next week. Yes? Is next week the end of class? No, we’ll still have 3 classes on the Mass; your suffering doesn’t end until the last week of April.
Praised be Jesus Christ!
Now and Forever!