Bishop Ratko Perić recently performed the rite of confirmation at St. James parish in the town of Medjugorje, notorious as a site of so-called apparitions. His visits to the parish to perform the rite of Confirmation are often an occasion for him to remind the people of the town that the Catholic faith does not depend on unreliable claims of visions, but on the revelation Christ entrusted to the Church.
Here is the homily from his most recent visit, in May 2015. I’m impressed with it. As a church musician, I hear confirmation homilies a few times a year and am usually disappointed in them for their disorganization and lack of content. Not so this one.
Medjugorje: Keeping unity in the truth of God
Bishop Perić, 16 May 2015
Homily during confirmation in the parish at Medjugorje
Before us is one of the remarkable proclaimers of the Gospel in the apostolic Church, one of the most notable of apostolic times, St. Apollos of Egypt. A passage from today’s reading tells us about him (Acts 18:23-28).
A Preacher. “Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, well versed in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). St. Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, presents him in this formal way, which notes his two traits: he is eloquent and versed in the Scriptures. He knows how to express himself in words since he knows how to say something and since he knows the Holy Scriptures, which contain divine words. He is an orator by nature, and moreover has completed the necessary philosophical and biblical studies. He speaks both Hebrew and Greek. He is an orator of the first rank. He doesn’t just win over individual intellectuals, but crowds of people rush to hear him. He explains with liveliness, demonstrates with conviction, and concentrates effectively on the Messiah, the Christ, who would be coming, when he did not know that Jesus had already come. There he is at Ephesus, in the Jewish community, every Saturday in the synagogue, in the pulpit. Each time, the faithful are multiplying and grow more enthusiastic about him.
A Biblicist. Versed in the Scriptures, says the sacred author Luke: in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, especially in the Prophets who are difficult to interpret. Apollos is an expert interpreter, eloquent and knowledgeable. He explains old things in a new way, remains faithful to their content, but has recourse to a new way of speaking. Through Apollos’ mouth the Bible speaks, and says everything about Christ who is to come.
To study the Bible is a gift of God, a talent, like every other spiritual talent. If you work on this talent, if you are teachable, if you study and teach others, then you’ll be able to perfect this gift to an enviable degree. The faithful respect a good preacher. They go out of Church, pleased with his message, and shaken and repentant about their moral situation. Dear candidates for confirmation, perhaps God is inviting you too to attend some ecclesiastical school and prepare yourself to announce the Word of God: maybe as a priest or as a religious? Whoever has ears, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to him! Only the courageous respond to the invitation!
A Disciple of John the Baptist. Apollos “had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25). He did not go beyond the baptism and the preaching of John, having been instructed, probably, by some disciple of John. He spoke full of fervor, zealous and magnificent, like John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan. He understands that his preaching also points to Christ, like that of the Baptist. But it is evident that he had not yet encountered the teaching and the sacrifice of Christ, the Spirit of Jesus, and the baptism of fire. Both he and the other Christians of Ephesus (with all due respect to the exceptions) were Christians more according to catechumenal desire than according to the Christian faith. Did it not happen that the Apostle Paul, having crossed the upper country, after Apollos left Corinth, reached Ephesus and found there a group of twelve disciples who “have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” but had received the baptism of John? And “when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came upon them” (Acts 19:1-7) in his seven gifts.
This is an obvious biblical example of the fact that Confirmation was conferred separately from Baptism and that Confirmation was conferred only by the Apostles, while later their successors, the bishops, conferred it.
A Christian. Aquila and Priscilla were also at Ephesus, a husband and wife who had been taught Christianity. Apollos “began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Neither Aquila nor Priscilla could resist the desire to invite him to their house to explain to him more profoundly and accurately “the way of God”, that is, Jesus, martyred and risen, as Way, Truth, and Life, which for Apollos was something absolutely new. It was the first time he had heard anyone speak of this and of Jesus, dead and arisen twenty years before. It is possible that only then was Apollos really baptized: in the name of the Most Holy Trinity.
When Priscilla told him about the Church in Corinth, abundant in the spiritual life, awakened by Paul to unforeseeable heights, Apollos desired to return to Greece: to see the Spirit at work in the pagan world. He could no longer stay at Ephesus.
The faction of Apollos. “When he wished to cross to Achaia [Greece], the brethren encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully confuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:27-28). There he was at Corinth. Every Jewish intellectual, especially a missionary and visionary as Apollos was, wanted to travel to Greece to face the Greek philosophers and his fellow Jews. Paul went there too! So Apollos wants to visit Greece, but does not know anyone in that country. A friendly recommendation would be so helpful to him! Aquila and Priscilla voluntarily offer him a written recommendation to some Christian families at Corinth – divine Providence!
Apollos arrived at Corinth. The Acts tell how Apollos, with his fervent preaching, was most helpful to the brethren at Corinth. The Christians were especially pleased by the fact that Apollos vigorously confuted the Jews, demonstrating publicly, by means of Sacred Scripture – the Psalms and the Prophets – that Jesus of Nazareth, incarnate, dead, risen, and ascended to Heaven, is the true Christ – Messiah. St. Paul will confirm this praise in his Letter: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor 3:6). Perhaps this image of Paul’s, according to which Apollos had “watered”, says in the best way how this disciple of Christ preached: as if someone were watering, with a full bucket, a vineyard, fig trees, or tomatoes.
Some faithful at Corinth, superficially enthusiastic about the wise preaching of Apollos, started to set one apostle against another. Thus certain groups of faithful said they were “of Apollos”, others “of Paul”, a third group, “of Peter”, and a fourth group, even, “of Christ”. Four parties with their slogans and flags, with their apostles leading and with Christ the Lord. Some didn’t know which “party” they belonged to at all. They only knew that in the Church of Corinth a factional schism has torn the seamless garment of Christ. Probably there were not even fifty of them, and look at the chaos! This fact profoundly struck Apollos, and he, saddened, left Corinth for Ephesus, never to return to Greece.
Among us human beings disputes are easily born. And the wounds leave a mark. The man of God will seek to make peace and not stir up conflict. And all in truth and in charity. Truth must unite everyone, while lies and injustice make us quarrel and divide.
Collaborators of God. Paul describes the partisanship at Corinth in a very dramatic way. “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each” (1 Cor 3:5). Paul does not scorn the labor of God’s workers, especially not that of Apollos. God is in all and above all. He has given the apostles the ability to be ministers, but only ministers and not proprietors of human souls. And they must be respected as ministers and collaborators. “So let no one boast of men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas [Peter] or the world or life or death or the present or the future, all are yours; and you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor 3:21-23). A magnificent gradation of work, of growth, and of joyful life in God.
Still, after the great Paul’s attempts at friendly persuasion, Apollos did not want to return to Greece, in order not to get involved in some “party”, least of all his “own”! He was afraid of factionalism and even worse disorder. He declined Paul’s fraternal offer with respect (1 Cor 16:12). He knew that there were hotheads, on fire with fanaticism, who did not accept any reason or proof. When they claim to be “charismatics” and collect a group of “charismatic” followers around themselves, there’s no apostle who can lead them back to reason! They would abuse Apollos and oppose Paul all the more. In such a case, he deemed it wiser not to return, but left everything to divine Providence and to time which heals all wounds. Thus he remained a friend of Paul and an admirer of the Corinthians.
And he makes us see that the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace is more important than any personal talent, more than untamable charisms, more than locutions in unknown tongues, more than falling on the ground, more than messages twice a month and more than tenfold secrets. Our faith is based on the foundation of the Bible and Tradition, interpreted by the living Magisterium of the Church, and not on private visions that are all the more inauthentic, the more they claim to appear three times a day.
Conclusion. The apostolic preacher Apollos, from this short biblical passage, appears to us first, as a faithful Jew, and sufficiently open to the Greek and Roman world: a great soul! Second, as able to interpret Sacred Scripture, versed in philosophy, expert in rhetoric: a great intellect! Third, he has set all his talents in the service of discipleship: first of the Baptist, then of Christ: a distinguished disciple, a student of his times! Fourth, he was not culpable for the divisions at Corinth; he knew wisely how to make peace for a community threatened by dissension: an eminent teacher! Fifth, God gave His Spirit to Apollos, who obeyed Him, because he had all seven of the gifts in fullness and abundance, when he collaborated earnestly with every gift.
[This is my translation into English from an Italian text published on the website of the diocese of Mostar. Updated May 27, 2015. Scripture quotations in English are taken from the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition. Thanks to biblegateway.com for making it available.]