The Most Important Homily


Even if we or an angel from heaven
should preach to you a gospel
other than the one that we preached to you,
let that one be accursed!
(Gal 1:8)


THEY spent three years at the feet of Jesus, listening carefully to His teaching. When He ascended into Heaven, He left them a “great commission” to “make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20). And then He sent them the “Spirit of truth” to infallibly guide their teaching (Jn 16:13). Hence, the first homily of the Apostles would no doubt be seminal, setting the direction of the entire Church… and world.

So, what did Peter say??


The First Homily

The crowd was already “astounded and bewildered,” since the Apostles had emerged from the upper room speaking in tongues[1]cf. The Gift of Tongues and More on the Gift of Tongues — languages these disciples did not know, yet the foreigners understood. We are not told what was said; but after scoffers began to accuse the Apostles of being drunk, that’s when Peter proclaimed his first homily to the Jews.

After summarizing the events that had taken place, namely the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus and how these fulfilled the Scriptures, the people were “cut to the heart.”[2]Acts 2:37 Now, we have to pause for a moment and reflect on their response. These are the very same Jews that were complicit in some way in the crucifixion of Christ. Why would Peter’s convicting words suddenly pierce their hearts rather than enflame them with rage? There is no other adequate answer other than the power of the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the Word of God.

Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

The most perfect preparation of the evangelizer has no effect without the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit the most convincing dialectic has no power over the heart of man. —POPE ST. PAUL VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 75

Let us not forget this! Even three years at the feet of Jesus — at His very feet! — was not enough. The Holy Spirit was essential to their mission.

That said, Jesus called this third member of the Trinity the “Spirit of truth.” Hence, Peter’s words would also have been impotent had he failed to be obedient to Christ’s command to teach “all that I have commanded you.” And so here it comes, the Great Commission or “gospel” in a nutshell:

They were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?” Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is made to you and to your children and to all those far off, whomever the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:37-39)

That last sentence is key: it tells us that Peter’s proclamation is not only for them but for us, for all generations who are “far off.” Thus, the Gospel message does not change “with the times.” It does not “develop” so as to lose its essence. It does not introduce “novelties” but becomes ever new in each generation because the Word is eternal. It is Jesus, the “Word made flesh.”

Peter then punctuates the message: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” (Acts 2:40)


A Word on the Word: Repent

What does this mean practically for us?

Foremost, we have to recover our faith in the power of God’s Word. So much of religious discourse today is centred on debating, apologetics, and theological chest bumping — that is, winning arguments. The danger is that the central message of the Gospel is getting lost in the flurry of rhetoric — the Word lost in words! On the other hand, political correctness — dancing around the obligations and demands of the Gospel — has reduced the message of the Church in many places to mere platitudes and irrelevant details.

Jesus is demanding, because He wishes our genuine happiness. —POPE JOHN PAUL II, World Youth Day Message for 2005, Vatican City, Aug. 27th, 2004, Zenit

And so I repeat, especially to our dear priests and to my brothers and sisters in ministry: renew your faith in the power of the proclamation of the kerygma…

…the first proclamation must ring out over and over: “Jesus Christ loves you; He gave his life to save you; and now He is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n. 164

Do you know what we are afraid of? The word repent. It seems to me that the Church today is ashamed of this word, afraid we will hurt someone’s feelings… or more likely, afraid that we will be rejected if not persecuted. Yet, it was the very first homily of Jesus!

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matt 4:17)

The word repent is a key that unlocks the door of freedom. For Jesus taught that “everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.” (John 8:34) Therefore, “repent” is another way of saying “be free!” It is a word loaded with power when we proclaim this truth in love! In Peter’s second recorded sermon, he echoes his first:

Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away, and that the Lord may grant you times of refreshment… (Acts 3:19-20)

Repentance is the path to refreshment. And what lies in between these bookends?

If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. (John 15:10-11)

And so, the first homily, already brief, can be summarized: Repent and be converted by keeping Christ’s commandments, and you will experience freedom, refreshment and joy in the Lord. It’s that simple… not always easy, no, but simple.

The Church exists today precisely because the power of this Gospel has liberated and transformed the most hardened of sinners to such a degree that they were willing to die for love of He who died for them. How this generation needs to hear this message proclaimed anew in the power of the Holy Spirit!

Not that Pentecost has ever ceased to be an actuality during the whole history of the Church, but so great are the needs and the perils of the present age, so vast the horizon of mankind drawn towards world coexistence and powerless to achieve it, that there is no salvation for it except in a new outpouring of the gift of God. —POPE ST. PAUL VI, Gaudete in Domino, May 9th, 1975, Sect. VII


Related Reading

Soft on Sin

The Urgency of the Gospel

A Gospel For All



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with Nihil Obstat


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