In our first reading from Acts, Luke tells us that "it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians." What does it mean to be called "Christian?" Obviously there is not enough space here to go into a complete answer to that question. But our Scripture readings point to a few aspects of what it means to be Christian.
One thing that comes to mind is that to be Christian is to be open to God’s transforming love and power in Jesus Christ. We believe that in the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, God transformed a sign of defeat and destruction into the sign of our salvation. In our reading from Acts, many of the disciples scatter after the martyrdom of Steven. And yet, look at what happens! The Good News of Jesus Christ now reaches Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch! God transforms the persecution of the disciples into an opportunity for evangelization!
Another thing about being Christian is that to be Christian is to be a person of hope. We are an Easter people. This is so important in our world today. In the aftermath of the bombing in Boston, and with all the senseless acts of violence in our world, Jesus’ words in our Gospel reading are especially meaningful: "My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand… and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one." It is true that too many people have been taken out of our hands through war and terror and violence. But they have not been taken out of God’s hands! And because of this, our loved ones who have gone before us have not been taken out of our hearts or out of our lives! Death does not cut us off from each other! As Christians, we comfort those who grieve. We work to help build a world where senseless violence will be a thing of the past. And we wait in hope for Jesus to come again and bring the fulfillment of the kingdom of God.
May God give us the grace to live up to the name "Christian."
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is the director of St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.