Although the feast of St. Barnabas wasn’t until June 11, the Northfield Parish dedicated to him observed the occasion a little early, thanks to a visit from Bishop Nelson Perez.
The bishop celebrated the Sunday vigil Mass on June 9. He told the congregation he was offering the Mass for the parish and some special intentions that had been mentioned to him earlier. He also recognized the ordination anniversaries of Father Ralph Wiatrowski, pastor, who observed the 44th anniversary of his ordination this year; Father Joseph Spolny, parochial vicar, who marked 40 years as a priest, and Father Charles Butkowski, parochial vicar, who observed the seventh anniversary of his ordination.
Bishop Perez also thanked Father Spolny for his service to the parish as he concluded his four-year assignment at St. Barnabas. Effective June 12, he became the new parochial vicar at St. Stanislaus Parish in Cleveland. On June 12, St. Barnabas welcomed a new parochial vicar, Father Matt Byrne, who just concluded his assignment at Communion of Saints Parish in Cleveland Heights.
The Mass was the day after the Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the Golden State Warriors in the NBA championship series. “I was at the game,” the bishop said, adding he knelt during the game, to no avail. “But when I was in Philadelphia, the Sixers didn’t win, either,” he quipped.
“Besides, there’s always next year, right? Welcome to Cleveland,” the bishop said, laughing.
He transitioned the focus of his homily to the message of Jesus, explaining that he spent years calling people to him, urging them “to come, come, come.” After the resurrection, Jesus was preparing the disciples to carry on his work.
The bishop said Jesus’ last words on this earth were “‘Go. Spread my word. Salvation depends on you.’ And he wanted them to go out – to go everywhere, with no social media.”
He said the disciples really were an unlikely group to carry on such a task. “There’s no way they would have been chosen today,” he said, noting that they were uneducated and worked in unskilled jobs like fishermen.
“They were quite a bunch – a scared group of limited individuals. One denied Christ, one betrayed him and the rest ran for the hills,” he said, but later, with the Lord’s guidance, they rose to the occasion and did his work, spreading his message throughout the world. “If it wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t be here today at St. Barnabas Church, celebrating this Mass,” the bishop said.
He also reflected on the parish’s patron saint, St. Barnabas. “His name was really Joseph,” the bishop said, noting it was changed to Barnabas after he became a disciple. He went to Antioch to spread the Gospel, followed the disciples and helped them, preaching and teaching with Paul. Eventually, Barnabas was martyred.
The bishop explained that the work of Barnabas, Paul and the other disciples shows us that the Church is not just a place of arrival, but a place of departure.
“We’ve made church a place we go to; we’ve become insulated,” he said, noting that recent popes have urged us to open a window on the world. Pope Paul VI advocated for evangelism, which is what Jesus, the apostles and even St. Barnabas did.
“They knew that Jesus didn’t just want them to go to the synagogue to preach, so they went out all over the world and shared the story and message,” Bishop Perez said. He reflected on his experiences as a teenager when he was able to obtain tickets to events with Pope John Paul II during his visit to New York He credited that experience with helping to ignite his priestly vocation.
“I have met many people who were there; many who heeded his call and followed his example, present company included,” the bishop said.
Pope John Paul II “continued to go, go, go – even into old age,” he said. “He could barely walk or talk, but he didn’t need to because he was the message.”
Now, Bishop Perez said, “Pope Francis is calling us to be missionary disciples.” He said previously those words weren’t used together, “because you were one or the other.” But now, the Church is pushing us back to our roots. “We will only come if we go,” he said, noting that is true in the Mass, as well. “There isn’t much to do after Communion – a prayer, a blessing and the priest tells you to go so you can do your part – to proclaim what you just heard.”
He encouraged the congregation to be more intentional about their faith, challenging them to think about who they spoke to about Jesus. “We talk about many other topics, but what about Jesus?”
“This could be a moment for this parish community to come together and to go. What does it mean to be a missionary disciple? What does it mean here and now?” he asked.
The bishop also praised the parish choir, musicians and others who helped plan the liturgy.
Father Wiatrowski thanked Bishop Perez for helping to make the parish’s patronal saint feast day more meaningful and he invited all to the church hall for a reception after Mass, where they had a chance to meet the bishop and take photos.