During the Easter weeks, the liturgy takes us through a reading of the Acts of the Apostles. We see and hear of the effects the coming of the Holy Spirit has on the disciples of Jesus, and the conversion of many more believers. From chapter nine on, the central character in the story is St. Paul. In the midst of a murderous rampage against the newborn Church, Paul comes face to face with Jesus and abruptly collapses to the ground.Paul is transformed from enemy of Jesus to champion of Jesus, called to bring the message of the gospel to the whole world.
Would not such a profound intimacy with Jesus bring Paul a "wonderful life" there after? Let Paul's own words describe the life it brought him.
“… in harder labor, in more imprisonments, in worse beatings, in frequent danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea. In my frequent journeys, I have been in danger from rivers and from bandits, in danger from my countrymen and from the Gentiles, in danger in the city and the country, in danger on the sea and among false brothers, in labor and toil and often without sleep, in hunger and thirst and often without food, in cold and exposure.” 2 Cor. 11:23
That beautiful grace of a personal encounter with Christ, that gift of the grace of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, the gift of Consolation without cause, which can so profoundly change one's life, does not mean the world will not still be the world. There is an old song entitled, "Make the World Go Away ... get it off of my shoulders." But that is not the purpose of the Gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is given to empower us to engage the world in all its brokenness and transform it.
When we say "the world", it is not the natural world we mean, rather the world of man made systems, by which human affairs are conducted. It is this world that has been corrupted by the evil intentions of people, bringing disorder, pain and suffering into God's good creation.
The suffering of good people is the favorite argument used against a loving God. But when the suffering of good and faithful people, experienced in their struggle against the world's corruption, results in a healed and renewed world, it becomes the ultimate evidence of a loving God. "No greater love does one have then to lay down one's life for another." Jo. 15:13
My child, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal. Be sincere of heart, be steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes. Cling to him and do not leave him, so that you may be honoured at the end of your days. Ecclesiasticus / Sirach - Chapter 2:1-3
If one is looking for the "comfortable / conforming life" it is not to be found in authentic Christianity. Christianity is at war in this world. From the moment of Jesus birth the war has been on; the Evil One has sought to destroy Christ and Christianity in every generation since. The nature of the conflict may take on different manifestation in different places of the world but it is on.
In the Middle East, the war looks like war. Christians are openly and violently persecuted and killed. But in Western societies, societies that have in the past been described as Christian, the weapon of choice is "words", words that flow from a secular/scientific world view. It is preached that there is only what you see, that alone is what you get. Through a calm, rational, philosophical and scientific voice, the minds and hearts of a new generation are ripped from the arms of Christ and carried off. It may not look like the violent storm on the sea that tried to swallow up St. Paul, but it is no less violent, no less deadly.
So if the weapon of choice is words, then so be it. But make no mistake, silence is certain death. Our generation has been called to a New Evangelization. Every believer is to be an evangelist. We are to be visible like the church building that stands visible in the neighborhood. But ask yourself, what message does an empty church send to a community?
"Keep your religion to yourself" is the politically correct behavior expected of people today. One does not have to go door to door with bible in hand to be an authentic evangelist. But the principles and values that flow from a Christian conscience, formed by the gospel, in the community of the Church, must never fall silent in any forum, be it social or political.
Therefore I urge you, brothers, on account of God’s MERCY, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. Rom. 12:1
Sunday, 22 May 2016
St. Paul's Shipwreck