We have seven weeks before Ash Wednesday entraps us - six ‘ordinary’ Sundays and one given to the celebration of the PRESENTATION OF THE LORD. This Sunday’s Gospel is taken...
Last week’s reflection made clear references of our inter-dependance
and the fact that the world was waiting for us to become, under the
Spirit, involved in its life and living … as Christians we are not
supposed to be locked away in an ‘upper room’ participating in some
sort of witness protection programme.
This week we join the first two Readings together[ACTS 2: 1 – 11] and 1 CORINTHIANS 12: 3b – 7. 12 – 13]. The
Corinthian reading makes it clear that our faith is linked to some
sort of proclamation – “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the
Holy Spirit.” Then, it points out that “to each is given the
manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
If my faith in Jesus as Lord is real then in some way I have to say
it. However, what I say must be for the common good. It must benefit
the hearer or hearers. Here, then, it must be pointed out that the
efficacy of what I say is in large measure dependant on how I say it.
Peoples’ minds are not arrested, nor are their hearts set alight, by
beating them over the heads with a ten-pound sledgehammer.
So, it is interesting that our first reading records that those who
heard the apostles first public saying noticed that “we hear, each of
us in his own native language.” It followed then that the hearers were
“amazed and wondered.” There are, of course, a number of truths
included in this fact. However, let us reflect on only one aspect:
each listener heard something which spoke to them as an individual.
THE FIRST PREACHING MET INDIVIDUALS WHERE THEY WERE IN THE REALITY OF
THEIR LIFE AND LIVING. This is why they heard them speaking their own
language – each and every one of them. This is the challenge of the
pastor who faces preaching to the same people Sunday after Sunday.
Indeed, it is a formidable task.
However, each one of us has the task of ‘preaching’ within the small
little worlds we live. Remember that, after the Ascension, the Lord
left it to us as we cooperate with the Spirit in our actual lives. As
Caryll Houselander writes in one of her marvellous books, The Reed of
“This dependence of Christ lays a great trust upon us. … We must
carry him in our hearts to wherever he wants to go, and there are many
places to which he may never go unless we take him to them.” It may
well be that our saying and taking (preaching?) will at some stage,
primarily, be confined to our own immediate family and home …. an
aged mother, disabled spouse, or drug-addicted child? In each
circumstance we must speak the individual’s native language …… and
if we have to say something to two or three different individuals we
may well have to become multilingual! This is no easy task. The use of
the ten-pound sledgehammer will be ineffective. The same author quoted
above provides us with sage advice when she writes:
“Everyone knows how terrible it is to come into contact with those
people who have an undisciplined missionary urge, who, having received
some grace, are continually trying to force the same grace on others,
to compel them, not only to be converted but to be converted in the
same way and with precisely the same results as themselves.
” (SHEED & WARD: Pages 60 and 61)
Meet people where they are
– and, believe me, people are at many different stages of their
journey. Today’s Psalm says it all: “how many are your works, Lord!
The earth is full of your creatures.” We are all making the same
pilgrimage but travel by different routes. Yet, all are capable of
proclaiming, under the Spirit, that Jesus is Lord. For us who are
called to say, it must be remembered that there are many different
ways of saying. There is a quote (source unknown to me) which has
enormous value: “only speak about Christ when asked. Live like Christ
so people ask.”
I often wonder how many times a day the words I am sorry are spoken or
expressed in different ways?
WOW! We might need an enormous calculator to ascertain the real
total?! The words might even be expressed by a wave of the hand or a
flash of our car’s hazard lights. In whatever manner I am sorry is
expressed we want to be excused, understood, forgiven – and desire to
move forward in peace, the incident or words forgotten, flushed, and
All of this applies to our sin, failure and limitation.
TODAY’S GOSPEL [JOHN 20: 19 – 23] places before us the Church’s
MINISTRY of, and to, FORGIVENESS. In the general context of this
week’s reflection let us put aside the words power and authority – and
focus on ministry. AND, we all have a share in this ministry. If I
‘retain’ my forgiveness from another then it is retained and I make
that person my victim. This is an authority I do not have, and an
arrogant assumption of illusionary power.
“Live like Christ so people ask.”