Fourth Sunday of Easter
Do any of you recognise, or have been involved with, the sort of behaviour described in Acts 13? ….The women of prominence who were worshipers and the leading men of the city, stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory. So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.*The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit'. (Acts 13:50-52). I certainly have, perhaps not as part of the disturbance but as somebody caught in the middle of religious conflict. It wasn't a good experience and the experience has remained with me, as a reminder that religion does not automatically make us good people, and that claiming we are doing something because it follows God's law or will is not always a true statement! History is littered with religious people's terrible mistakes and sublime arrogance!
We need to be aware of this tendency in ourselves and others particularly when we hear people telling us what God wishes, wants, likes or dislikes! Paul's preaching ministry, a glimpse of which is given in this reading from Acts, met with many obstacles, a lot of which was ingrained jealousy or resistance to change for a variety of reasons including religious obstinacy, by refusing to discern what the Spirit was doing or saying in that moment! I'm as guilty as the rest in this matter, often in my zealous youth, and yes even today, I need to really examine my response to religious matters, because I have been (and still can be) headstrong-and yet there is always an instinct which I can discern as a prompting of the Holy Spirit, that voice of the Shepherd which brings me back to the path of the Gospel!
Is this fanciful? Not if one believes in the Gospel and tries, no matter how difficult it might be, to follow the road of Christ. There are tried and trusted helps, good exegesis of scripture, sound promptings from holy men and women and that still small voice of conscience, where God dialogues with each one of us, John Henry Newman in a letter to the Duke of Norfolk (published in 1875) explains it in this way: "I am using the word 'conscience' in the high sense in which I have already explained it,-not as a fancy or an opinion, but as a dutiful obedience to what claims to be a divine voice, speaking within us; and that this is the view properly to be taken of it, I shall not attempt to prove here, but shall assume it as a first principle."
In all the vicissitudes of faith, in the trials we may find ourselves, and in these troubled times of Church and world, we need to work on understanding our conscience better, for there at the heart of it is the voice and promise of the true shepherd, '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.'(Jn 10:27,28)
From a letter of St Thomas More to his daughter.
"I will not mistrust him, Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear. I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help. And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning. And if he permits me to play Saint Peter further and to fall to the ground and to swear and forswear, may God our Lord in his tender mercy keep me from this, and let me lose if it so happen, and never win thereby! Still, if this should happen, afterward I trust that in his goodness he will look on me with pity as he did upon Saint Peter, and make me stand up again and confess the truth of my conscience afresh and endure here the shame and harm of my own fault. … And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind me troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best."
(From a letter written in prison to his daughter, Margaret. From the English Works of Sir Thomas More, London: 1557, pp. 1454)
Deus Caritas Est
25 December 2005
"Faith, hope and charity go together. Hope is practised through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God's mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness. Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love! It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts into the sure hope that God holds the world in his hands and that, as the dramatic imagery of the end of the Book of Revelation points out, in spite of all darkness he ultimately triumphs in glory. Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light-and in the end, the only light-that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practise it because we are created in the image of God. To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world-this is the invitation I would like to extend with the present Encyclical".(58)
Fr Robin is an Eastern Rite Catholic Chaplain for Melkites in the UK. He is also an Ecumenical Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.
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