HOMILY EASTER SEASON – WEEK 07 02
In the Footsteps of St. Paul
(Acts 20:17-27; Ps 68; Jn 17:1-11)
What does it mean to be a model missionary?
St Paul, in today’s readings, is our model. A captive to the Spirit, he spent his life testifying to the Good News of the Lord Jesus.
The first reading provides a concise summary of his ministry: serving the Lord, proclaiming the message, proclaiming repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus, proclaiming the kingdom, and declaring the whole purpose of God.
On top of all that, he was willing to suffer prison and persecution for the sake of spreading this good news.
Sr. Teresita Kambeitz osu went on a pilgrimage “Following the Footsteps of St. Paul” years ago. We are invited to spiritually follow in the footsteps of St. Paul by these readings.
On this journey, a first destination would be to check out the depth of our “repentance towards God.” Have we really “put on our higher minds” (the meaning of “metanoia”), let go of our baser desires, and made thinking, feeling and acting like Jesus the priority in our lives?
The next destination would be to strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God, Risen Lord, Messiah, and in God as his and our Father (and mother). How intimate a relationship do I have with Jesus, and with the Father, through contemplative prayer, seeking to be one with Jesus as he is one with the Father?
Next, to be like St. Paul, how well are we living in the Spirit of the Risen Jesus, attentive to the movement of that Spirit within us, even a “captive of the Spirit?” I remember trying to practice this quality when I would enter into a First Nations community for a day of visiting, and praying to the Spirit to guide me to the right house to begin that day. A few times I was thrown right into the midst of a hot argument a couple in the house were having, thrust into the role of mediator, and left to marvel after how the Spirit made that possible.
Another constant quality of St. Paul was his readiness to suffer and face persecution for the sake of his faith in Jesus. That led to some radical physical hardships for St. Paul, such as torture, deprivation and incarceration. It may not be that radical for us, but are we ready for persecution as it might present itself to us?
I remember a talk I gave at a conference organized by former AFN chief Phil Fontaine in Calgary in which I mentioned the word “forgiveness.” A psychologist angrily confronted me immediately after, almost shouting at me, “How dare you use that word? It does not belong in this process! You are saying that just because you are a Christian!” My response was to tell her that according to my experience, people who don’t at least move towards forgiveness would be angry for the rest of their lives. Her retort was a curt “It’s okay to be angry as long as it doesn’t control you.” I felt sad for her, and for the people she might be working with – here was a professional person who did not believe in forgiveness, and who would not be able to help clients move beyond anger to the serenity of forgiveness. But I felt a little like St. Paul, glad to suffer some abuse for the sake of Christ.
Finally, to be like St. Paul is to proclaim the kingdom of God, the good news of God’s grace, to declare the whole purpose of God, and to share in the eternal life Jesus alone can offer us. In that regard, my motto as a bishop is Regnum Dei Intra Vos– the kingdom of heaven is within you, from Luke 17:21, and that is a motto by which I try to live. These homilies are my attempt to proclaim the good news of God’s grace. When I teach that Jesus came above all to reveal to us the depth of the Father’s love for all humanity and all of creation, a God who on the cross he revealed was humble, mercy, compassion, unconditional love, forgiveness and total non-violence, I feel a bit like St. Paul.
Above all, we are to share in the eternal life that Jesus alone can give us – a life of hope, serenity, enthusiasm, caring and the ability to forgive all hurts and let go of any resentment and addiction, which is worshipping a false God.
The Gospel provides us with glimpse of the content of this Good News, as Jesus, aware of his departure back to the Father, shares intimately with his apostles. His mission was to give eternal life to those who believe in him, and true knowledge of who God is.
For me, the recent gathering of Canadian Catholic School Trustees at their annual convention, at which I was invited to give a talk and conduct a workshop, was an experience of being with brothers and sisters who, each in their own way and collectively, were trying to live out these values so present in today’s readings. Their dedication and commitment to their ministry, to Christian values and to Catholic education, was encouraging and inspiring.
The Eucharist we share in now was what sustained St. Paul in his missionary journeys, and what will nourish and sustain us as we seek to follow in his footsteps.