HOMILY WEEK 28 06 – Year II
Knowing God, Acknowledging Jesus and Experiencing the Holy Spirit
Memorial of St. Ignatius of Antioch
(Eph 1:15-23; Ps 8; Lk 12:1-7)
Three men were running to catch a subway. One of them accidently knocked over the fruit stand of a young street vendor. Two of the men kept on going, but one stopped to help put up stand. The vendor, who was blind boy, finally asked the man who stopped, “Are you Jesus?”
The gospel today invites us to “acknowledge” Jesus, put our complete faith in him, be ready to witness to him openly, and to believe in the Holy Spirit. St. Paul adds as we come to know Jesus more fully, we will come to know the Father more intimately, and experience God’s power working in our lives.
In one of his writings, St. Paul states “the Father was pleased to reveal his Son Jesus to him.” In the movie Paul – Apostle of Christ, St. Luke claims the reason Paul went to Arabia for three years after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus was to have his “three years with the Lord,” because that was the experience of the other apostles. That statement resonated with me, because that is precisely what I think I would have needed to do if what happened to Paul happened to me.
Paul was a zealous Jew, a Pharisee educated under Gamaliel, one of the leading rabbis of his day. He was totally convinced God was YHWH, totally other, all powerful, needing the sacrificial system of the Temple religion as worship worthy of an omnipotent God and creator. And now suddenly, in a flash of blinding light holding within it a voice claiming to be persecuted by Paul, his whole worldview and belief system was dramatically transformed.
God was now the Father of this Jesus whom he was persecuting; Jesus was no longer a misguided traitor but both the long-awaited Messiah and Risen Lord, and Paul would learn both Father and Son were bonded together in love by the Holy Spirit. It makes sense it would take Paul three years to sort all that out, to integrate this new belief system into his life, and above all, to take in the awesome love of God as fully and freely given forgiveness for all the harm Paul had done. But once Paul “got it,” once he knew who God really was, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, an eternal sharing of love, a divine dance or perichoresis, he never stopped acknowledging Jesus as Lord.
Hopefully, what Paul says of the Ephesians also applies to us – our faith in Jesus Christ is like theirs; because of him we are striving to love others and accept them as they are, and we are becoming more and more aware of God’s power working within us, especially through forgiveness and healing. The Jesus Paul encountered on the road is the Messiah who came with a two-fold mission – to redeem and to sanctify, to forgive and to heal.
If we really want to know the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and experience the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, then we need to do what Jesus initially preached – repent of all our sins, receive his forgiveness and place our faith in him. But as the saying goes, “that is only the half of it” – there is more – healing. Jesus also wants to heal us of our sinfulness, that which makes us sin, our painful emotions and deeply-rooted defects of character and negative attitudes. And this Jesus does by filling us up with the gifts of the Holy Spirit – forgiveness, peace, joy, understanding, patience, wisdom, courage, knowledge, prudence and awe. Especially when we know how truly loved we are, and filled with peace and joy, there will be no room in our lives and personalities for all those negative attitudes bothering us for so long. We will truly be free.
In the gospel, Jesus adds two caveats – we are not to be afraid of acknowledging him before others, and we are to believe in the Holy Spirit as the agent of forgiveness.
In our more and more post-Christian and secular society seemingly losing all sense of basic values, objective truth and morality, acknowledging Jesus is becoming more and more of a challenge, yet conversely, more and more a necessity, and an opportunity to test our faith. How tragic it is when a school principal in the States can decide without informing parents the washrooms in the school would be gender-neutral, leading to a 5-year old kinder-garden girl being sexually molested by a class mate who claimed he had a right to go into that washroom. What is even more deplorable is the school seems to have ignored the complaint of the mother, and even questioned her credibility as a parent. Holding to Christian values of respect for our human sexuality has never been more urgent, and a prime way of acknowledging Jesus.
Regarding the second caveat, if the Holy Spirit is the agent of forgiveness, and she is, then when one does not believe in the Holy Spirit, one might find one’s self resisting the very power making it possible for us to forgive others, as well as seek forgiveness from others for ourselves. That is why Jesus states in the gospel “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” God is forgiveness and never stops forgiving. The problem is we lose our faith in the Holy Spirit and in forgiveness, leading us into carrying a burden of resentment instead of the peace and joy of the Spirit.
Today the Church honors St. Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr. Ignatius is believed to have been a convert to Christianity and a disciple of John the Evangelist. Bishop of Antioch for 40 years, he was arrested during the persecution under Trajan, condemned for confessing Christ and taken in chains to Rome. The ship in which he was sent travelled along the coast of Asia Minor and at every port crowds of Christians would greet him. While on his journey to his death, Ignatius dictated seven letters on the Church, now counted among the treasures of early Christianity. Ignatius arrived in Rome about the year 107 and was taken directly to the amphitheater, where lions devoured him.
Here is an excerpt from one of his letters, demonstrating his unflagging faith in Jesus Christ: “I am writing to all the churches to let it be known that I will gladly die for God if only you do not stand in my way. I plead with you: show me no untimely kindness. Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread. Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God.”
The Eucharist that sustained Paul through all his trials as well as St. Ignatius of Antioch, makes present the unconditional love of Jesus Christ for us through Word and Sacrament.
May our celebration deepen our knowledge of God, empower us to witness to Jesus, and fill us with the transformative gifts of the Holy Spirit.