MANY PATHS ONE MISSION
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Acts 28:16-20.30-31; Ps 11:4-5,7; John 21:20-25 ]
Today is the last day of the Easter Season. Tomorrow, we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. With this in mind, the Church also concludes the selection of the scripture readings from Acts of the Apostles and that of St John’s gospel. In the first reading, we have the conclusion of Acts with the arrival of St Paul in Rome. It sums up St Luke’s gospel that the Good News will be spread to the ends of the earth. It fulfills Jesus’ command, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Rome, which was in the West, was considered the other end of the world. St John also concluded the gospel by saying, “There are many things that Jesus did; if all were written down, the world itself, I suppose, would not hold all the books that would have to be written.”
In one sense, their hopes have been fulfilled but the point of arrival is also the point of departure for us as Church. A new mission has just begun. The end of the Easter season means the beginning of a worldwide mission for the gospel to proclaim to all of creation. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, bestowing gifts on the disciples, would send them out to be His witnesses. The gospel started by the early Church is not yet completed. Hence, the Acts of the Apostles and the gospel ended with a tone of incompleteness. The story continues in the Church. Each one of us in our own way is now called to complete the mission began by the Lord and continued in the disciples.
How should we undertake this mission of proclaiming the Good News? Each one would be called according to the charism given to us by the Lord. We do not have the same role in this mission although the mission is the same for all, which is to give hope to humanity by sharing the Good News about Jesus Christ as St Paul did. But we all are called to share the Good News in different ways. St John preached the Good News by spending time in prayer, contemplation and writing the gospels and the letters. He lived a long life but he was also banished to the island of Patmos during the Roman persecution. St Peter preached the Good News to his fellow Jews and finally, tradition had it that he ended his mission in Rome and was martyred. He died for his faith.
Indeed, Jesus reminds us in the gospel that it is not important how we are called to serve Him but that we follow Him and serve Him wherever He calls us. Often, like Peter, we are curious and sometimes resentful and envious that others seem to have better roles in life than us. We are envious that some are called to be bishops or priests or religious. We feel that God does not care for us because He did not appoint us to high office or give us a prominent position in society, in our organization or in Church. Some of us remain as just homemakers or background helpers, unknown to the world. Most play secondary roles in events and in society. We feel that we are not good enough or blessed with the grace to be in the limelight or with popularity, status and wealth.
But the truth is that happiness in life has nothing to do with what we are but whether we are putting ourselves in the service of God according to the charisms He has given to us. That was why the Lord told St Peter when he asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to stay behind till I come, what does it matter to you? You are to follow me.” Indeed, it is immaterial how we are asked to share in the mission of our Lord. What is important is that we follow Him and do what He wills of us. Whether we are a bishop, priest, religious, civil servant, government official, businessman or just a helper, it does not matter. The Lord has His plans for each one of us. He knows what we are good at and where we should be at the right time and the right place. We just have to follow Him.
This is what St Teresa of Avila advised as well with respect to those who seek mystical graces in a life of prayer. She wrote, “God doesn’t lead all by one path, and perhaps the one who thinks she is walking along a very lowly path is in fact higher in the eyes of the Lord. So, not because all in this house practice prayer must all be contemplatives; that’s impossible. And it would be very distressing for the one who isn’t a contemplative if she didn’t understand this truth… I spent fourteen years never being able to practice meditation without reading. There will be many persons of this sort, and others who will be unable to meditate even with the reading but able only to pray vocally, and in this vocal prayer they will spend most of their time… There are a number of other persons of this kind. If humility is present, I don’t believe they will be any the worse off in the end but will be very much the equals of those who receive many delights; and in a way they will be more secure, for we do not know if the delights are from God or from the devil… Those who do not receive these delights walk with humility, suspecting that this lack is their own fault, always concerned about making progress.” Such a great consolation for those of us who are struggling in prayer!
Regardless where we are and whatever situation we are in, nothing can hinder us from proclaiming the Good News. We cannot give excuses that we are not able to do the job. The problem with many of us is that we want to choose our way. We do not want to fit into His plan. We want God to do our will and fit into our plans. So when asked upon to undertake new responsibilities or a new assignment, we give all kinds of excuses that we cannot do it and find all attempts to be excused without even discerning whether the Lord is inviting us to take risks for the gospel. If our mind is focused on serving the Lord and in spreading the Good News, then we will spare no energy in working for the Lord.
St Paul is a good example of one who never tired of finding new opportunities to share the Good News in whatever situation he was in. In the first reading we read that only after three days of arriving in Rome, “he called together all the leading Jews” and spoke to them about how Jesus was the fulfillment of the hope of Israel and “it was on account of the hope of Israel that I wear this chain.” And we read further that in spite of his being in confinement in his own house, he was still able to preach the Good News. “Paul spent the whole of the two years in his own rented lodging. He welcomed all who came to visit him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ with complete freedom and without hindrance from anyone.” Indeed, Paul was one person who could adapt himself to every situation in life, proclaiming the gospel everywhere, regardless of his situation. Indeed, he shared, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:12-13)
St Paul was clear that the gospel he was preaching was not against the common good of his fellow Jews. On the contrary, Jesus must be seen as the realization of the hope of Israel, for He is the expected Messiah to complete the work of redemption of humanity. He was not against their customs or their nation. He said, “Brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. They examined me and would have set me free, since they found me guilty of nothing involving the death penalty; but the Jews lodged an objection, and I was forced to appeal to Caesar, not that I had any accusation to make against my own nation.”
Unless we too are convinced that Jesus is the Lord and our savior, and the Good News for humanity, we will lack the conviction to give ourselves for the work of evangelization. In the final analysis, it all depends on whether we have faith in Jesus as the Son of God. St John assured us, “This disciple is the one who vouches for these things and has written them down, and we know that his testimony is true.” He had seen the Lord and He was convicted of who Christ was and what He meant for us. Unless we have seen the Lord, we cannot find the courage to live or to die for Him.
This is why we need to prepare ourselves for the Feast of Pentecost so that the Lord will renew His love for us and empower us to be fired with His love to renew the face of the earth. With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we will be propelled from within us to move out and share the good of being filled with His love. We will perform signs and wonders in His name like the apostles. So with the apostles and Mary, we need to prepare ourselves for this fresh outpouring of His Holy Spirit so that our faith could be rekindled and become alive once more. Let us spend time in prayer and contemplation as we wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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