BEARING WITNESS IN THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 16:11-15; PS 149:1-6, 9; JOHN 15:26-16:4]
Bearing witness to the Good News is not always an easy task. That is why Jesus forewarned the disciples in today’s gospel, “I have told you all this so that your faith may not be shaken. They will expel you from the synagogues. I have told you all this, so that when the time for it comes you may remember that I told you.” Those who hear the Good News might perceive it as Bad News. This is how the world feels with regard to the Christian Message. Christianity is the target of secularism in the West. This is ironical when Christianity was once an ally because she promotes human rights, the culture of life and freedom of conscience, charity and compassion. These values which are meant to help people live in unity in truth and in love are now turned against Christianity itself. How did it happen?
Firstly, the gospel is rejected because of ignorance. Jesus said, “Indeed the hour is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is doing a holy duty for God. They will do these things because they have never known either the Father or myself.” Indeed, we cannot blame them because they do not know Jesus or the Father. That was what the Lord said at the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) This explains why those who oppose Christianity do so, because they truly believe that Christianity is against their interests and takes away peace, joy and freedom from their lives. And some of these are so-called religious leaders that are intolerant of others’ beliefs and seek to impose their faith on others, sometimes using violence even.
Secondly, the gospel is rejected because the heart is closed. Many worldly people oppose the gospel not because they do not know Jesus or the Father. On the contrary, they know, but they refuse to walk in truth and in love. They are concerned about their own selfish interests and want their desires to be fulfilled, especially sensual and worldly pleasures. This was how St Paul felt as well. “For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” (Phil 3:18f)
But we should not be discouraged because we do not proclaim the gospel alone. The Lord is with us. He comes to assist us by sending us His Holy Spirit. The proclamation of the Good News is not about promoting some ideology, be it political, social or even religious. The Good News is proclaimed in the power of God, not through our human strength and endeavour. St Paul wrote, “My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.” (1 Cor 2:4f) Indeed, Jesus too was anointed right from the beginning of His ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. “Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.” (Lk 4:14f)
How does the Holy Spirit help us in our witnessing? Fundamentally, by making us witnesses to Jesus and to the truth. “When the Advocate comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father, he will be my witness. And you too will be witnesses, because you have been with me from the outset.” In order to be a proclaimer of the Good News, we must be witnesses of Jesus ourselves. But how can we be His witnesses when we have not seen Him or lived with Him and walked with Him, unlike the disciples of our Lord? In other words, we were not with the Lord right from the outset. This is why the Spirit of Jesus was sent by Jesus from the Father to bring us to a personal encounter with Him so that through Him, we may come to know the Father and have faith in Him. Only a personal relationship with the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit makes God real to us.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit leads us to the fullness of truth by reminding us what the Lord taught His disciples, and He has come to make all things new. “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” (Jn 14:17f) “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” (Jn 16:25f) The Holy Spirit will convict our hearts and bring us to the fullness of understanding of all that the Lord has taught us and applied them to the challenges of our times. Without this interior conviction of the heart of what the gospel says, we cannot withstand the arguments and sophistry of the world.
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit empowers us by giving us the gifts so that we can witness with truth, love, understanding and fortitude. As Christians, we receive the messianic gifts as well. “The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (Isa 11:2) Through these gifts, we are sanctified and our minds and will are transformed and elevated beyond our human strength to do the work of God. When we exercise our ministry, especially the work of proclamation in the power of the Spirit, we will preach and teach with conviction “and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” (Lk 21:15)
In the first reading, we have the example of St Paul in his missionary journey. We can feel his passion and the sense of urgency in the work of evangelization. “Sailing from Troas we made a straight run for Samothrace; the next day for Neapolis, and from there for Philippi, a Roman colony and the principal city of that particular district of Macedonia.” He wasted no time in announcing the gospel. He did not allow opposition and persecution to dissuade him from announcing the gospel. As was his policy, he would first preach to the Jews and when rejected he would then reach out to the gentiles. There we read how he joined the Jews for sabbath prayer. Again, he took the occasion to announce Jesus to them.
Yet it was not simply because of Paul’s passionate preaching alone that brought about conversion. It was the work of the Holy Spirit. He was merely an instrument. “One of these women was called Lydia, a devout woman from the town of Thyatira who was in the purple-dye trade. She listened to us, and the Lord opened her heart to accept what Paul was saying.” This is in contrast to those who oppose and reject the gospel because their hearts are shut and their minds are full of pride. When hearts are coarsened by sin, we cannot listen to the Word of God even if we have a great preacher. When our minds are darkened by our pride, we will not be able to accept the truth spoken to us. Lydia was able to listen and to believe only with the grace of the Holy Spirit, and our Lord who opened her heart. This explains why it is not enough to preach or even to do good works. In themselves, they are not sufficient, unless we complement our preaching and support it by prayer, fasting and penance, for conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit.
And the great consolation of the Holy Spirit is when those who listen to the gospel receive it with joy. So it is not true that the gospel is always rejected. With the help of the Holy Spirit, there are hearts that will be receptive to what we want to share with them. And this was the case of Lydia. “After she and her household had been baptised she sent us an invitation: ‘If you really think me a true believer in the Lord,’ she said ‘come and stay with us’; and she would take no refusal.” Indeed, with God’s help, nothing is impossible. So we should not get discouraged or feel diffident in sharing the gospel with our loved ones, friends and even strangers, provided we are in touch with the Lord through prayer and intimacy, enlightened and convicted by constantly meditating on the Word of God and through the miracles of transformation and healing when we exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the process, God will also send us people to help us, as was the case with Lydia who was a businesswoman. But after her conversion, she used her resources to help Paul in his missionary work. The Holy Spirit will send us helpers as well for the work of evangelization.
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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