"We must obey God rather than men." Acts 5: 29
In the Readings for today’s Mass, the Church continues to help us understand more profoundly the implications of Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection. In the Gospel, we see Jesus giving testimony as to his origin as the Son of God and to his mission, which is to offer Eternal Life to those who believe in Him. (John 3:31 ff) At this point in time, the Apostles are just beginning to hear this teaching and have not yet accepted it into their hearts and minds. It would take them a long time to do so. The event which changed everything for them was the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. In the space of three days, the disciples of Jesus went from followers to leaders, from being the behind-the-scene people to being the persons up front, from being those in the background to those who now took center stage. This, indeed, was a dramatic change in so many different levels.
So it came to pass that the boastful Peter, so brave one moment and so fearful the next, now finds himself giving testimony about this Jesus of Nazareth that died and rose from the dead before the most important leaders of his time. These leaders threaten him with prison and command him to keep quiet about this Resurrected Christ. Peter, John and the rest of the followers of Jesus could not keep quiet. They had to give testimony to what they had experienced as followers of Jesus. We, too, need the grace to be transformed into bold preachers of God’s Word. We need to experience the Resurrected Jesus in our daily lives for that transformation to take place.
I am in the country of India at this moment. One of our Passionists was taking me around the city of Bangalore and telling me of the tensions that exist between the different tribes and religions in India. In February and March, I was in Vietnam and China. I have visited Cuba. In each of these countries, we have brave Passionists who are not afraid to speak out the message of Jesus and obey God. All of these are countries that limit the message that people of faith can deliver.
But these are not foolish people. They are a prayerful people, prudent people, people who know how to discern what the Gospel message is and what it is not. The message that Jesus preached from the first moments of his Resurrected Life was a message of Peace, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation. These people have learned how to preach, by word and deed, the core Gospel message without bringing needless pain or suffering to the people of God. They have discerned well the difference between obeying God rather than obeying their own agenda, being faithful to God rather than faithful to a message that will bring the spotlight to them rather than to God.
May we always follow that directive of St. Francis of Assisi: Always preach the Gospel, and use words if necessary!
Fr. Clemente Barron, C.P. is a member of the General Council of the Passionist Congregation and is stationed in Rome.