“After being set apart by the Holy Spirit to travel, Barnabas and Saul
were also sent on their way by the Holy Spirit.”
Barnabas and Saul came from different backgrounds and experiences, and with different gifts. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit used them, molded and equipped them to meet the needs of the community in Antioch. Barnabas was a lovable teacher. Indeed, his name described his character – Son of encouragement. He led and taught by his encouragement, his affirmation of others. Saul (Paul) was more prickly in his personality. Nevertheless, God called him to lead by his preaching and many letters to the Christian communities.
Their ministry and mission emerged out of their dependence on and cooperation with God’s grace, and the needs of God’s people. The Holy Spirit set Barnabas and Saul apart, spoke to them, and sent them on mission.
Sometimes, however, we may not listen well to the Holy Spirit, despite the Spirit’s repeated calling. That is what happened with me.
Shortly after I was ordained a deacon, my pastor strongly recommended I take over the parish’s weekly RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). I politely declined, noting that I would make a very poor teacher. The deacon who had led the class for many years, also approached me, suggesting I reconsider. Again, I said no.
There the matter stood for several months, until the deacon learned sadly that he had an aggressive form of cancer and would have to lighten his ministry duties. At that point, I had no choice but to assume the RCIA duties.
More than 17 years later, I can say the Holy Spirit spoke to me through my pastor, but I said no. The Spirit spoke to me through my parish deacon, and again I said no. However, it was clear the Holy Spirit was in no mood to take no for an answer from this newly minted deacon.
It is as though the Spirit said, “enough is enough,” then took me by the scruff of my neck and yanked me into RCIA ministry. If I had been more discerning, I would have discovered I was too much task oriented with fears of inadequacies, rather than being Spirit-oriented and focused on the needs of my parish community. After only a few weeks, I discovered how much I enjoyed teaching the rich treasures of the Church, and preparing adults for baptism, confirmation and Communion. More importantly, I learned to listen carefully and respond positively to the nudgings of the Holy Spirit.
Like Barnabas and Saul, we all are sent on our missionary journey, even if we are not traveling. The Spirit sets us apart, calls us, and sends us on our way to places where we live, work, and worship. But it isn’t the places that are the point of our journey; it is the people we encounter there. We are called to minister to one another, to nurture and care for one another, so that together we can build up the Church, all the people of God.
The Spirit will never force us to do anything, will always give us the grace to cooperate with the Spirit. Sometimes, that grace may require grabbing us by the scruff of the neck.
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.