(Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter; This homily was given on Wednesday, 28April, 2010 at the Chapel of The American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain, Belgium; See Acts 12:24-13:5 and John 12:44-50)
In our Gospel this morning Jesus Christ speaks a message to all—and, in particular, to those who have already made the decision to reject Him—that may have astounded them. In fact, it may even be surprising to many of us (although it should not be). He says, essentially, that everything He is accomplishing in the world, His mission and ministry, and His words in particular; all of those things, are not His own.
“Whoever believes in me,” Christ cries out, “believes not only in me but in the one who sent me” (John 12:44). But then He goes on to say:
Whoever rejects me and does not accept my words has something to judge him: the word that I spoke, it will condemn him on the last day, because I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak.
All that Christ does, what He speaks, and the work of salvation He accomplishes in this world; all of this comes to Him from His Father. He listens to the Father, and then does what the Father tells Him. Therein lays the power of Christ. Christ’s power is not made manifest by imposing Himself over and above everything and everyone (although He could very well do that; He is the eternal Son of God and would have every right to do so). Instead, the power of Christ is revealed in His willingness to surrender Himself in humility and in loving obedience to another: His heavenly Father. The power of God is revealed in the Man who will kneel down in the dark, alone, and say: “Father…not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Therein lays the power of Christ. Therein lays the power of the Christian. There is the power that we discover at work in the early Church, among the men and women who turned the world they lived in upside down. But they did not accomplish such a powerful transformation of their world through savvy ingenuity and a well-placed work ethic. They were powerful and effective witnesses because they listened to the voice of God and, with great love, obeyed it.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we are told this morning, the disciples were worshipping and adoring the Lord in the Church at Antioch. Suddenly, in the midst of that outpouring of praise to the Holy One, God spoke to them:
While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
We do not know how that happened; we do not know whether the Holy Spirit spoke to them out loud, or in a vision, in the form of a dove, or if someone simply discerned that God was speaking. St. Luke does not include that information as necessary in Acts. But what he does make perfectly clear is that they heard the voice of God, they listened to the Holy Spirit, and they did what God was asking. That is the power of God which allowed the early Church to set the world on fire.
That same fire is what God desires for every Christian: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49). But that fire will not happen, cannot happen, until we can kneel down, silent and alone with God, and listen well to Him. We must have the humility to be still and listen to what God is saying to us—in the midst of our own sins and difficulties, trials and the many challenges of life—but listening nonetheless to what God is trying to communicate to us. And then we must carry it out.
One of the great dangers and occupational hazards of the priest—and certainly of any vocation in the Church, as well—one of the great sources of pain, sorrow and division, is that we may begin to listen only to ourselves. Then, essentially, we say to God: “This is how it will be,” and we welcome Him to ratify that.
That is not the power revealed to us by Christ. It is not the power so evident in the lives of the Apostles and martyrs who gave everything in loving obedience to God and those they were called to serve.
And so this morning, for God’s sake; for the sake of the Church which is in tremendous need of renewal; for the sake of the men and women in this world who may never come to know the person of Jesus Christ except through us; and for our own sake, let us ask ourselves (and not be too quick to answer the question):
Who am I listening to?