Sunday, March 29, 2009

Joy and the Holy Spirit

I've been lingering over Acts 13:44-52 and Acts 14:1-7. Those passages are about evangelizing, but they are also about where our strength comes from.

Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch. Having been expelled from there, Paul and Barnabas "shook the the dust from their feet in defiance and went off to Iconium, but the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit" (Acts 13:51-52). How many of us, having been driven from a place, would describe ourselves as "filled with joy"? I was putting quarter-round molding in my son's room today and came up against a few minor obstacles (including busting my knuckle against a door trying to remove a nail), and I did not feel joy.

In fact, after leaving Antioch, Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium, and there they were "preaching fearlessly for the Lord" (Acts 14:3). Despite their experience in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas were still "preaching fearlessly." As one who is rather timid, I greatly admire Paul's and Barnabas' ability to speak in the face of opposition. Again, after their experience in Iconium, Paul and Barnabas go to the towns of Lystra and Derbe, where "they preached the Good News" (Acts 14:7). Despite the rejection, despite the threats to their lives (in Iconium there was an effort to stone them), Paul and Barnabas went somewhere else to preach fearlessly for the Lord. Indeed, even with such apparently negative circumstances, what they preached continued to be "the Good News." From one perspective, we might be tempted to say, "What's so good about it, if this is the result?" It is at those times that we need to remind ourselves that "Good Friday" does not seem very good, either. And yet, what appears to be a defeat is in reality a victory over death.

How can we have joy in the face of opposition? How can we have hope in the face of defeat? We can't, unless the source of our strength is God. The Holy Spirit gave Paul and Barnabas the courage to do this critical but difficult mission. Because of their interior life of prayer, guided by the Holy Spirit, they could fearless preach the Good News of Christ who is the Father's Word made flesh.

As we near Holy Week and contemplate Christ's passion, let us remember that the Good News is good but not easy, that our joy comes from pouring out ourselves rather than focusing on ourselves, and that after the Crucifixion comes the Resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

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