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(Part 171)


January 25, 2016

Today’s readings:
Acts 22:3-16
Psalm 117:1-2
Mark 16:15-18

By now we are very familiar with our basic mission. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mk 16:15). It is a command; it is to be worldwide; it is intended to reach every person. Such proclamation of the gospel is unfortunately the missing first step in the work of evangelization. The second steps are all there -- catechism, sacraments, family renewal, work with the poor, formation, Biblical apostolate, pro-life advocacy, associations, parish ministries, etc. -- but to get people to partake of that feast, they must first undergo initial conversion. They must meet Christ.

Further, the solution, or at least the very first part of that solution, to all the world’s ills -- crime, corruption, hedonism, pollution, terrorism, environmental degradation, etc. -- is conversion of heart. Unless people’s hearts are transformed, we will always have the ills that the world from time immemorial has experienced.

Now in this work of evangelization, the forces of the enemy are formidable. Even in the early times. There were people like Saul who were passionate and totally convinced about the rightness of the wrong they were doing. They went all out. They gave their all. “I persecuted the Way to death” (Acts 22:41a). Today we see such radical commitment, such as Islamic terrorists who blow themselves up for their cause, and radical gay and feminist movements that are systematically assaulting family and life, and even faith. If only Christians were as committed to the cause of Christ! On the contrary, like in the Philippines, Catholics are among those who steal and kill and rape and do all sorts of evil deeds.

But while those who do evil have the powers of the world with them, those who do God’s work have the power of the Spirit. As instruments of such divine power, they can do signs and wonders (Mk 16:17a,18); they can turn back and drive out the enemy (Mk 16:17b). Unfortunately they do not know Christ and the power of his resurrection.

But there is hope. There is always hope. A Saul can become a Paul. A rabid persecutor of Christians can become a great apostle and missionary. God intervenes in the life of that person (which God always desires to happen). This is what conversion is all about. But for this to start to happen, one needs first to meet Christ. Saul, who knew about Jesus (as many Catholics only know about him), was led to ask, “Who are you, sir?” (Acts 22:8a). Jesus revealed himself, “I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 22:8b). Meeting Christ, this led Saul to begin to know Christ, to know him and not just to know about him. We are made to see how we have lived our lives against him.

The process of evangelization continues. We need to respond. We turn to Jesus and ask him, “What shall I do, sir?” (Acts 22:10a). We will be led to repentance and to being baptized in the Spirit (Acts 22:16b). We will undergo formation in the Christian community and be taught the faith. “Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything appointed for you to do.” (Acts 22:10b). Then we will know who we truly are and what we are called to do for Christ. God destines us “to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice.” (Acts 22:14). We begin to live Christ. We enter into discipleship.

Ultimately, as in the case of Saul, we will be commissioned to share Christ, “for you will be his witness before all to what you have seen and heard.” (Acts 22:15). Now this is crucial. God rarely intervenes directly, as in this case of Saul. Normally God makes use of human instruments, those who will witness to Jesus. As Saul asked Jesus, “What shall I do,” the people who heard Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost asked him and the other apostles the very same question, “What are we to do?” The answer was still the same, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus.” 3,000 persons heard the gospel that day, and all were sinners, perhaps even murderers and persecutors of the faith, and they were converted.

We must share Christ, so that all people will meet Christ, begin to know and live Christ, and themselves share Christ. The cycle, coming full circle, continues as the work expands, to the very ends of the earth. This is the only way that a world enmeshed in darkness, steeped in sin, and dominated by the evil one, will ever be transformed. Daunting as the task is, we must do our share. We go forth knowing that “His mercy for us is strong; the faithfulness of the Lord is forever. Hallelujah!” (Ps 117:1). May not just we, but the whole world, proclaim, “Praise the Lord, all you nations! Extol him, all you peoples!” (Ps 117:1).

May the “great light from the sky (that) suddenly shone around (Saul)” (Acts 22:6) also shine brightly in our darkened world. May the blindness conferred by Satan be removed and we, like Saul, “regain (our) sight” (Acts 22:13). Jesus the Messiah is waiting on you. “Now, why delay?” (Acts 22:16a).

* * *

Note: for further explanation on the two questions of Saul to Jesus, read “Focused on Christ,” chapter 2 on “Questioning the Lord.”

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