33rd. Sunday of Year (C)
After forewarning His disciples of the trials and persecutions which lay in store for them and which would bring them to the same end as He Himself was soon to suffer, Jesus added:
That will be your opportunity to bear witness.
That is, the whole wretched process of misunderstanding, rejection, hatred, persecution, and arrest etc., would not be simply the result of some blind chance, nor even, ultimately, the outcome of human perverseness or opposition … no, the dark threatening clouds would assemble over the heads of the disciples with God’s permission, indeed, as part of His plan for them: That will be your opportunity to bear witness.
Moreover, corresponding to the life or death atmosphere of the situation in which they find themselves will be the measure of God’s grace given to the disciples: as the waters of destruction -- the swelling tide of hatred and the threatening waves of violence -- appear on every hand and mount up against them, when, that is, the time for their witness, their opportunity, is at hand, they will be lifted up on the wings of God’s word and wisdom, for they will not be simply helped to defend the Good News of their proclamation, but Jesus Himself will both defend them and, through them, demonstrate the Gospel’s divine truth and power:
I Myself will give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict.
Therefore the disciples must be able to forget themselves and trust completely in the Lord:
Keep this carefully in mind: You are not to prepare your defence.
They must commit themselves entirely to the Spirit of God in the Church Who will give them -- in a way entirely of His own choosing however, and one which may be imperceptible to they themselves at the time -- the necessary eloquence to utter His wisdom, despite their personal inadequacy and possible feelings of natural anxiety.
This belief and appreciation, that Christ is ever with His Church and, through His Spirit, guiding her unfailingly -- that His Spirit seeks to guide all living members of the Body of Christ and may, indeed, be guiding us personally, here and now, for God’s purposes -- that is an essential part of Christian self-awareness in Mother Church, but it is not something to be presumed, imitated, or ‘put on’.
In the realm of classical instrumental music, extemporisations on and development of a given theme can be of the highest inspiration and technical excellence; and for a classical singer it is also supremely desirable to be able to sing the author’s words and the composer’s music (not some personal version thereof) ‘from the heart’, that is, without the direct supervision of mental scrutiny. Of course that ‘heart’ needs to have been previously formed in accordance with the requirements of careful attention to vocal technique, sensitivity of emotional expression, and a close observance of life; that is, it has to be a seriously and surely ‘disciplined’ heart. For the concert performance, however, all that is best presumed, in order that the performance itself might be a ‘living event and experience’ thanks to the unmistakable, though intangible, beauty and truth of ‘artless’ (!) spontaneity.
Now, the witness of Christians to Christ is something of that nature. It is not, ultimately, a matter of expressing -- emotionally and/or intellectually -- a merely human appreciation of, or response to, Jesus; it is a matter of bearing authentic and more-than-natural witness to Jesus the Christ, and to the Church’s proclamation of His Gospel. And this calling, this invitation, to bear such witness, is not for anybody to snatch for themselves (so to speak, ‘out of the blue’), it is promised, in our Gospel reading, to those disciples only who have been with Jesus throughout His public ministry and who are prepared to suffer with Him, for Him. That means for us today, that one can only hope to rely on, trust in, commit oneself to, the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God, on the basis of a true and wholehearted conversion to Christ -- a life of faith not to be measured in years but in sincerity and commitment, lived with Him and under His discipline -- and at the call and instigation of circumstances not of our own choosing.
In the Old Testament we are told that the Lord had wanted Moses to go and speak to the People of Israel enslaved in Egypt and to Pharaoh himself, with a message from the Lord.
But Moses said to the Lord, ‘Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent. I am slow of speech and of tongue.
Moses was painfully aware – obviously from previous experience – of his inability to express himself with ease and fluency, and was afraid, above all, that he might ‘make a fool of himself’ before the mighty ruler of ancient Egypt, prove to be an embarrassment for the People of Israel, and fail the Lord Himself most miserably.
Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who has made man’s mouth? Is it not I, the Lord? Now, therefore, go, and I will be your mouth and teach you what you shall speak. (Exodus, 4:10ff.)
Likewise, in today’s Gospel reading we heard that only when the disciples’ situation became most desperate, betrayed by relatives and friends and arraigned as helpless captives before:
Kings and governors, (and) hated by all men on account of My name,
were they to hope for and trust in the ‘Gift’ of God’s saving intervention and inspiring help.
In a similar fashion, only when we have experienced and humbly accepted our own measure of helplessness and personal nothingness, only when we are – as best we know -- dead to self-glory and seeking but God’s will, can we humbly hope for and confidently trust in God’s supplying grace.
This personal awareness and acceptance of one’s own nothingness is not something to be acquired ‘a priori’, that is, from merely intellectual considerations; it has to be real and must normally be learnt from experience which, though found painful, has been humbly and gratefully accepted from God’s hand. Moreover, and most obviously, we cannot hope that God’s grace -- His most Holy Spirit -- will be with us to support and guide us, if we seek to specify the time and choose the occasion for His intervention!
Throughout the Christian life there is a most delicate balance between a God-graced mistrust of self and a like confidence in God … if either one developes without the other, unilaterally, there will result inevitable and deep distortion, dangerous error and disillusionment.
The true, exemplary, source of a life-sustaining-and-promoting balance is to be found in Christ, the God-man alone: He assumed our lowliness in order that He might bestow on us a share in His own divine prerogatives. Let us ask Him therefore, as we proceed with this Mass, that in Him and together with Him we might come to share His death to the flesh and to participate in His risen life by the Spirit. Let us receive the pledge of eternal life which He has left to us, His own most precious Body and Blood, with hearts truly humbled and contrite in the acknowledgement of our own sinfulness and poverty, and thereby sincerely opened up to, and ever more desirous of, the infusion of His most Holy Spirit into our lives, for His greater glory and our ever-greater proximity to, understanding of, and love for, the Father in Christ Jesus Our Lord.