Our Gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit, and with much conviction.
Dear People of God, do those words used by St. Paul to characterize his proclamation of the Gospel ... Power, Holy Spirit, Conviction ... seem valid for our modern Christian experience and awareness? If not, then surely their absence would be a condemnation of the current practice of Christian life and witness in Western society? Let us therefore look a little more closely at them.
Power: The Gospel originally came making demands ‘Repent and believe’ because it was offering power:
power to resist and ultimately overthrow the forces of evil which debase human beings and defile human society; a glorious power to which the martyrs who suffered so horrendously in that basilica of pagan pleasure and Christian torments called the Coliseum bore witness in the imperial city of Rome;
power to reject the popular fables and political interference that mocked and abused religious convictions; a power, that is, to bear prophetic witness to a Christian understanding and appreciation of life where earthly needs and callings are in harmony with supernatural aspirations: a life offering a fulness of beauty and hope hitherto unknown;
power to perform wonders for the betterment and extension of public health and education, wonders of fraternal charity and personal self-sacrifice above and beyond all merely normal expectations and possibilities.
These were all prominent in the original proclamation of the Gospel, to enable people rooted in a pagan world to get up -- so to speak -- and follow Christ. Today, like things still occur in the lives of religious and saintly figures, but the great miracle of all is Mother Church herself still standing and witnessing to the truth of Christ and the power of His Spirit despite the failings of some of her children, and world-wide opprobrium and persecution, despite a modern, political version of biblical Phariseism which allows governments who deny the existence and authority of any God, to claim they themselves have a pseudo-divine wisdom and insight to recognize what is good and bad for humanity, and to determine right and wrong for their own peoples according to their own opportunistic rules of political correctness.
Over the centuries empires have come and gone while Mother Church abides: admittedly, often in need of refreshment and renewal, even more urgently today indeed, when the world’s arrogance before God is so blatant; but, nevertheless, being subject to Him Who can, and has never failed to, refresh and renew her in the ways of holiness and truth which are His glory, she faces those enemies of His who pervert His saving truth by promoting themselves and their pseudo-holiness in the world today, with a calm confidence and humble trust.
Conviction: How the early Christians amazed the Roman empire by the conviction that enabled them to stand strong in faith despite the direst torments inflicted in Coliseum’s all over the pagan world!
Men, women, boys and girls, children … all lovers of Christ able to ‘stop the mouths of lions’ as the Scriptures say, professing the Christian Faith in droves from East and West, North and South …. All, through the indomitable power of their convictions, were brightly shining witnesses to the death and Resurrection of Jesus and the veracity of His Church’s Gospel proclamation.
Power and Conviction, characteristics of the Gospel! But there is yet something more, something supremely other and totally sublime:
The Gift of the Holy Spirit.
Those who worked such prodigies of power for our understanding of human nature in individuals and in its expansion into an authentically human society, all those invincible martyrs, men, women, and even children, of mostly humble bearing, were not only powerful, marvellous, they were indeed beautiful because of the Holy Spirit – Jesus’ Gospel Gift -- dwelling within, and working through, them unhindered and untrammelled.
We see the sublime fulness of human goodness and beauty in Jesus Himself, in His daily dealings with and endeavours for His people; and in today’ Gospel reading we were most privileged to hear perhaps the apogee of beauty and wisdom of the Holy Spirit abiding and working in Jesus Himself through His Gospel words addressed to those who would have trapped Him and destroyed Him:
Then the Pharisees plotted how they might entrap Him in speech. They sent their disciples to Him, with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that You are a truthful man and that You teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And You are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for You do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is Your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Knowing their malice, Jesus said, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin that pays the census tax.” Then they handed Him the Roman coin. He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that He said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving Him they went away.
We too are amazed but, far from leaving Him, we want to become ever more closely one with Him in mind and heart as we continue this holy liturgy of sacrifice and sacrament; for here, we hope, we pray, we long, yes, we most humbly beg Him to share ever more and more with us His Gift of the Holy Spirit:
‘Lord Jesus, by the gift of your glorious and Most Holy Spirit, may we bear authentic witness to the truth and beauty of Your Gospel by the power and conviction of our lives as Your disciples in Mother Church.’
Dear People of God, Saint Paul teaches us that the words of Jesus’ Gospel bring power and conviction into our lives; Jesus Himself, Paul’s Master and our Lord and Saviour, shows us that, despite human hatred and conniving, His Good News -- wrapped in His own words of sublime beauty – offers the saving grace of divine wisdom and eternal truth and salvation to all who will forget their own earthly agendas long enough to hear it, to listen to it, and thus allow themselves to experience something of the warmth and sweetness of its embrace. DEO GRATIAS!!