Homily: Jubilians’ Mass - Catholic Education, Sandhurst, 2014

Jubilians’ Mass
Catholic Education, Sandhurst
30th May, 2014

Our Lady’s Church, Wangaratta South

Acts 18:9-18 and Gospel: John 16:20-23
I am pleased to congratulate everyone here this evening on the combined achievements we are celebrating at this Eucharist. It is indeed an accomplishment to celebrate a jubilee, or indeed any significant number of years of service to Catholic Education. Our readings provide an opportunity for appropriate reflection for all involved in our continued service of our Church.

We read today one of the most beautiful episodes in the life of Saint Paul, who never had it easy! He was greatly used by God to bring salvation to the Gentiles, but everywhere he proclaimed the Gospel, Paul was opposed. I wonder how many of us would be able to withstand the hostility Paul attracted. In Corinth Paul experienced many encouragements and many discouragements. It was a dangerous city to work in, but the Lord afforded the apostle a measure of protection and he was able to stay there.  The Acts of the Apostles depicts him as the object of divine protection.

It is likely that Paul was at this time much discouraged by the violent opposition of the Jews. He was probably in danger of his life, and might have been entertaining serious thoughts of ceasing to preach, or leaving Corinth. At the very least, Paul must have felt very vulnerable –having experienced so much persecution and revilement.

But one night in Corinth, the Lord appears to him in a vision, saying, ‘Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.’    This is not simply a statement of the divine presence, but also a guarantee of divine help for the mission.

In this vision given him to strengthen his resolve, Paul sees Jesus. The brief message he receives is reminiscent of the language God uses when he addresses the prophets and just men of the Old Testament. The words ‘Do not be afraid’ are found throughout the scriptures in the context of mission and are designed to allay the impact of God’s overpowering presence.

In this case, the words are meant to dispel Paul’s premonitions about the severe treatment his opponents will hand out to him in Corinth. The vision once again indicates the graces which the Lord is bestowing on him to support his intense contemplative life, which is also a life of action in the service of Jesus and the Gospel.

Paul's example should both comfort and challenge us when we are fearful about doing God's will. Sometimes we are given a hard job to do, so this reassurance is also for us, that in our lives we should preach the Gospel freely and boldly without fear. Fear should not stop Christ's disciples then – or now, as we take every opportunity to preach the Gospel by word and deed in our ordinary everyday lives.

Jesus assures Paul that he will not be harmed for there are many believers in that city. The apostle is comforted and strengthened by this divine assurance and continues his mission in Corinth for a year and a half. Heeding God’s command, he continues to speak and proclaim the word of God.

Even when the apostle is brought by an angry Jewish crowd to the proconsul Gallio, Paul remains unscathed because God’s grace is upon him. The magistrate refuses to deal with intramural religious squabbling and sends them away to thresh out their issues locally. Even though the angry Jews vent their anger and frustration on Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, Saint Paul miraculously survives another lynching. He stays with the believers for many more days, after which he sails off for Antioch supported by his friends and co-workers Priscilla and Aquila.

Then, in the Gospel, Christ is assuring his followers that their sorrow at his departure will only be temporary and that soon after they will rejoice as the kingdom of God spreads across the earth. We have a duty to help spread that kingdom, just as did the first followers of Christ. This image of the woman giving birth (frequently used in the Old Testament to express intense pain) is also often used, particularly by the prophets, to mean the birth of the new messianic people.

The words of Jesus reported here seem to be the fulfillment of those prophecies. The birth of the messianic people — the Church of the Risen Christ — involves intense pain, not only for Jesus but also, to some degree, for the Apostles. But this pain, like birth pains, will be made up for by the joy of the final coming of the Kingdom of Christ: “I am convinced,” says St. Paul, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

So, as we mark these celebrations tonight and offer congratulations at these significant milestones, we realise also, that our roles as Catholic educators will continue in some form or another. Therefore, reflection on our readings prompts three questions for our consideration:

•    Are we willing perhaps to experience some pain as we continue to build the kingdom of salvation?

•    Are we willing to continue to embrace the joy in the Risen Lord and the mission that it entails?

•    In moments of difficulties and crisis, do we trust in the Lord’s assurance: ‘Fear not … I am with you!’?

Bishop Leslie Tomlinson