Pascha V

Pascha V: The Joy of the Gospel
2015 – Cycle B
Acts of the Apostles 9:26-31

This is the third in a series of reflections on the Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) of Pope Francis of Rome. Chapter 3. Bracketed [ ] numbers refer to paragraph numbers in the Exhortation.

listening 1listening 4listening 2

“We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing.
Listening…is an openness of the heart.” [171]

I wonder if that is what Barnabas was willing to do for Saul – listen with an open heart.
Listen to this Saul who was so self-righteous in his attacks on the early Christian community.  Listen to this Saul who was feared.  Listen to this Saul who had a life-changing experience that no one believes.

Have you ever considered why Saul was so righteous?
Often from behind righteousness – fear is peering out.
Did Saul like being feared by others?
Some people do. It puts them in a position of power and control.
What was this experience on the road to Damascus?

To be listened to with no judgement – just Barnabas’ full attention, eye contact and an open heart.   Isn’t that what Jesus did for Nicodemus who came to him at night confused and filled with questions?  …to the woman of Samaria with her awkward past and her searching for religious truth?  Isn’t that what we all want and need at times – someone to listen with an open heart to our joys and hopes, our griefs and anxieties? [See Gaudium et spes, #1]

Though Francis writes much in chapter 3 of The Joy of the Gospel about preaching during the liturgy which is reserved to priests and bishops; there is another kind of preaching he writes about that falls to each of us. It is the informal dialogue which takes place in the middle of conversations at coffee houses, in supermarket aisles, across neighborhood fences, at meetings, during breaks at work, in parking lots. It is a dialogue – homily one might say, that begins, not with us preaching soap-box style but when the other person speaks and shares their joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones or so many heartfelt needs. [127, 128] They in essence first open the door through which we can humbly enter.
In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says nothing less than that: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.   If anyone…opens the door,  then I will enter their house and dine with them and they with me.” [Revelations 3:20]

This kind of preaching that Francis describes is like the sharing of a meal – not a forced feeding. For when a person has felt that they have been sincerely listened to and understood by an open heart they in turn become an open heart, an open door to hear the message of Jesus. To enter through this open door of someone’s life and dine with them can be as simple and yet as profound as sharing a part of our personal story that witnesses to our faith in God, a gentle gesture of kindness, “or in a way which the Holy Spirit may suggest in that particular situation”. [128]

Listening and sharing with an open heart is preaching the Gospel. Francis writes: “…it is insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization [i.e. telling the “good news of Jesus”] to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would simply be passive recipients.”  Yet this is clearly what the Catholic Church has done in the past up to our present time and what many people still expect and want as the norm. Francis though continues and challenges: “The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.” [120] You are not ordained priests who have the responsibility of preaching a homily at Eucharist but you are baptized and anointed Christians, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of God’s own, so that you may announce the praises of God” [1 Peter 2:9] and that gives you the responsibility to preach the Gospel in this daily, informal way. A way that reaches further out into the world then we priests and bishops. Thus Francis dreams of a “missionary option” [27] fulfilled by all Christians.

We may not be mindful that Barnabas, the apostles and the entire early Christian community of women, men and children were baptized and anointed in the Holy Spirit and that there was no distinction between laity and clergy. There was no distinction in whose responsibility it was to preach the Gospel message of Jesus. Listening, sharing and preaching was everyone’s responsibility. Francis is simply calling us back to our baptismal roots.

With some changes, the prayer attributed to Saint Francis seems apropos.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to walk through as to be invited in….
not so much seek to be listened to as to listen;
not so much to be understood as to understand…

With the example of Barnabas at hand, Francis urges us, “So what are we waiting for?”

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