Karen and I both hope you are enjoying lesson 7 on the missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas. What an exciting and fulfilling adventure the two men had together! In St. Luke’s writings we have the sense that he is just “hitting the high points”, omitting a lot of details which he leaves for us to imagine for ourselves. We learn in these pages of Acts of the Apostles how the early Church was formed and spread. We witness some of the problems which evolved over time, and the solutions which were discussed to solve those problems.
In each lesson we study there are always some statements, either in the Bible or in our textbook commentary, which puzzle me. The following verses created a question for me.
Acts 13:1-2 “Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
According to the commentary from the Navarre Bible, “worship of the Lord includes prayer, but it refers primarily to the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the center of all Christian ritual….The Eucharist provides a Christian with the nourishment he needs, and its celebration causes the Church of God to be built up and grow in stature.”
Having spent a large part of my life in the company of men who were always trying to figure out “how things work” and “why things work as they do” (both my dad and husband were engineers), it was natural for me to question how exactly the Holy Spirit spoke to the five men in Antioch. Historically, when God wanted to communicate with an individual, He spoke through a burning bush, or His voice came “booming” out of the clouds, or He sent angels to deliver His message. St. Luke doesn’t tell us how the Holy Spirit spoke to the five men, only that He did.
St. Luke writes that the men were worshiping – celebrating the Eucharist – and fasting. Perhaps after their prayer and fasting, the five men might have shared a meal and talked with one another about the Antioch Church. They might have remarked how the Church was growing in love and faithfulness, how peaceful it had been between the Jewish people and those believers now called Christian, perhaps even congratulating themselves for the fine work the Church was doing. At some point in the conversation, someone might have asked: “but are we fulfilling the Lord’s mission which was given to us? The Antioch Church is doing just fine now. Didn’t Jesus tell us to go out to the whole world and spread His message of God’s love and forgiveness? How exactly are we doing that by sitting here in Antioch, patting each other on the back?” As the conversation continued, the idea of evangelizing in Barnabas’ home country, Cyprus, might have come up. Who better to send than Barnabas, who knew his country and its people? And who better to accompany Barnabas than Paul? After all, Paul had been “on fire” for God his whole life and seemed always eager to spread Jesus’ message. Paul was younger and perhaps more vigorous than Barnabas and was known as a good teacher. As the conversation continued, plans were set as to the route the new missionaries would take and the cities they would visit. Funds and other supplies were gathered for the journey. Perhaps the whole Antioch Church met to pray for the mission and to “lay hands” on the two men and wish them “Godspeed”.
Is this how Paul and Barnabas’ mission came about? I don’t know, as I am only imagining a possible scenario, so don’t take my word for it. Think and pray about it yourself, if you are curious. Just because there wasn’t a “booming voice coming from the clouds” does not mean that the Holy Spirit didn’t put the idea for the missionary work in the men’s minds and hearts. As the Church has told us, God speaks to us constantly. Sometimes, we open our minds and hearts and actually hear Him.
Catechism 858 – 859 “Jesus is the Father’s Emissary. From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus “called to him those whom he desired…And he appointed twelve, whom also he names apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach (Mk 3:13-14) From then on, they would also be his “emissaries”… In them, Christ continues his own mission. Jesus unites his emissaries to the mission he received from the Father…Christ’s apostles knew that they were called by God… as “ambassadors for Christ””.
Nearly 2000 years later Christ’s message of love and forgiveness has been spread to every corner of the world. But there is still much more to do, as our recent Popes have told us. Too many people who once followed Jesus have fallen away from the faith. Still others in our own culture are either ignorant of the real message or are antagonistic to it, believing that the “rules” of the faith will take away their freedom to act as they want.
In a homily St. John Paul II gave in Limerick, Ireland in October of 1979, he said that “all Christians are incorporated into Christ and his Church by Baptism, (and) are consecrated to God. They are called to profess the faith which they have received. By the sacrament of Confirmation, they are further endowed by the Holy Spirit with special strength to be witnesses of Christ and sharers in the mission of salvation. Every lay Christian is therefore an extraordinary work of God’s grace and is called to the heights of holiness…..As God’s holy people you are called to fulfil your role in the evangelization of the world… It is the specific vocation and mission of the laity to express the Gospel in their lives and thereby to insert the Gospel as a leaven into the reality of the world in which they live and work.”
I wonder how the Holy Spirit is calling me to be a witness for Christ. Do I hear His voice in the Scriptures, in the words of our Pope, Bishops and clergy, in conversations with others who see and search for God’s will in their lives, in the day to day events of my own life? Do I respond willingly to God’s voice, or do I drag my feet and think “maybe later”?
Karen and I are here to help you. Please contact us either by email or phone and let us know if the lesson is a problem for you. Some ladies in our group have left us or have not been able to come, often or not at all, either because of illness or other problems. Please keep these absent ladies and all of WCSS in your prayers. See you on Tuesday.
Hugs and love,
Karen and Franciene