Thursday, April 11, 2013

“It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen.”

"I do not fear at all what men can do to me for speaking the truth. I only fear what God would do if I were to lie." – St John Bosco

Scripture text: (Acts 5:27-33 )
When the court officers had brought the Apostles in
and made them stand before the Sanhedrin,
the high priest questioned them,
“We gave you strict orders did we not,
to stop teaching in that name.
Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching
and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
But Peter and the Apostles said in reply,
“We must obey God rather than men. 
The God of our ancestors raised Jesus,
though you had him killed by hanging him on a tree.
God exalted him at his right hand as leader and savior
to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.
We are witnesses of these things,
as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

When they heard this,
they became infuriated and wanted to put them to death.

This struggle between the law of God and the laws of men is not a new experience for the Christian Church. We must always "obey God rather than men" when confronted with a conflict of loyalties. While Christians are to be good citizens we must first, in the words of the great evangelist Paul, remember that our lasting "citizenship is in heaven" (Phil. 3:20). St. Paul told the Christians in Rome: "I am under obligation; that is why I am eager to preach the gospel also to you in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel! It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes"(Romans 1).

We are still "under obligation" today.

When reflecting upon today’s reading from Mass, what amazed me was that the apostles stood up in front of the same men who had recently tried and succeeded in convincing the Roman government to kill not only their leader, but their close friend, and instead of choosing to renounce their beliefs in order to escape potential danger, they chose to remain faithful to what they deemed to be correct.  The personal fortitude needed to do such a thing truly is astounding. I can’t help but think that it is something we can all learn from. 

We all have things in our lives that we believe are right, but are afraid to publically stand up for those things because of the social ramifications that may barrage us in response to our actions.  However, in our fear of being rebuked, we can choose to look to the apostles for support and guidance, keeping in mind the fact that they chose to keep preaching what they believed to be right regardless of the potentially fatal consequences of their actions. 

Bravery requires not only our ability to act in the face of fear, but our strength to remain acting even once controversy arises.  I think we can all be thankful for the apostles’ bravery as exhibited in today’s first reading and also be inspired to act in a similar fashion in our daily lives. Here is the catch; there is always a catch, as you know. Courage like that can only come from the Holy Spirit. If you look at the lives of the saints, pick anyone one of them for that matter, they all exhibited heroic virtue.  Many of them even stood firm in the face of death and some were brutally killed.

Courage is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and in order to receive this gift you have to open your life up to God and make room for him. Not even God can “fill you” with His seven fold gifts, one of which is courage, if you are full of yourself.

To borrow the words of the great John the Baptist, who said, “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).”

Remember this, the empty can be filled, but the self-intoxicated will never have any room for God. And when we do not make room for God in our lives, “when the chips are down”, we will lack courage to “stand up”.

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