Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
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What about us?
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the April 10, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
As these words reach the eyes of readers, liturgically speaking the Church is in the midst of its 50-day celebration of the stunning reality of Easter. The excitement of the feast surely lingers – and, I hope, we have been renewed in faith as the result of our enduring celebration.
Early on in the first days of the Easter feast, the Church invited us to reflect prayerfully on an intriguing passage from the Acts of the Apostles (Chapter 3). By the design of its author (St. Luke), the scene is reminiscent of the life and ministry of Jesus, who now is Risen Lord.
Peter and John are out and about in the city of Jerusalem after the Resurrection of Jesus. Faithful to their Jewish heritage, they head for the temple, where they are encountered by a man who was lame from birth. Their ears pick up the beggar’s cry of desperation and need. What Peter says to him – if listened to in faith – carries a profound invitation. Peter responds to the man’s plea for healing with some very revealing words: “Silver and gold I have none, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, I order you to rise and walk.” And the man walks!
Are we to brush off this scene as a literary construction by St. Luke as he compiled his book – as something he merely invented to spice up his narrative? Or are we to add this to an expanding file of miracle stories which are saved for later research as fascinating and exceptional suspensions of the laws of nature? Or are we to accept the miraculous, but relegate its reality to those early days of Christianity when, as one author I once read put it, they needed it “for the original, energizing inspiration of their faith in Jesus as Risen and alive”?
“But what about us?!” I remember crying out as I read through the scene in preparation for a homily. What is the difference in the reality of walking with the Risen Lord Jesus and ministering in his name between a few days, a few years, a few decades or a couple millennia? Was there a point in time when Jesus was with us and now we are left on our own to carry out his work? It is true that the Resurrection of Jesus was an historical event with all the particularities of that singular event. After all, Jesus was an individual historical person. Yet, the new realities of creation made possible in the Resurrection remain for all time. We may wear different clothes and talk differently nowadays, but the reality of new life in Jesus, the Risen Lord, remains. Otherwise, Christianity is reduced to the conjuring of memories and the following of the “nice” moral principles of love and peace.
Yet our faith tradition keeps announcing to us that Jesus is Risen, alive and very much a part of his faith community. Christianity revolves around a personal relationship with a living person whose very Spirit – the Holy Spirit of God – enthuses and unites the community of believers. This is not just correct theology or merely accurate doctrine. It is living truth.
That’s what makes the scene in the Acts of the Apostles so inviting – perhaps even a bit frightening. What would it be like to minister with such power in the name of Jesus? And why should not the evidence of his presence be manifest in the life and work of his disciples?
Somehow, ministering in the name of Jesus entails more than perpetuating the form of an organization – as necessary as that aspect of the Church may be. The Church always has been and always will be packaged in time and place and it will be incarnate in real people, warts and all. But the heartbeat of the Church is the life of the Spirit and not our own clever manipulations of meetings, programs and ministries. To minister in the name of Jesus entails far more than attaching the label “Christian” to whatever we choose to do.
The clue about what it means to minister in the name of Jesus may well be found in the helplessness of Peter and John as they face the beggar at the temple. They must admit that of themselves they can do nothing. Jesus, alive and at work in them, can do the impossible. It is his personal presence working in and through them which brings healing to the man. Peter and his companion do what they can do; they show compassion. But they must step aside and let the saving hand of God manifest itself.
There is more evidenced here than a couple televangelists tossing around the name of Jesus as if it were a stick of spiritual dynamite. To minister in the name of Jesus entails far more than merely applying a name to a situation in some magical manner. To minister in the name of Jesus is truly inviting. To do so calls for a sense of personal lack of power and absolute trust in God. Is this not what the Gospels show us about Jesus, time and time again? All those late nights and early morning hours that Jesus spent in prayer were not just for show. As the Word Incarnate, Jesus sought union with his heavenly Father, whose will became reality though his ministry.
It would be tempting to think we Christians are a privileged lot who carry around a mighty powerful name, ready to toss it at situations of need. Yet, the very life and ministry of Jesus remind us that to minister in his name entails the same search for union with God that he sought continuously. God’s power is born of powerlessness. To minister in the name of Jesus requires more than merely verbalizing his name. It is to act in union with him as risen Lord. That union cannot be captured at the snap of a finger or the conjuring up of a diving name. That union must also be sought in the kind of prayer that leads to a confession of helplessness and an openness to the saving power of God at work in and through us.
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)