These reflections are a result of more than 40 years of ministry as a Roman Catholic priest. Most of these years I spent in the Diocese of Charlotte which covers Western North Carolina. Now I am retired, and live in Medellín, Colombia where I continue to serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Medellín.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. (Jn 16:20-22)
My friend, Father Larry Richardt, always said that what was coming must be spectacular . . . because the birth pangs are horrendous! With everything that is happening in the world today, let’s hope that Father Larry is right!
Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. He went to a house belonging to a man named Titus Justus, a worshiper of God; his house was next to a synagogue. Crispus, the synagogue official, came to believe in the Lord along with his entire household, and many of the Corinthians who heard believed and were baptized. (Acts 18:1, 7-8)
Corinth was very important city in the ancient world. The Temple of Apollo must have been very impressive. There was even a Jewish synagogue. But the tiny Christian community was a bit more humble. They met in people’s homes.
After Paul’s escorts had taken him to Athens, they came away with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible. Then Paul stood up at the Areopagus and said: “You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious. For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:15, 22-23)
When you stand on the Areopagus in Athens looking up at the Acropolis, it’s not hard to imagine Saint Paul engaging the Athenians in debate. Saint Paul was brave and fearless.
About midnight, while Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God as the prisoners listened, there was suddenly such a severe earthquake that the foundations of the jail shook; all the doors flew open, and the chains of all were pulled loose. (Acts 16:25-26)
When I visited Spain, we saw churches with chains attached to their exterior. The chains were from Christian prisoners who had been freed during the reconquest or had been redeemed from their captors.
On the sabbath we went outside the city gate along the river where we thought there would be a place of prayer. We sat and spoke with the women who had gathered there. One of them, a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptized, she offered us an invitation, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home,” and she prevailed on us. (Acts 16:13-15)
I’ve always loved the story of Lydia. What a powerful woman she must have been. This passage is one of the “we” sections of the Acts of the Apostles. Lydia and her household become the first converts of Paul in Europe. I’ll never forget my visit to the Baptistery of Saint Lydia in Phillipi when we washed our feet in the river where she was baptized.
Jesus said: “Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” (Jn 14:21)
Often we think of revelation as knowing propositions that we are to believe . . . but the Fourth Gospel has a slightly different take on that. Revelation is the fruit of love. It’s not some cold exercise in how to convince my head to remember and believe something which I can barely understand. Rather revelation speaks of love in the most intimate detail. To be loved by the Father and by the Risen Lord involves knowing the Lord intimately. It’s a wholly different kind of knowledge—a knowledge not of things, but rather of a person who has loved us and given himself for us.
During the night Paul had a vision. A Macedonian stood before him and implored him with these words, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we sought passage to Macedonia at once, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the Good News to them. (Acts 16:9-10)
Sometimes the visions in the night hold a future that we never imagined. Paul’s vision called him to Macedonia . . . the ancient home of Alexander the Great. And suddenly Christianity was moving beyond the Middle East and slowly reaching the West and eventually to Rome itself fulfilling what Jesus had said: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)