Summary: The actions of Paul and Barnabas at Lystra help us to discover how to appeal to those around us.
Monday of 5th Week in Easter 2013
St. Catherine of Siena
Gaudium et Spes
The Fathers of the Council taught that “God, Who has fatherly concern for everyone, has willed that all men should constitute one family and treat one another in a spirit of brotherhood. For having been created in the image of God, Who ‘from one man has created the whole human race and made them live all over the face of the earth’ (Acts 17:26), all men are called to one and the same goal, namely God Himself. For this reason, love for God and neighbor is the first and greatest commandment. Sacred Scripture, however, teaches us that the love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor: ‘If there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.... Love therefore is the fulfillment of the Law’ (Rom. 13:9-10; cf. 1 John 4:20). To men growing daily more dependent on one another, and to a world becoming more unified every day, this truth proves to be of paramount importance.” GS 24
Thus Paul and Barnabas, who were instruments of primarily spiritual healing, took pity on the disabled man with leg muscles that never developed. But he exhibited the gift of faith, and Paul saw that faith. They invoked the power of God in the name of Jesus, our Savior. Their prayer to the divine healer was instantly effective, and the man walked. Then the Law of Unintended Consequences, which is a corollary of Murphy’s Law, took over. There was a great commotion, and the witnesses began to chatter and spread some story in an ancient dialect that the apostles did not understand. But they did hear the words “Zeus” and “Hermes,” and before they could get things under control, here comes a gang of pagan priests with oxen and flowers to offer them sacrifice.
Such an act was unthinkable–it was just the opposite response the apostles sought. They wanted people to believe in Jesus and offer right worship to the One God, through Jesus, Son of God. They foresaw a day in which all such pagan false worship would end. So, like good Jews, they tore their clothes in grief and tried to turn the near-disaster into an opportunity to preach the good news. But there appears to have been no translator, because they had to physically restrain the pagans from offering them sacrifice.
This situation has continued to plague the Church through two millennia. Today, language communication is not the biggest problem. After all, the largest English-speaking country in the world is China. All the world is trying to learn English, because English has become, ironically, the lingua franca of the world. The real problem in communicating the Gospel is that the meaning of words has been corrupted by an anti-Christian culture. Words like “choice” and “freedom” have taken on corrupt meanings. Mind sets filter the meanings and make it hard to hear Jesus. The Council Fathers understood this: “Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.
“This love and good will, to be sure, must in no way render us indifferent to truth and goodness. Indeed love itself impels the disciples of Christ to speak the saving truth to all men. But it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions.(10) God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts, for that reason He forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone.(11) The teaching of Christ even requires that we forgive injuries,(12) and extends the law of love to include every enemy, according to the command of the New Law.” Art 28.
So this puts the burden of dialogue on us. Every human heart yearns for intimacy with the divine, even if that heart is unaware of the need. We must first of all show love and compassion in our daily words and actions, so that those we serve know that we are benevolent, that we want good for them. Then, in difficult situations, they will feel like they can approach us to help them. If we hear their words as they mean them, and respond in love and generosity, our actions will help open a path for the Holy Spirit to bring them the grace of conversion and healing, and our openness and welcoming attitude will show them that the Church is truly a spiritual family only concerned with their good.