This week, the Church celebrated the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. In all of the readings for this solemnity, we heard something about deliverance. In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear how Peter was delivered from imprisonment to freedom. In the Second Letter to Timothy, St. Paul speaks of how he was "rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every threat and will bring me safely to his heavenly Kingdom." In the Gospel, Jesus tells Peter that the gates of the netherworld shall never prevail against the Church. And, in the psalm, we proclaimed, "The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him."
It seems as though the experience of being delivered, rescued, and protected is a necessary condition for living an apostolic life. It is when we know ourselves to have been delivered from certain death that we want to share the good news of our rescue. It is the common experience of being rescued by Christ that binds Christians together and unites us in our mission to share the Gospel. When we lose sight of this common and foundational experience, we turn the Church into a sociological or managerial exercise. The Church becomes a lot of talk about nothing.
In my experience, we don't live enough out of this experience of being rescued, delivered, and protected. Instead, we all come up with our own ideas, theories, plans, and commentaries on the life of the Church. But, we just spin our wheels. Whenever I engage in a conversation where we spin our wheels talking about nonsense, I always walk away feeling like lesser of a man. It's all words and no substance.
But, when I engage in conversations that are truly human and profoundly theological, they awaken in me a renewed sense of my need for Christ. These conversations move me towards a conversion of life. They move me to want to confess my sins, pray more, read the scriptures more, and to share the Gospel more. These conversations are life-giving because they are about Christ and not about nonsense.
Today, I engaged in numerous conversations. At the end of the day, as I reflect upon these various encounters, I realize how blessed I am that the Lord continuously places in my life men and women who live out of the experience of being delivered by the Lord. Even if they do not explicitly state it, you can tell that these people live out of an experience of being grasped by the hand and led by the Lord. And the more I encounter persons like this, the more I recognize that the Lord is always holding out his hand to me and offering to rescue me yet again. Their witness reminds me that I am in constant need of being rescued, delivered, and protected. They awaken in me a greater awareness of my sins and a greater confidence in the One who saves us from sin. Their witness assures me that the Lord stands ever ready to come to my assistance.
Thomas a Kempis once wrote, "As often as I have gone out among men, I have returned home a lesser man." The quote, while rather dour, touches upon an experience that many of us have encountered in our life. After engaging in prolonged conversations that lack substance, humanity, and depth, we find ourselves less of a human being. We not only lose a sense of God, we lose our very selves. On the other hand, when we engage in conversations that arise from a shared love of God and His revealed Word, we are once again set free. We are set free from the prisons of our own pettiness, ideologies, and plain old nonsense.
Whether I am engaging in a conversation with a college student at the BU Catholic Center or chatting with the pastor of the rectory where I live, conversations that arise from hearts that share in the mutual amazement that Christ has and is rescuing us and is doing something in our midst here and now, awaken in me a desire to allow Christ to rescue me even more. They awaken in me a recognition of my constant need to be delivered from the lion, and they build up in me a confidence in Christ, the Savior. On the contrary, conversations that lack Christ at their outset always leave me feeling less of a human being.
The Gospel spread all over the world because the apostles were faithful to their experience of being delivered, rescued, and protected by Christ. The world is filled with tons of talk, but much of that talk leaves people feeling emptier and less human. Sometimes it can seem as though every utterance robs just a little more humanity! But when disciples of the Lord gather together and live faithfully the experience of being rescued by Christ, delivered by Christ, and protected by Christ, their conversations build up their humanity and glorify God.
As I look back on my day today, I realize that the people who helped me to grow in my humanity were the people who knew themselves to be delivered by Christ and who lived out of that knowledge. Without living fidelity to the memory of Christ's love for us--a love exemplified most fully in his death on the Cross--without living this memory as a present reality, we become worldly. We become the purveyors of endless talk and empty words that steal humanity from others. When, on the other hand, we live the memory of Christ's power in our life (even though it be unfinished and incomplete due to our weakness and sin), we elevate each other's humanity and become instruments of drawing each other closer to the Lord. The Church grows not through the multiplication of words, but rather through our sharing the Word who became flesh, made his dwelling among us, and who sets us free.