27th May. Tuesday in Week 6 of Easter
Saint Augustine of Canterbury, bishop.
Augustine was an Italian Benedictine monk sent in 597 by pope Gregory the Great as the first Archbishop of Canterbury. He is considered the “Apostle of England.”
First Reading: Acts 16:22-34
(By their courage, Paul and Barnabas win new converts, in the gaol at Philippi.)
The crowd joined in attacking Paul and Silas, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, for he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
Gospel: John 16:5-11
(His disciples must not be sad to hear that Jesus is going back to the Father.)
Jesus said to them, “Now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, “Where are you going?” But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.”
Positive outcome of a crisis
We can sympathize with Paul’s outburst which led to his being chained up, while wondering if a bit more tolerance would not have saved him a lot of trouble! Perhaps he was stirred with righteous anger on seeing the unfortunate girl being exploited for profit. In any case, Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed. In times of crises we discover hidden resources of strength and wisdom through our faith. Paul had to endure a public scourging, a punishment that should not be inflicted upon a Roman citizen. Though he was later able to demand a public apology from the magistrates, for the moment, he and Silas had to stay calm and focussed. Then, as they were praying and singing hymns to God, Providence intervened with an earthquake which broke down the prison gates. Paul and Silas could have escaped, yet they remained within the prison. Their calm strength was not shared by the jailer, who woke up, saw the prison gates wide open and drew his sword to kill himself. He could not endure the disgrace of losing his prisoners. But Paul shouted: Do not harm yourself! and after a quick instruction about Jesus, he baptized the jailer and his entire household. It was not just the decision of the prisoners not to run away that transformed a person in panic into a strong, steady man. The text says thatfaith made the difference.
We too possess hidden resources of strength, if our faith is strong and if we truly believe in Jesus’ love and power to save us. Then, like Paul, when a crisis hits unexpectedly, for instance a death in the family or community, our faith at once places us into the wide world of the deceased in Purgatory or in Heaven. We do not flee from the reality of our situation (we remain like Paul in prison), yet we can conquer death. In the Eucharist we recline with the saints and our fellow believers, just as the jailer prepared a magnificent banquet for the apostles and his entire household. Crises are not just a test of our personal courage but the occasion to realize the loyalty and love of the Holy Spirit.