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May 22, 2020
May 24, 2020

Homily for Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter, 23 May 2020, Jn 16:23b-28

One of the hazards of being a preacher of the Word of God is, you gain a following or even a flock of admirers. If you happen to have a hungry ego, you begin to feed on the affirmation and adulation. You don’t realize that the devil is working on you already. He will make you think highly of yourself until you forget that you are just a Messenger. He will make you believe that your popularity is because of your brilliance, your education, your credentials, etc.
That is the typical way in which the evil one derails the work which God may have begun in you. He will motivate you to use it for personal gain, to build yourself a fans club or a mass base. It can easily happen to anyone who has received gifts from the Spirit—whether it be preaching, teaching, healing, administering. The devil makes you forget where they come from; he will massage your ego and blow up your head like a bubble waiting for a pin to blow it up.
In today’s first reading, we hear about a very gifted young man named Apollos. St. Luke describes him as “a Jew and a native of Alexandria, an eloquent speaker, an authority in the Scriptures, a charismatic preacher, an excellent teacher who taught correctly ABOUT Jesus.” Wow, that’s a pretty long list of credentials.
Take note, he is a native of that famous ancient in Northern Egypt with the greatest library that for many centuries had the reputation of having the largest collection of literature in the world, until it got destroyed and burnt down. So why wouldn’t Apollos be welcomed in the equally famous and highly civilized city of Ephesus, given his kind of credentials? It’s like introducing a speaker with an endless list of degrees appended to his name like an alphabet soup: AB, MA, STL, PhD, STD, etc.
What I like best, after Luke gives all his credentials, is the part where he says, “He taught correctly about Jesus, although he knew only of John’s baptism… Priscilla and Aquila heard him; so they took him home with them and explained to him the way more accurately.” Meaning, he was well-informed but his words did not yet have the anointing of the Spirit.
This reminds me of the story about two priests—one a young and brilliant orator and two, an old and retired pastor. The first one gave an excellent lecture on the exegesis of the text of the Good Shepherd in John chapter 10. He was applauded and highly commended for the lecture. The old pastor was then called to end the lecture by reading John chapter 10. Instead of reading it, he recited it by heart, softly and gently but with tears in his eyes. After he ended, there was a brief pause of silence followed by a standing ovation. The bishop commended them both and said, the young priest has an excellent grasp of the text about the good shepherd. But the old pastor knows the Good Shepherd like he knows a friend.
Apollos knew a lot ABOUT Jesus, but Priscilla and Aquila knew Jesus HIMSELF. They had been introduced to him personally by Paul. They appreciated the brilliance of Apollos, but they felt the need to mentor him some more. And the good thing was, Apollos allowed himself to be taught by this humble couple who were tent-makers and who did not have his credentials.
Sometimes we have brilliant seminarians or young priests who give good content in their preaching but are unable to reach the hearts of people. And yet you have some dedicated couples, experienced in life and mature in faith, who can do powerful life-witnessing and whose relationship with Christ is more personal. I have been a personal witness to the profound effect on young seminarians or priests when they open themselves to being mentored by people like these.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that he is preparing them to get to know the Father, no longer through veiled language, but through plain and clearer language. What is his formula for this? St. Paul calls it KENOSIS. If the Messenger wants to communicate his message well, he has first to learn to empty himself. The more there is of him, the less there will be of Christ. The less there is of him, the more there will be of Christ. Then he will be able to speak and act, not just in the name of Jesus, but in the person of Jesus. For as long as he is able to deposit his ego by the door and not think too highly of himself, he will be less susceptible to the viral infection of Satan who always feeds on egotism. Eventually, he will no longer just speak ABOUT Jesus. Rather, Jesus will speak through him.
Only when one can learn to die to self and live only for Christ can one be an effective proclaimer of the good news. He will not only be a medium. His life will be his message.
Yesterday I mentioned that this must be the reason why the apostles themselves did not take pride of their successes nor feel crushed by their failures. Because they remained conscious of the fact that it was God who was at work in them. They were mere participants in his project. They came and went, and did not mind being forgotten or given the credit, for as long as it was Christ who became present through them.
To conclude, let me quote from that famous prose poem by Max Ehrmann, which circulated anonymously for many decades before people discovered its real author. It says, “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence…Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.”


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