Acts 13:14, 43-52; Rev 7:9, 14-17; Jn 10:27-30
“The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit” comments the Acts of the Apostles. These are, by and large, Gentile disciples, non-Jews, as the Gospel begins to be preached to the Gentile world. This outreach to the Gentiles was foreshadowed in the journey of the Wise Men to worship the infant Jesus, Gentiles adoring the Son of God. The disciples of that Son now return the compliment, as it were, bringing the light of the Gospel to the nations, as prophesied by Deutero-Isaiah and by Simeon at the Presentation in the Temple.
We are the descendants of those first Gentile disciples. Are we filled with joy and the Holy Spirit? What is joy? It is a deep-rooted conviction which blossoms in the good times, but which also sustains us in the difficult times, the times of darkness and near-despair. It is, in fact, the indwelling Holy Spirit. Are we conscious of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, enabling us to endure both light and dark, revealing Himself as that joy which, ultimately, nothing can destroy?
The root of that joy, the presence of the Holy Spirit, is a manifestation of God’s infinite love for us. Jesus speaks of that love today in His role as the Good Shepherd.
He begins by saying “The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice”. Do we listen to the voice of the Lord? When and where do we hear it? We hear it daily in the scriptures. Do we allow the scriptures to soak into us? Do we sit with them, chewing the cud with them, allowing them to penetrate our whole being?
We hear the voice of the Lord too when we make time and space for prayer. We hear it also in the teachings of the Church, not least the Social Encyclicals, which lay before us our responsibilities to our neighbour.
Do we also hear that voice in the tones of our neighbour, in his/her challenge, his cry for help, her words of encouragement? I remember from pastoral lectures in the seminary the suggestion that we should pray with the Bible in one hand and the daily newspaper in the other, interpreting each in the other’s light.
Our Lord continues with the words “I know them and they follow me”. He knows us: do we strive to know Him, to follow Him in all the events and situations of life?
Then Jesus goes on to say “I give them eternal life”. Notice the tense—present not future—“I give,” not “I will give”. Eternal life is a present reality if we allow the Holy Trinity to dwell within us.
“They will never be lost, and no one will ever steal them from me.”These are encouraging words, words to banish fear and anxiety. The greatest disaster which could befall us would be to be lost, to fall out of God’s hands. This, promises Jesus, will not happen. We can live without fear, secure in God’s love for us.
Why is this? It is because “The Father...gave them to me.” We belong to the Father, and the Father has given us to the Son. We are held secure by Father and Son in their mutual love and complete unity which is the Holy Spirit. “The Father and I are one” says the Lord, and we are held firm within that unity.
All of this explains why we should be filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. We have total grounds for confidence, no reason to fear. Consequently, we can follow boldly in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, carrying out His will, proclaiming His Gospel, because “no one can steal from the Father”—or from the Son.