The reading from the Acts of the Apostles continues to trace the growth of the early church following the resurrection of the Lord. The disciples rejoiced in the early baptisms and conversions, notably Saul, who would become known as Paul in the later days. At first however, he was not welcomed.
The arrival of Saul into Jerusalem, the birth city of the church, yielded fearful rejection of him in the hearts of the Lord’s followers, who knew him as a great persecutor of believers. Barnabas however, knowing the new man in Christ Saul had become, explained the depths of Saul’s conversion and won their acceptance.
This acceptance was no doubt a great consolation to Saul. This acceptance is not always the case for followers of Christ. It may be that fellow believers, like the apostles, may doubt our conversion to Christ and the truth that we have changed. Saul and Barnabas are our companions in this tiring trial of integrity. Saul knew who he had become in Christ and regarded himself as a “new creation.”
Strengthened with God’s love he ventured forward in mission regardless of who accepted him and who did not. Surely he prayed for them, but at the same time he “enjoyed the increased consolation of the Holy Spirit.” It may be the case that our family and friends may not accept the new persons we have become. Family, friends or acquaintances may have been very attached to our former ways of sin and now find it hard to relate to us. This can be a lingering sadness but we, with Saul, must press onward.
St. John writes in the second reading that when we have made this decision to live in God and “our consciences have nothing to charge us with, we can be sure that God is with us.” John is clear that to be in Christ is a “matter of loving in Truth and deed and not merely talking about it.”
This new life is not only professed with the lips but is also lived in the body through the “keeping of his commandments and doing what is pleasing in his sight.” Our conscience is one of God’s greatest gifts to help keep us on this path he desires for us. Our consciences lead us in authentic truth if they do not violate the commandments and when they speak and teach in union with the church, the dwelling place of the Spirit. Everything else, as the Lord says, is from the evil one.
This growth in Christ takes time and the Lord in the Gospel speaks of it as an ongoing pruning of the vine. We are branches, who, because of our fallen self, are in constant need of God’s careful tending. He prunes us not to cut us off from himself but rather to make our union and conformity with him ever more perfect. This conformity to Christ through his church then yields peace, joy and abundant lasting fruits. “The Father is glorified in you bearing much fruit and becoming my disciples.”
Questions for Reflection
1. Where in my life is the Lord asking me to accept his pruning so as to bear fruit?
2. Is my conscience in union with the living voice of Jesus speaking through the church?
3. Am I accepting of the reality that not everyone will welcome my new life in Christ?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.