Home » Gospel Encouragement – 13th June 2021 – 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Encouragement – 13th June 2021 – 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear sisters and brothers,

As I reflected on today’s readings a word came to me: “discipleship”.  And in thinking about discipleship – and the readiness for heaven that St Paul talks about in today’s readings – these extracts from a letter, written by St Ignatius of Antioch on his way to martyrdom in Rome in the first part of the first century, came to me:

“I am writing to all the churches to declare to them all that I am glad to die for God, provided you do not hinder me. I beg you not to show me a misplaced kindness. Let me be the food of beasts that I may come to God. I am his wheat, and I shall be ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may become Christ’s pure bread….Now I am beginning to be a disciple. May nothing visible or invisible rob me of my prize, which is Jesus Christ! The fire, the cross, packs of wild beasts, lacerations, rendings, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of the whole body, the horrible tortures of the devil – let all these things come upon me, if only I may gain Jesus Christ ….Allow me to follow the example of the Passion of my God.”

As you can possibly tell, St Ignatius wrote this letter, probably from Antioch, as he was being taken to Rome for execution.  He was asking the Christians in Rome not to appeal on his behalf, but to allow him to die for Christ.  I suspect that such a letter seems beyond comprehension to us today – I know that I struggle to understand it – but that in itself probably reflects our inability to relate to the extreme hardships of life that Christians faced in the first century.  Persecutions were increasing and St Ignatius, as a leader, wanted to encourage the early Church never to disown their faith, despite the threat of death.  Thankfully, that’s something that we, at least in the UK, don’t have to even consider today.

However, we do face the temptation to deny our faith in other ways today.  Society’s apparent skepticism about Jesus’ teaching, and its intolerance – and even condemnation – of our values, can make many of us become submarine Christians, rather than disciples.  We choose to keep our Christianity out of sight, rather than face the negativity that we presume we’ll receive if we admit to it.  Today’s readings are encouraging all of us to grow as disciples – whether we are submarine Christians or not – to become ever more open to the kingdom of God within us, and to allow God’s kingdom to expand within us.

God’s home in our hearts can be a little like a balloon.  Without us breathing into it, the balloon remains a piece of limp rubber, but when we breathe into it, it grows bigger and bigger and draws the eye with it’s brightness.  In the same way, the kingdom of God that was present in our spirits from our conception, and which was affirmed by God at our Baptism, exists in some way within each of us.  However, it’s limpness or it’s size and colour depend on how much we allow the Holy Spirit to breathe his breath into us.  And remember, the breath of the Holy Spirit won’t make us burst, like a balloon, but go on expanding forever and ever as there’s always more that the Lord wants to bless his disciples with.  Making the ongoing choice to allow the kingdom of God to grow within us is ‘the’ sign that we have chosen to be disciples of Jesus.  He calls and we say ‘yes’.

And what does that ongoing ‘yes’ involve.  Well, to begin with it involves learning to put Jesus first in our lives, and the rest will flow from there.  Putting him first means to give a committed time to prayer each day.  Many of us were taught to say our morning and evening prayers as children, and they’re great.  I still say mine.  But as adult disciples Jesus asks us to attempt to be more like the disciples of the New Testament.  You probably remember that he asked them to stay awake with him for just one hour while he prayed in Gethsemane.  That hour’s model was what he seemed to encourage, and which the early Church and the saints responded to; a kind of Holy Hour each day.  That may include a number of ways of praying, including the Rosary and other devotions, but some time reading the Scriptures and some time in silence, just listening to the Lord, are key components.  The Church recommends something called Lectio Divina – Sacred Reading – which merges the two.  An hour may seem too long to begin with; maybe it’s just five or ten minutes to begin with, but – to allow the Holy Spirit to breathe into us to expand the kingdom – the longer the better in the end.  The wonderful thing about the world we live in is that there are plenty of resources out there, so get someone to help you do some homework on the internet and have a go.

One thing that I’d like to recommend is something I’m doing at the moment.  It’s a called ‘The Bible in a Year’ by Fr Mike Schmitz (The Bible in a Year (with Fr. Mike Schmitz) (fireside.fm)).  He reads a few chapters a day, and gives a little commentary on each, and it lasts around 20 minutes.  I listen to it while I’m washing and having my breakfast; others listen to it while they’re commuting; and others sit and listen in a more focused way.  Whichever would work for you, it’s worth doing.  Take a step, however small, and let the Holy Spirit expand the balloon of the kingdom of God within you.  Let’s each make the choice to grow as a disciple of Jesus.  Come O Holy Spirit!

With every blessing.