What We Have Seen and Heard

In this Easter season, our first Mass readings come from The Acts of the Apostles, a book that gives us a history of the early period of the Christian community.

In today’s reading, the “leaders, elders and scribes” who had brought Peter and John before the Sanhedrin because of their acts, order Peter and John not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. However, Peter and John, in no uncertain terms, proclaim: “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges. It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.

When I read those lines, I think of the feeling I have at the end of a retreat. I come to the end of a retreat, filled with all of the blessings of the experience, overflowing with joy, and marveling about how great God has been to me. And sometimes when I leave whatever retreat house I’ve been in with that feeling and then observe what is going on around me in the world, I experience a sense of almost bewilderment. I watch people driving to work or doing their grocery shopping, walking their pets or otherwise carrying on with their life as usual and wonder why they don’t see what I see. Why are they just going about their business? And I want to climb to the highest mountain and yell out to all the world, Hey, don’t you know what is going on here? Can’t you see that (in the words of the Hopkins poem) all the world is charged with the grandeur of God.

That is the urge that I think Peter and John are expressing. Once we’ve experienced God, we can’t not share what we have seen and heard. For me, that urge prompted me to become a spiritual director and retreat leader. For others, it plays out in a different way. But however it plays out, it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.

Update: The penultimate paragraph of the post as I wrote it this morning is phrased badly, as pointed out by Kathy in her comment. She is quite right that I do not know what it actually going on in another person, and I didn’t intend my comment as judgment. I was trying (badly, I admit) to convey a reaction to what to all appearances is “business as usual” in the face of an experience of everything being different.