The Lineamenta for last year’s Synod of Bishops (for those who may be unfamiliar with that term, a limeamenta is a text written in preparation for a General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops) reminds us that we can transmit the Gospel to others only on the basis of our own personal encounter with Christ. In simple terms, we can’t share what we don’t have. We can’t effectively evangelize others unless we ourselves have been touched by Christ.
And if we have been touched by Christ, we can’t help but share it. That truth is illustrated in today’s first Mass reading, which is taken from the early part of The Acts of the Apostles, a book from which we hear each year in the Easter season. In today’s reading, the leaders, elders and scribes are upset at the boldness of Peter and John in proclaiming the Gospel and they want to put an end to the spread of the message of Christ. So they bring Peter and John before the Sanhedrin and order them 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 (and that I hope the women here with me this weekend feel by the end of our time together tomorrow). 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 I have the burning desire 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. When we experience God, we are changed and I think it is impossible for us to sound any way other than passionate about a deep experience of God.