Acts 8:5-8.14-17; 1Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21
It's really good to be able to sit in a comfortable chair in a room by yourself and read, meditate, and pray on the Sacred Scripture. This practice is called Lectio Divina and it is slowly becoming more and more common among the Faithful.
Today's first reading is a good passage to practise on if you are not accustomed to this spiritual exercise. The opening line, like the rest of the passage, is rather matter-of-fact and seemingly unremarkable: Philip went to a Samaritan town and proclaimed the Christ to them.
So we place ourselves in Philip's shoes and wonder what he must have been feeling as he entered that town. We should not rush this but, in a very relaxed way, do our best to enter into the reading. What would the town have looked like; how would he have gone about proclaiming Christ to them?
The people welcomed him. We are told they: united in welcoming the message.
Obviously Philip's fame had preceded him. They had already heard about the miracles he had worked and now they were to see them first hand. I wonder what that must have been like?
In my imagination I am present and try to see their reactions, listen to what they are saying, and try to feel what they would have been feeling.
Philip had a reputation; he had power, the power of the Gospel lived in him. I wonder where he preached to them? Where did he proclaim the Christ? Do the Samaritans have synagogues, or would he have done it in a public square or some other gathering point like a market or, perhaps, the gates to the city? It doesn't really matter what kind of a scene my imagination produces, as long as I remain faithful to the framework Luke gives me, I can flesh them out any way I want.
When my prayer time is finished I can keep some of those questions in our mind and maybe I can research them (Google them, perhaps), or discuss them with a friend who might know more.
Does this seem far-fetched to you? Well, don't laugh! There are many people around who find room in their head for questions like these which help them get closer to Christ; to understand better the message preached by the apostles and recorded in the Scriptures. These people are willing to give time and put serious effort into their spiritual lives. Instead of going down to the local shop to buy a newspaper to find out what's on the telly tonight these people will do a little bit of quiet Bible study in their spare time so that their daily lectio divina time becomes more and more fruitful, and the face of the Lord comes into sharper and sharper focus. What's more, their efforts to answer these questions raises them from the mundane, everyday concerns with which our lives are brimming, to an entirely more worthwhile level.
And we can imagine how excited people would have been hearing that the famous Philip was in town. They would have arranged the affairs of their day to somehow be able to meet up with him, to listen to him, to perhaps see a miracle, and then to perhaps develop their own faith and leave behind some emptiness, some fear, some sin.
It must have been very exciting to witness a miracle; perhaps several miracles. The talk, the buzz, to speak with the person who was healed. I once spoke with Sr Briege McKenna who was totally paralysed with arthritis and was miraculously healed. It was an unforgettable experience for me.
And then there's those other important people in this reading - the paralytics and the possessed. How would they have felt? Who were they? What was their reaction when they found themselves free? Did they praise God for this new freedom that had come into their lives?
And what about Satan? What would he have felt? The anger, the hatred, the humiliation of seeing himself expelled by a simple faith-filled Apostle. Hell would have been in turmoil. It would have been a strange and exciting time to be living in. And Satan would have been working frantically to try to recover lost territory, stirring up opposition, causing misunderstanding and confusion. For Satan it would have been a question of damage minimisation.
That would have been the invisible battle that was raging, one which other people couldn't see, and one which we can only try to imagine - the attempt to distort everything, the message, the miracles - to make accusations of trickery and arouse the pagans to reject the Good News.
Satan would have worked on their vested interests, their desire for the status quo to continue, and the misunderstanding caused by false rumours they might have heard about the apostles. Satan would have done everything he could to stir up as much opposition to the Gospel message.
But despite all Satan's efforts, the spirits still came shrieking out of many. Shrieking! This new power which they could not resist was wielded not by Jesus but by his simple followers. How humiliating for this proud opponent of God's divine plan for humanity!
If we have been generous with our time and generous in our efforts to really focus on the readings before us we will soon begin to discover a new joy, a new hope in our lives as the word of God finds, more and more, a place in our heart.