Written by Fr. Gary Walker
Malcolm Muggeridge, the journalist who made Mother Teresa of Calcutta ‘famous’ through his documentary on her life and work, Something Beautiful for God, became a Christian due to her influence. In writing about his conversion, Muggeridge was clear that what the Christian religion was, and gave to the world, was an experience of God.
This is what the disciples experienced in Jerusalem when they gathered for the Jewish feast of Pentecost. The Acts of the Apostles described the coming of the Holy Spirit as a strong wind coming through the building where they were assembled and tongues of fire resting above the heads of each one there. In addition, they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit gave them ability. They were never the same again.
Jesus promised he would send another Advocate when he left them. The Advocate arrived on Pentecost Sunday and they become bold believers! They were filled with the presence of God in the same way that Jesus was filled with the Spirit at his baptism at the beginning of his mission. The apostles and disciples in experiencing that same Spirit were given the role of becoming missionaries of Jesus’ life, spreading the news of the reign of God’s kingdom.
Malcolm Muggeridge observed that the experience of God is crucial and key to what happens after the initial ‘God impact’. Like Pope Francis, he was aware that people can be so busy doing God’s work that they forget about God who gives meaning to it.
In the Acts of the Apostles following the Pentecost day, we discover how the Holy Spirit leads the way into new ways of thinking and new ways of being. For example, Saul persecuted ‘the people of the Way’. In chapter nine he was riding to Damascus when he ‘encountered’ Jesus in a blinding vision that changed his life – he became a disciple. Saul was chosen by God; Saul also known as Paul, became the great apostle to the Gentiles. He was one of the outstanding Christians of the fledgling Church. The Spirit chooses outstanding men and women in all ages, Mother Teresa being a recent example to inspire us, lead us and a model of how to live in our contemporary world.
Another important initiative of the Holy Spirit with extraordinary consequences took place in chapter ten of Acts. The Holy Spirit brought together Peter the apostle and Cornelius, a centurion of the Roman Army occupying Palestine. Cornelius was a pagan, a Gentile, spurned by the ‘people of God’ as the Samaritans were. Pagans were excluded from worship in the Temple or being a part of the Jewish praying community. Cornelius, though he is described as a good man, would have been hated by the people.
The Holy Spirit enabled Peter to come to the knowledge that Cornelius was called to belong to the Christian community though he was a pagan. Religion and culture can keep people apart as well as bring them together. The Holy Spirit filled Cornelius and his household and Peter with the same power as on Pentecost Sunday. Only God could achieve this remarkable breakthrough. As a result, today we are a global church, that includes people of all races and cultures because of this early insight! History teaches us that the Holy Spirit is alive and active giving us the lead into the future, breaking new ground, but expecting us to work out the details.
Malcolm Muggeridge said that Jesus gave us an experience of God. This is the fundamental issue in our lives as Christian believers, or better still, as St John tells us, we are friends; we are also sons and daughters of God.
Columban Fr. Gary Walker is currently living at the Columban house in Sandgate, Brisbane.