Do we believe Jesus’ words? I think most practicing Catholics would say “yes, of course we do.” Then they may cite Jesus’ words to Peter in Matthew 16:18, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” Or, they might cite Jesus’ words about the Eucharist in John 6:53, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood you have no life in you.”
While we may struggle at times, for the most part we understand Jesus’ teachings about the Church and the sacraments. That is where most of our minds jump when asked, “Do you believe Jesus’ words?” But what about the things Jesus said about you? What about Jesus’ words about the life we are called to in him? What about the things Jesus said about the Holy Spirit? Do you believe those words? I’ll give you an example. At the end of Mark’s Gospel Jesus says to the disciples:
And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17-18).
Do you believe Jesus’ words there? Hopefully, you will never have to handle poisonous snakes, or drink poison. Let’s be clear, Jesus is not saying we should seek such things out. But what about laying hands on the sick? What about engaging in spiritual warfare in your own life and the life of your family? Do you believe that God could prompt you to pray over someone and that in his name, they could be healed? Do you believe that you could tell a spirit of lust or accusation that is coming against you to be silent in Jesus’ name, and command it to leave?
Were These Words Meant for Us?
It is interesting that when Jesus speaks of the supernatural life of his followers, or of the action of the Holy Spirit, we tend to rationalize. Right now you may be thinking, “Well, he was speaking to the apostles. What he really meant was that the bishops and priests would do this kind of stuff. This is not for the ordinary, everyday Catholic, like me.”
Yes it is true the the ordained clergy exercise these gifts in a special way, but to say that you as a lay Catholic are not called to this life too is just wrong. Mark’s Gospel tells us that when Jesus says these words he is speaking to the disciples. This is not specifically addressed to the Twelve. It is addressed to all the followers of Christ. You and I are disciples.
You may also be tempted to think, “Well, that was then, and this is now. The world is different now.” Yes, that is true. The world has changed a lot since the day Jesus spoke these words. But the thing is, Jesus is still the same. He is unchanging. His word is enduring. The fact that we have smartphones now does not mean that somehow the Spirit of the Lord is bound up and inactive.
Power Like Dynamite
A quick reading through the Acts of the Apostles will demonstrate that this life Jesus speaks about in Mark 16:17-18 was exactly how the first generation of Christians set out. They moved in the power of the Holy Spirit. You may think that phrase sounds a bit fantastic, but again, I am using Jesus’ words.
In Acts 1 Jesus tells those who are gathered before his ascension “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” The word for power there is less electricity, and more explosive. The Greek word used is dunamis. It is the same root word that we use for dynamite. When Jesus speaks of the power of the Spirit coming upon his followers he uses this forceful word to express what he means. Something tangible is taking place. Later in Acts 10, as Peter is speaking, the Holy Spirit falls upon the Gentile believers, and it is so obvious that Peter says “Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” When the Spirit shows up, people notice.
As modern Catholics we need to be challenged by Jesus’ words. Some of the things he said may seem too fantastic to believe. Perhaps, that is why the Lord gave us the witness of the early Church in Acts and the Epistles. The truth is, when we reflect upon what Jesus said about the Christian life and compare that to the life of the early Church, it becomes pretty clear that God’s desire for his people is something more than an academic, routine faith. He desires to move in and through us in inexplicable ways.
So, do you believe Jesus’ words? Do you believe that God can move in your life in the way Jesus spoke of at the end of Mark’s Gospel?