July 2012 - Vol. 61

Icon of the Lord Jesus and apostles feeding the multitude with the miracle of the loaves and fishes

.Witnesses of Our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ
by Archbishop George Bacouni, from Tyre, Lebanon

[Since the Sword of the Spirit is an international ecumenical association of communities, three church services – Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox – were held on Sunday morning for the ICM conference participants. Archbishop George Bacouni, the Greek Melkite Archbishop of Tyre, Lebanon, presided over the Catholic Liturgy and delivered the following homily for the Feast of Pentecost. Archbishop Bacouni resides in Tyre, Lebanon. He has been actively engaged in the life and mission of the People of God community in Lebanon since the early 1980s.]
Before going back to his Father, Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem, and to wait for the gift which his Father promised to give them – his Holy Spirit. He told them that when they would receive the Holy Spirit, they would become his witnesses, not only in Jerusalem and all of Judea and Samaria, but to the ends of the earth as well.

On the day of Pentecost the Father fulfilled his promise to send the Holy Spirit. The disciples began by declaring the wonders of God and proclaiming the Good News in many languages.

The Father’s strategy was to send his Son, the Lord Jesus, and then to send missionaries who would continue his work. In order for this mission to be successful through succeeding generations, the Father’s plan was to raise up missionaries who would be true witnesses of the Lord Jesus. If I may say so, these witnesses would be another “Jesus” – hundreds and thousands of missionaries – all sons of God working to build the kingdom of the Trinity – as we prayed at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever.”

 In the Gospel of John, chapter 7, the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” The guards declared, “No one ever spoke the way this man spoke” (John 7:45-46). They were astonished not only because of the words, but also because of the person who pronounced them. They had heard about the wonders and miracles of Jesus, and they had also heard about his way of life: his simplicity, his mercy, his love, his humility – and in summary, his holiness.

Throughout the history of the church the Good News has continued to spread. And one particular fact stands out in this regard. When the missionary was a saint who lived a holy life, a lot of people were converted to Christianity through the witness of the saint’s testimony.

The twelve apostles didn’t convince thousands of people because they were well organized and well educated. They won many people to Christ because they acted as real disciples – real saints. In the past many lands converted to Christianity through the work of saintly missionaries. All the great religious orders and missionary societies were established by saints.   

Do we accept the teaching we receive in our communities because it is delivered by very intelligent and well educated people only – or is it not more through the witness and quality of life of teachers who live what they say, because they take seriously the call to holiness.  

I joined the People of God community in Lebanon in the late 1980s. What motivated me to accept the teachings I received and apply them in my personal life was the conviction that those who were teaching were genuine men of God.  These men of God continue to be for me “another Jesus,” because I can find in them Jesus who speaks and teaches through his disciples. I see these men first and foremost as men who strive to live as disciples who want to follow Jesus. I know very well that they have weaknesses, just as I, too, know my weakness.  It is the witness of their way of life – their desire for holiness – that attracted me and helped me to open my ears and my heart to the message of the good news of Jesus Christ.  

The theme of this International Coordinators Meeting (ICM) is saints, missionaries, and martyrs. If I want to use one word to sum this up, that word is witness. To be a genuine witness of the Lord Jesus requires growth in holiness.

Our time, the particular age in which we live, is in need of saints – saints who can impact it with the gospel of Christ. We hear lots of critics of the clergy, and some are leaving the church due to the behavior of some prelates and priests. Why? Because people expect us to be real witnesses, to be holy like our Master, the Lord Jesus.

Today I am talking to coordinators – leaders of our communities in the Sword of the Spirit. The members of your communities and other Christians look to you to be real witnesses – to be holy like your Master, the Lord Jesus.

In the first two days of the ICM, we heard about a number of concerns: our kids, raising young men to be radical disciples, and vocation to the Servants of the Word. I would also add as concerns for us the average age of our coordinators and the need to raise up more younger coordinators, the busyness of life and how it impacts our life and mission.

I am convinced that God will continue to bless and guide us in finding solutions to our concerns, especially if we take some further steps to grow in the area of holiness – more intimacy with the Lord, a more radical way of living Christian values, a simplicity in our way of life, and much more love for each other and washing the feet of one another as Jesus taught.

Brothers, I am happy to be with you during this ICM and to celebrate Pentecost with you. I appreciate the welcoming letter of the Archbishop of Newark, John Meyers, and his prayers for us and for our meetings. I love you all, my brothers, and I pray the Father grant us more and more of his Holy Spirit to fulfill our mission. Amen.  

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