The call to follow Jesus throughout the Gospels always involves Jesus calling an individual out of his or her old life and into a new life. This new life involves being a disciple of Christ, which means being with him and following the master wherever he goes. After Jesus ascends into heaven, the question is, how does somebody follow if Jesus is not physically present?
This question is answered throughout the Acts of the Apostles and the other epistles. The Holy Spirit, the fruit of the love of the Father and the Son, is the one who makes Christ present to all people. Today’s first reading at Mass offers a good example. The jailer has been tasked with keeping Paul and Silas imprisoned, because they are dangerous men and should not be allowed to talk to the people; however, an earthquake hits, and it is so violent that it breaks the chains of Paul and Silas and flings the doors of the prison wide open. The jailer thinks that he has failed in his task and that he must now do the honorable thing and kill himself rather than face humiliation. To the shock of the jailer, Paul calls out saying that they have not left the prison.
This is the moment of theophany, that is, the moment that God makes known his presence. We know this because the jailer, prior to the earthquake, is unmoved or at best indifferent to St. Paul and his God. Post earthquake, we find the jailer trembling with fear, not at the earthquake, but at Paul and Silas who still remain in the jail cell. The jailer’s next move is even more striking because he asks an unexpected question. “What must I do to be saved?” He asks this not from fear of his superiors, but from a special grace.
How do we explain such a striking change? Simply put, it is the Holy Spirit who moves the jailer’s heart and later allows him to respond with faith in Jesus, which is what Paul says he must to do be saved. The earthquake itself, in one sense, is a symbol portraying the power of the Holy Spirit that breaks into the jailer’s life and shatters his unbelief. In another sense, the earthquake indicates God’s divine providence working through natural events in order to keep the mission of Paul and Silas going, and to transform the heart of the jailer and all of his household.
In the end, we can say that the power of the Holy Spirit is manifested in the earthquake; God’s power is at once terrifying and glorious. While we may not always have an earthquake-like experience of God in our own lives, the Holy Spirit still works great things in the deep recesses of our souls. Our response, like that of the jailer, ought to be not only fear and trembling, but also docility and obedience to God’s divine providence in our lives. To follow Jesus then, means to respond to the movements of the Holy Spirit and to have faith in the knowledge that Jesus is imminently near and present at every moment. The grace of this knowledge shatters our unbelief and calls us out of our old life.
Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (used with permission)