The Source of Courage, Conviction
by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Jesus said: "I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A hired man, who is not a shepherd and whose sheep are not his own, sees a wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf catches and scatters them. This is because he works for pay and has no concern for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father."
There is a remarkable difference between the Peter we see in the Gospels and the Peter we see in the Acts of the Apostles after Pentecost. In the Gospels, Peter begins to walk on water and then sinks like a rock (pun intended); Peter pronounces under the inspiration of God the Father that Jesus is “Messiah and Lord,” only to turn around and plead that Our Lord not follow the path to the cross; Peter pledges his full allegiance to the Lord and then denies Him three times in His darkest hour. This weak, inconsistent and fragile Peter contrasts with the Peter who leads the early Church with deep faith, amazing courage and surprising confidence.
Where did Peter’s newfound courage come from?
First, Peter encountered the risen Lord on several occasions, including the moment where Jesus recommissioned Peter in his role of the shepherd of the flock (“Feed my lambs”). Jesus’ victory over sin and death brought Peter to a whole new level of faith. Seeing the Lord fully alive following His crucifixion confirmed all that the Father promised in the Old Testament and all that Jesus did during His 33 years while on this earth. In Chapter 4 of the Acts of the Apostles, Peter is courageous enough to proclaim, in reference to Jesus, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”
Second, Peter had received the promised Helper, the Holy Spirit. The Spirit poured out into the hearts of believers at Pentecost, sealed and strengthened Peter’s faith, rooting out all doubt and bringing about the deepest trust in Jesus. After he instantaneously heals a cripple in imitation of Jesus in front of the people and the elders of Israel, Peter states: “All of you and all the people should know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead: In his name this man stands before you healed.” Peter is a new man with new courage.
Third, Peter now knew beyond any doubt that Jesus is for all eternity and for every human being the Good Shepherd. Jesus did not back down before the wolves who threatened the flock. Jesus laid down His life out of a profound concern for His sheep. We are precious to Him. He calls us by name. He has our back in every trial. Faith gives believers boldness and conviction that is encouraging and attractive to those who are seeking God.
Mother Teresa is a modern-day example of a Christian whose faith and courage were surprisingly strong and bold. One famous manifestation of her courageous faith was during the war in Beirut. She happened to be in Beirut during an intense period of bombing. A hospital with a number of children was bombed and the children were desperately in need of being rescued. Mother Teresa gathered with political and Red Cross leaders, demanded that arrangements be made to send a convoy to pick the children and get them medical attention, even though the city was under siege. The leaders respected Mother Teresa’s zeal but made it clear that the heavy bombing made such a mission impossible. A seize fire was needed and no discussion had even begun to create one.
Mother Teresa insisted that everyone be ready with the Red Cross trucks as soon as possible. Again, the political leaders admired her determination, but reverently explained that her request was impossible. She told them again to be ready. The next morning Beirut was unexplainable silent. The fighting stopped for several hours, and a convoy went with the Missionaries of Charity to rescue the children. Mother Teresa’s faith moved mountains.
Lord Jesus, reveal Yourself to us in brand new ways this Easter season, stir into flame the Holy Spirit given to us in baptism and confirmation, open our hearts to your protection and care as our Good Shepherd, and make us men and women of deep faith, filled with courage and conviction.
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