Small is Beautiful

Author: Fr Chris Thomas

Small is Beautiful

Many years ago I was in Dublin working with a group of young people when a punk rocker who was living on the streets came into the room. He challenged me and said he didn’t believe that people could have an experience of Jesus. He felt that most Christians believed in Christianity because it suited their particular understanding of the world. I asked him to go away and to read John 3:16 and to think about it. He came back the next day. He wept as he told the group that as he had reflected on that Gospel passage, Jesus had reached into his life and begun a process of transformation in him.

When Paul of Tarsus and the early evangelists proclaimed the Gospel they didn’t see it just as a set of ideas or philosophies. For them the proclamation that Jesus has died and is risen and is Lord of the whole universe was a means by which God reached into the hearts and minds of people and enabled them to enter into the process of transformation.

Formation of communities of love

This process of transformation meant that they grew in love and formed communities of love. It meant that people were transformed within because of this gift of God and it meant that they were prepared to suffer for the sake of their new way of living because it meant everything to them. To go back to an ordinary way of life after an authentic Jesus experience is almost impossible because it’s not life it’s just existence.

However we sometimes get the wrong impression about the early Church. I guess it’s because we filter our understanding through our 21st century western cultural assumptions we presume that Christianity swept across the world with huge numbers involved. In fact the churches that Paul and the others founded were small house churches that met at Dorcas’ house or Priscilla and Aquila’s house. Some of the scholars tell us that they were at most forty strong. It wasn’t until the advent of Constantine in the fourth century when Christianity became the official religion of the empire that numbers began to really swell as cultural Christianity became a reality. The first Church communities were small groups of people sharing their lives and allowing the grace of God to transform them. I wish we had the same sense of God’s grace working in our lives as those early Church communities had. We seem to put all our hopes for people’s conversion on this programme and that programme without recognising that it’s God’s work. We seem to think that if we give people lots of information that they will be transformed when in fact it’s the Spirit of God that does the transformation.

If our lives are not being transformed then we are not Gospel people

Transformation is the essence of the Gospel. If our lives are not being transformed then we’re not Gospel people. It doesn’t matter how many Masses we go to or how often we pray for the healing of the family tree that still doesn’t make us Gospel people.

How prepared are we to take the risk to change deeply within? Is the bitterness and anger and self righteousness within us being softened and altered? How much in touch are we with our vulnerability and our weakness? How willing are we to look foolish to others? How open are we to the Spirit and the way in which we’re prompted by that Spirit? It’s our willingness to enter into the process of transformation that makes us Gospel people on fire for Jesus.

Paul and the others founded small communities of people who had an experience of the risen Christ and because of that were into transformation. It seems to me, however, that very few people seem to want to be transformed. Very few people desire God enough to really want to open themselves up to the overwhelming of the Holy Spirit.

The numbers of people who want to be genuinely transformed will always be small just as they were in the early Church. So don’t lose heart when the numbers in your prayer community are falling. Don’t be upset when the Life in the spirit seminar isn’t full or nothing seems to happen. Don’t become disillusioned when the numbers at the Day of Renewal seem to be falling off. Keep on offering the space and the time for the Spirit to work the miracle of transformation. For those who meet the Risen Christ real life will happen and if it is only one person who begins to respond to the Gospel then rejoice in the salvation that that person experiences

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