“He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” – Mark 6:7-13
By: Ashley Blackburn and Susan Skinner
When Jesus sent the 12 apostles out two by two, he did two things; He gave them authority over the unclean spirits and he commissioned them to “preach repentance.” Jesus goes on to tell the apostles that when they were not welcomed by a household that they were to shake the dust from their sandals and then move on to another household. But if they were welcomed they were to stay there.
This gospel is reflecting on something Jesus did for these specific men, but as we know the bible is the Living Word of God, and so we are to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what this story means for us today. I believe that Jesus is speaking here about conversion. Not only is he commissioning us to stand up for the gospel and be unafraid to speak the light of truth in the darkness of the world, but he is also giving us insight as to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the conviction of souls.
First of all, in order to preach repentance, we must know the truth that was revealed to us in the event of Jesus Christ. Truth is in Jesus and it is for us. We can be secure in it when we follow the teachings of the Scriptures and the Magisterium. The Apostles knew truth because they knew Jesus, this includes Saint Paul to whom Jesus revealed himself. They were armored with, “the belt of truth around [their] waist and… the breastplate of righteousness” (Ephesians 6:14). We too must armor ourselves in this way in order to resist the danger of giving into the sin of others and creating a morally relative world where the devil thrives. WE MUST PRAY prayers of protection. We must, through prayer and the power of Christ, drive out unclean spirits of those who are willing to listen, who want a better life. We particularly have this authority over family members. As a mother, I can pray over my children and my husband. This doesn’t mean we are exorcists, as that is reserved for Priests alone, it simply means we are asking God to deliver our loved ones from any evil that could be influencing them. We can never underestimate the power of prayer, and we should not forget this. All action we take must flow forth, first and foremost, from prayer to assure we are doing God’s will. The most efficacious prayer of all is the Mass, and we also have adoration, the Rosary, and many other devotions.
When we are seeking the will of God and are open to allowing the truth to penetrate our hearts and change our person, we will walk closely with the Holy Spirit; drawing strength and courage from the breath of life. This union with the Spirit is not one that we gain in one moment and then possess for the rest of our lives, but is a continual dance between heaven and earth. The Holy Spirit in all reality cannot be contained. What we must strive to do is to remain open to receiving this Spirit through consistent prayer and the Sacraments. When we are drawing from this wellspring of the Spirit, we will then be able to go out to the world and share this gift that we have received with others. The Holy Spirit inspires us to bring the good news to the world through our intercessory prayers for others, through our words, and through our actions.
It is only then, after preparing our hearts for this commissioning from Jesus and armoring ourselves with the truth, that we are ready to head out into the world to preach repentance for the conversion of hearts. When we walk among the people, we must always walk in truth with charity and mercy. Before sending out the Apostles, Jesus prepared them for the two responses that they would get; people would either welcome them or reject them. In our efforts too, we must be aware of these same two responses. We will no doubt come across those who are not ready to hear the truth. Oftentimes these men and women have a deeply rooted sin or un-forgiveness that is deafening them from hearing the Word of God revealed to them. Jesus tells the Apostles to shake the dust from their sandals and move on because he knows that the Spirit cannot enter someone who is unwilling or unable to receive it. In the gospels we hear of Jesus forgiving sins, healing, and driving out demons in people who were coming to him for help; those who were open to his gifts of healing, forgiveness and deliverance. Jesus only acted in those who believed in his message and who were ready to receive the spirit. Many people followed Jesus during his ministry and many people were healed. The Pharisees also followed Jesus, listening to his proclamation of the Kingdom, his call to repentance, and watching him perform many miracles along the way. But due to their hardness of heart, the Pharisees remained unchanged and unforgiven. Jesus, who is all merciful and loving, would have no doubt healed them if only they would have repented and asked for his healing. It is souls such as these, who we will also come across, who are living with a hardened heart, who will reject or be unable to hear the message of truth being proclaimed to them.
But our mission doesn’t end there. We are called to reach out to people and meet them where they are, but we are not called to leave them there or help them to rationalize why they are in their particular situation. We must pray for the Holy Spirit to continually work in people’s lives. When we venture into situations where extreme sin abounds, we must know that where there is grave sin, there is actually evil there. As Pope Paul VI said in General Audience in 1972 about evil; “evil is not merely an absence of something, but an active force, a living, spiritual being that is perverted and perverts others.” This is precisely why Jesus commanded the Apostles to drive out unclean spirits. It is Satan who is our enemy, the person we are ministering to is not. When we understand this, we are able to look at others through the eyes of compassion and know how to pray for them.
We must be specific in our prayers. Asking the Holy Spirit to convict their hearts and lead them back to Jesus and the truth through the full recognition and sorrow for their sins. The only way in which repentance can take place is within souls who are open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives, for if we reject the Holy Spirit (typically out of fear of what it will “cost” us), we reject conversion. It seems silly to think that a soul would reject the Holy Spirit, but when we take a closer look at what accepting the Spirit actually means for our lives, we will quickly see how fear and doubt can quickly set in. When the Spirit shines a light on our soul, illuminating the uncleanliness that has been living in the darkest crevices of our soul, we can experience feelings of shame, hurt, fear, anxiety, distrust and more. If we let these feelings overtake us, we will get stuck there and do anything we can to hide our sin again in the darkness. But when we are capable and ready to take that next step toward conversion, that commitment to “sin no more” (John 5:14; 1 Corinthians 15:34), we will remain on the journey that Christ is calling us to.
It can be very hard to take that next step toward conversion. Often times the sins being revealed to us through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, whether it is being done privately in prayer or through conversation with someone who is proclaiming the truth, are the ones that require a radical change in our lives. This change would not only affect our own lives, but many times it would also affect others as well. The Spirit is calling us to only take that next step on the journey, but with the promise that we will be guided along the way. We must turn to God and ask for his Grace to carry us through. The ultimate goal is to eventually live differently, but in the moment of conviction, it would do us well to stop before we react, to ponder things in our heart, much like our Blessed Mother did, and to lift up our cares and concerns to the Lord, letting him guide us in his gentleness and kindness.
In the moment, the soul is oftentimes faced with a very tough decision. Will I continue to live as I was living with this new understanding of the truth that has been either spoken in my heart or spoken by another? Or will I bravely and boldly allow the Spirit to reside in my soul, to continue to illuminate my darkness, and for Jesus to come in and heal me in this place? When we choose the former – to slide back into business as usual – we are actually rejecting the Holy Spirit. We are telling the Spirit that it is not welcome in our soul, preferring to place our sin back in the darkness where it can be hidden away. Then, as if on cue, we instantly move toward the justification of our sin. We tell God and everyone else why this sin is ok for us based upon our unique circumstances. This is actually blaspheming the Holy Spirit. For when we are rejecting what the Spirit has revealed to us, we are in essence saying that the Holy Spirit was wrong. If we go to our death with this conviction that the Holy Spirit is wrong, we separate ourselves eternally from God, and this is the unforgivable sin.
But God does not want to let us go to our death rejecting the Spirit. If we are open, this is never the end of the story, for God does not leave us in this. Through the mercy of God the Father and through the sacrificial love of the Son Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will again and again try to penetrate our soul. The Blessed Trinity will never give up on us and will continue to work toward our conversion. This is the promise of our Heavenly Father. The Father who loves us, who sees us as who we were when he created us, and who will have the potential to become. We must never forget that we are all beloved sons and daughters of a GOOD Father.
Conversely, when we choose to repent and change our ways, we no doubt will face a tough road ahead, full of persecution and other hardships. But with all persecution and suffering, an equal amount of Grace is given. St. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9 “but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” St. Paul is a witness for us on conversion. After viciously attacking the Church for years, the light of Christ illuminated his soul and he was convicted of his sins (persecuting the Church). Paul chose conversion. He chose to listen to the Spirit and to follow the will of God, even if that meant it was going to lead him to places he would never have imagined. Paul teaches us that we can endure all things, because the Grace of God accompanies us when we choose to follow the will of God, despite all odds.
If you are struggling with family member who is steeped in sin, make sure you yourself are armed with truth, that you have confessed your own sins to a Priest. Remember that you are there to listen and to proclaim the truth. Leave the convicting to the Holy Spirit! It was St. Bernadette who was quoted to have said, “My job is to inform, not to convince.” Browbeating a loved one that you are “right” and they are “sinners” will not work. Be grounded in the truth, speak it with love and gentleness, and leave the conviction to the Paraclete. Then you can pray, “Holy Spirit, convict them so strongly that you interrupt their day and bring them to their knees so that they repent right now.” Then expect the Holy Spirit to act, because that’s what He does. Lives can be changed, and hope abounds because God has already won the Victory.