Saturday, June 21, 2008

Prayer and Mission

(12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A)

We continue our reading today in what we call Matthew’s “missionary discourse.” You will recall last week when we heard about some of things that make up our work as missionaries: healing, cleansing, casting out demons. Make no mistake; each of us is a missionary! As one of my teachers in theology liked to say, “The Church doesn’t have a mission; it’s the mission of Jesus Christ that has a Church.” All of us who are the Church, who become the Body of Christ in this Eucharist, are given the privilege and the joy, the duty and the challenge, of carrying forth the mission of Jesus Christ.

In today’s selection for the Gospel we hear a little about how we are to receive the words we will speak as missionaries. Jesus says to his disciples, “What I say to you in darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” Everything that they learned from Jesus, everything about God that was revealed to them through their intimate relationship with the Lord during his time on earth, they are to make utterly public and proclaim to the whole world. There are no secrets in Christianity. There is no special knowledge or secret teaching reserved to those who have fancy degrees or arcane experiences of God. Everything is meant to be public and out there for everyone. That is why the Word of God took flesh and became one of us in the first place—to be a perfect and complete revelation of God on our terms.

This is the missionary dynamic of the disciple of Jesus Christ. What they heard and learned from their intimate relationship with the Lord during his time on earth, they were then to go out and proclaim to the whole world, taking what they had heard in the quiet and secret of that relationship, that little community, and making it a public revelation for everyone. And the same thing is true for us. What we hear in the intimacy and privacy of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we are to proclaim in our life with each other in our families and communities, in our jobs and our country.

But in order for this work, in order for us to have something to proclaim about Jesus Christ, we need to have that intimate, listening relationship with the Lord. That’s why we need to people of prayer, and not just the prayer of speaking our praise, concerns, and needs to God, but the prayer of listening with the heart. We need to make that time and space—amid the noise and speed and distraction of our lives—to quiet ourselves down and listen to God who speaks quietly to the heart. From that place of prayer we will hear and learn of God’s gentleness, God’s kindness, and God’s overflowing desire to heal and save the world. And this gentle loving-kindness that we learn and experience in our prayer we are to carry in mission to all of the people and situations of our lives. That is the dynamic of the missionary identity of each one of us: what we hear in the secret intimacy of prayer, we are to then “speak in the light” and “proclaim from the housetops.”

It won’t be easy. As heard in the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah, the one who speaks the words of God is soon denounced and persecuted. This is because the world around us is addicted to self-indulgence, false security, power, violence, and war, and doesn’t want to hear about the God who has an indiscriminate and relentless respect for the life he created. So as soon as we, the missionary disciples of Jesus Christ begin to speak and act against the culture of death with its absurd injustices of destroying the earth, abortion, and pre-emptive war, we can expect to be denounced and persecuted by those whose self-indulgence and power is served by these systems of death.

But we must not be afraid of our missionary task. As Jesus says in the Gospel today, no one can harm us. The only one we must fear is he who can destroy the soul, and no one can destroy our soul without our permission. Let us then cast all fear and anxiety aside, and go forth as disciples of the Lord to proclaim the love and care of God to a weary and troubled world.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Nation of Priests

(11th Sunday, A)

“Christian” is more than a label we put on ourselves. It is an identity, for sure, but it’s also a vocation, a mission, and a way of being in the world, of being in our families, our community, and our country. It is God who calls us and gathers us together for his mission in the world.

As we pray in the Eucharistic Prayer, “From age to age you gather a people to yourself, so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name.” And what is this offering? It is the world itself, sanctified through our apostolic efforts and made acceptable to God. This is what it means in the first reading from the book of Exodus when God says that his people will be a “kingdom of priests.”

A priest, in the most basic sense, is someone charged with offering sacrifice to God. To sacrifice something, in the most basic sense, means to make it holy and offer it to God. Therefore our mission as Christians calls us all to a priestly life of offering sacrifice: we are to work to make ourselves and the world around us holy. Then we are meant to offer a sanctified life and world back to God as a sacrifice of praise.

This mission has its roots in Jesus Christ himself. As God made one of us, the Word of God sanctified and redeemed our human nature by his willingness to dwell within it as one of us. In the same way, we who are made into the Body of Christ by this Eucharist are meant to continue the sanctifying presence of Christ in the world. It is our job and our joy to make the world around us holy.

To get a sense of what this will look in practice, we turn to the Gospel we hear today. Jesus sends the twelve with authority to heal the sick, raise the dead, and to drive out demons. This is our job in the world as successors of Jesus’ first followers. We Christians are called to be a healing presence in the world, to show our society the possibility of a way out of the cycles of violence that plague and injure our world. We are called to raise the dead in the sense that we can show people a way out of the deadness of sin and the misery of living in a world with no meaning or purpose. It is the duty and joy of us Christians to be empowered by Christ to drive the demons of injustice, of prejudice, of violence out of this world and thus make a redeemed and sanctified world an acceptable offering to God.

Jesus looked out at the people of his own time and saw that they were “troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” The people of our time aren’t much different, led astray by the false promises of our culture of materialism and made tired and depressed by this world’s glorification of selfishness and sin. God is depending on us, the priestly people he has called to himself, to denounce and drive out the demons of our culture, to sanctify ourselves and the world around us, and make of all creation a pleasing offering to God.