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.

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