Sunday, July 15, 2012

3 apostolic things

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time B
15 July 2012
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
Daily Readings

The gospel of Jesus' sending of the first apostles is not just a chance for us to remember the foundations of our Church.  No, in a very personal and real way, it is a chance for us to reconnect with our mission in life ,a mission that is in every way for each of us and for all of us, apostolic.  When we talk about the mission of the first apostles, we talk about three things - they were sent to teach, to sanctify and to rule.  They were sent to announce the Gospel, to drive out evil and to make God's kingdom more visible and real.  This apostolic mission has remain unchanged for thousands of years now, carried on by the bishops of the Catholic Church, the unbroken successors of the apostles.  This is the simple mission of the Church, lest we get confused about what the Church really does.  It is simple - the Church, teaches, sanctifies and governs.  By the Church, I mean not only the bishops, I mean all of us.  The bishop is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the mission of the Church is accomplished, and his priests are his closest helpers, but his ministry is ultimately at the service of our mission.  The bishop doesn't do the work of the Church for us, he animates our work, for we have all been baptized as priest, prophet and king.

So Jesus' sending in today's Gospel should remind us of our baptismal grace and of our confirmation, through which we received the fullness of God's Spirit to do these very things.  And there are no excuses for not doing them, for without cost we have all received our status as God's beloved and graced children, so without cost we are to give.  God can call anyone, and indeed he calls everyone, as Amos attests to in today's first reading.  Amos was just a dresser of sycamores, a tree man, and nothing more, and yet the Lord called him to prophesy to the strongest in Israel.  So none of us has an excuse.  Instead of  accepting our excuses, Jesus gives us instructions so that if we have stopped teaching the Gospel by our words and example, if we have stopped in our struggle against evil, or if we have stopped building up God's kingdom, we may start again.

The first thing Jesus says is that we are to go out two by two at the very least.  It is true that the world is changed more by heroes, prophets and saints than by committee meetings, but Christianity is not ultimately an individualistic religion.  Jesus from the beginning forms a communion of persons and his Church is never a collection of individuals but always a mystical body, an organism.  In living out our apostolic mission in life, it is never our mission to start our own church, for Christianity only makes sense if there is one church, the one church Jesus founded, and no others.  It is rarely our mission to seek holiness alone or to go on mission alone, for ultimately Christianity is not a me project, it's a we project.  If our sense of mission in life does not work together in the Church with others, or doesn't attract others, then it is not apostolic.  It is not from God.  We reject many guys who want to go to seminary simply because they are doing their own thing in life, and are not heavily involved in their local parish.  Christianity is not a religion of loners working on their own thing.  Jesus sends us out two by two.

The second thing Jesus says is that we are to go out poor.  Imagine going on your next trip with no wallet and no suitcase.  What we will find, of course, is that the more poor, vulnerable and dependent we are, the more we are able to see God at work and to trust in his divine providence.  Christianity can never be ultimately about seeking security, insurance and self-sufficiency.  No, it is a radical dependence and focus upon God and others.  This summer, I gave three KU college students and three of our seminarians at our inner city prayer and action mission in KCK the task of trying to feed 60 high school kids for 5 days with $500.  That's less than $10 a week or $2 a day, and yes, there were lots of hungry boys in the group.  I gave them an impossible task, but by the end of the fourth week of our prayer and action mission experience, the group only spent $200 a week.  By asking for help, and letting people know what we were doing, the group realized how many resources were out there.  Even though we were in a poor area of Kansas City, Kansas painting houses and doing yardwork, still the donations kept coming in, and we had to give our leftover to someone else.

Thirdly, Jesus says to stay in the same place until we leave.  I have to admit, that for quite a while, I laughed at this line in the Gospel, like it was a mistranslation or the most redundant and least helpful phrase in the Bible.  I usually dismissed the line as unimportant.  But I've had others explain to me that Jesus is giving great advice here, against people who always think the grass is greener on the other side.  This is a spiritual mistake, to think that if this or that external circumstance is changed, then I will be holy.  We often times feel limited where we are, when the truth is there is every opportunity to love and to preach, sanctify and build up in the exact circumstances in which we find ourselves.  So we find in the end that this is profound spiritual advice.  Stay where you are until you leave.  It means, I think, that unless we find a way to be holy where we are right now, we'll find the same excuses in the next place as well.

May the Lord's good advice and instructions take away our excuses for not fulfilling the apostolic mission he has entrusted to each one of us.  Instead of shying away from it, let us embrace it again joyfully, and find new ways to teach by what we say and do, to battle against evil with all our heart, mind and strength, and so drive it out of the world, and to make God's kingdom more real and visible through our service in the Church.  Amen.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

14th Sunday B

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center at the University of Kansas
8 July 2012
Daily Readings

As priests we get asked a lot why we move around so much.  By that the question means - why do you travel and why do you get new assignments so often?  Why don't you just stay put, and why doesn't the bishop just let you stay put?  Well, if you have a priest you don't particularly care for, you might be asking the opposite question, but if you'll humor me, we'll stick tonight with the first question.  Why do priests travel so much and change assignments so much?

The answer lies in the priest's commitment to celibacy and obedience.  Although a spiritual father and a true shepherd, and so tied to a particular parish or mission that he is to serve, the priest also belongs to the greater diocese and indeed to the greater church, and has a prophetic dimension to his priesthood that he must fulfill.  He does this in imitation of Jesus, who moved around very freely because he was celibate and poor, and so did not need to make major plans in order to move to the next town, but also because he had this prophetic mission to go out and proclaim the good news elsewhere.  In tonight's Gospel, Jesus hits his hometown and does not receive a hero's welcome.  In this case, familiarity breeded contempt, and Jesus' deeds and words were met with a complete lack of faith.  In this Gospel story, we see the wisdom of moving priests in our Church's tradition.  It is not proper for a priest himself to get comfortable and happy with his parish, nor is it proper for the parish to do vice versa with her priest.  Although we do not take a formal vow of poverty as diocesan priests like our religious brethren, we are expected to be free enough from possessions to be able to move from parish to parish in short order, taking next to nothing with us when we go.  This is in the end one way of avoiding the worst possible situation that we see in the Gospel, which is having a flock unable to listen to a prophetic word or see a prophetic sign, because they are too familiar with the prophet.

It is good to say, then, that a priest should be unattached to things and external circumstances and ready to move, in imitation of Jesus.  In a word, a priest should be vulnerable and dependent, or as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, he should be filled with weakness.  St. Paul gives great advice to the Corinthians that every Christian life should be marked not with self-sufficiency nor with conservative fear but with reckless love and profound vulnerability and dependence.  St. Paul reminds us well that the security that we sometimes feel in the middle of our lives is mostly illusory, and the pursuit of it vanity.  He tells us plainly that we are either in survival mode or prophetic mode.  Survival mode is dismayed by every trial or curveball that comes our way.  Prophetic mode welcomes all kinds of suffering as a means by which we attach ourselves to the things that really matter, and allow those things to shine forth from us.  Survival mode tries in vain to make the middle part of our life last forever, while prophetic mode lives in the truth that how we started our lives, and how we will end them, vulnerable and dependent, is who we always are, whether we like it or not.  In this light we see that St. Paul is not just telling us ironic things that sound clever, he is bringing the truth to light.  It is when we are weak that we are living in the truth, and so are strong.  It is when we are weak that we are strong in our relationships with God and one another, and these things in the end are all that matter.

We need look no farther for the perfect demonstration of this humility, vulnerability and dependence than at the Eucharist about to be made present to us here.  If we pause for a moment to imagine what it costs our Lord to make himself fully and immediately present to us here tonight in the most obscure place and in the most humble of ways, we know our Lord is not afraid of weakness.  May we grow strong only by wanting to receive him fruitfully tonight, helped by the intercession of our Blessed Mother, who first received him perfectly because she was aware of nothing but her lowliness.  Amen.