14th Sunday Year (C)
In our first two readings we were given an appreciation of the essential character of Mother Church, for she -- and we who are in her and of her -- are, according to St. Paul:
A new creation.
And, recalling St. Augustine’s jubilation for Eastertide, we can truly say that for our new creation there must be appropriately new nourishment, such as the prophet Isaiah foreshadowed, saying:
Rejoice with (Mother Church) and be glad because of her: Suck fully of the milk of her comfort; carried in her arms … may your hearts rejoice and your bodies flourish.
In the Gospel reading we then heard of the Lord sending out seventy-two others, disciples who had learned to delight in Mother Church, that is, in their proximity and communion with Jesus, and the strength it afforded them:
He sent (them) ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place He Himself intended to visit.
Their instructions were both simple and firm: first of all, they were being sent in His name, they were not beggars; moreover, they had a clear message to proclaim, they were not to be pleaders or cajolers:
Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the labourer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another.
Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’
As you can see Jesus wanted His disciples to be single-minded and sincere: they were not to seek money, but neither should they be embarrassed about accepting whatever the house or town could offer by way of food and drink, for "the labourer deserves his payment". Jesus likewise desired that they should be humble, but in no way lacking confidence in their mission: for their message was from the Lord, not from their own imagination or fancy. In His name they were to announce a fact, namely that "The Kingdom of God is at hand for you", and to those willing to listen to their message they were to bestow a gift from the Lord: 'Peace to this household.'
People today often get hung up on the messenger, the priest, whom they decide to like or dislike; and, as a consequence of centring on him, they then tend to ignore or forget the message. Now Jesus did not want His disciples either projecting themselves in order to win people's approval, or holding back in their proclamation of the Gospel for fear of disapproval, and therefore He assured them:
Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
You can imagine how thrilled the disciples must have been when their mission proved to be a great success: the Lord gave the Word and great was the company of unseen angels contributing towards the accomplishment of the work; the disciples, to their amazement, simply gathered in the harvest. Despite their initial fears -- arising from the awareness of their own incapacity -- they found that, in all their endeavours for the Lord they had, most assuredly, been given:
power to trample on serpents and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy, (so that) nothing would harm (them).
No wonder then that they "returned rejoicing!” Why -- and this was most wonderful of all, because it summed up and included everything else in their minds -- even the demons had been subject to them in the name of Jesus! They were, indeed, amazed, thrilled, and astounded!!
However, notice what Jesus said in response to their enthusiasm:
Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.
Now that is what St. Paul had in mind when, as you heard, he wrote:
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
St. Paul loved to teach his converts that belief in Jesus, together with baptism in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, makes us members of the Body of Christ. He believed this so firmly, and understood it so concretely, that he could then go on to say that, having become members of His Body, therefore we too, in Him, have been crucified with Him:
Through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.
And, so deeply did St. Paul contemplate this mysterious yet glorious union of Christians with Christ that he was finally able to say:
From now on let no one make troubles for me, for I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus on my body.
Let us just try to understand what this meant for Paul. In his contemplation of this union between Christ and the believer, Paul -- absorbed in divine truth and filled with an overwhelming desire to respond to and co-operate with the Father’s calling -- had been led to recognize that:
In Christ Jesus neither does circumcision mean anything nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.
No earthly pride, be it Greek, Roman, or even Jewish, nothing whatsoever that depends on us in any way, could save us from the destructive power of sin; only the totally gratuitous gift of God’s Spirit in response to Jesus’ self-sacrificing love on Calvary could bring us salvation.
Paul had been granted the insight that, -- through the power of Christ’s Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension -- we, who as baptized believers have become members of His Body, are a new creation. Jesus, in His Body, rose from the tomb to heavenly glory, and in Him we too -- having died to our sinful selves through faith and baptism -- have, therefore, as a new creation by the power of His Spirit, risen heavenwards with Him: living still on earth, of course, but now endowed with a share in Jesus’ heavenly life, a share that enables us to live, henceforth, in a heavenly way and for heavenly prospects. Paul tells us that if one must boast, one should boast about what the Lord Jesus has done for us on the Cross, in His Resurrection, and by the gift of His Spirit. Circumcision means nothing: that is, personal pride in one’s own holiness gained by legalistic observance of a written Law, and national pride in the exclusiveness of one’s birth; all that means nothing Paul says. Uncircumcision too means nothing: the Greeks' boasting in their superior wisdom, the Romans' vaunting of their worldly power, all that too, ultimately, means nothing . For a Christian there can be only one cause for boasting: what Christ has done for us and for all who -- whatever their race, culture, or natural abilities -- are willing to believe in Him as Lord and to obey His Spirit; a boasting centred not on self, but on God's goodness, in “our Lord Jesus Christ”, through the Gift of the Spirit.
Just think of people today -- indeed, just think of our own un-spiritual selves -- how much boasting there is, in us and around us; just like that of the Jews, Greeks, and Romans of old: boasting in holiness of birth and racial advantage, intellectual and cultural superiority, worldly power and privilege!! Indeed, today people can even hypocritically try to justify their murderous crimes: totally callous and ruthless as they prepare, prime, and place their bombs; quite lawless and unbridled as they peddle their drugs for power, plenty, and pleasure; blind and totally indifferent to the sufferings of others around them as they search for personal vengeance to satisfy their devilish pride. These are some of the obscenities many boast about today, and pursuing such purposes they rely on lying tongues, deceptive looks, animal viciousness and cunning; and all the while they seem to enjoy an apparently total freedom from any restraining power, be it conscience, fear, reverence or respect. This, however, should not surprise us, dear People of God, for being so much alive to themselves and so committed to the world, they become well-nigh dead to God and to their neighbour!
We who are believers cannot allow ourselves to be deceived by any such lying self-confidence. It is a danger about which Jesus had to warn even His apostles; and still today, it leads too many well-intentioned Christians to rejoice wrongly over what they think they themselves are doing or have done, for God, His Church, and for souls. The only One about Whom we can rightly boast is our Lord Jesus Christ Who so loved us that He died for us on the Cross; and, having ascended into heaven, has bequeathed to us in Mother Church the only power on which we can surely rely, that is, His Most Holy Spirit:
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit who works all in all; (for) one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. (1 Cor. 12: 6, 11)
He is, indeed, the Spirit of Glory, Who alone can ensure our names "are written in heaven".
Therefore, People of God, we are encouraged today, by the prophet Isaiah, to rejoice in Mother Church: the Church Our Lord continually sustains, promotes, and protects through the working of His Spirit, so that, as He originally and enduringly intends, we may ever be able to drink deeply of, and find delight in, the abundance He gives her.
We are encouraged to rejoice in such a way over Mother Church because, as Isaiah foretold, it is in her and through her that:
The Lord’s power shall be known to His servants.
People of God, Mother Church -- though scarred and disfigured by the sins of some of both her priests and people, hated and abused by a lustful and wilful world around -- is ever mankind’s only authentic meeting-place with God, thanks to His enduring faithfulness to us in Jesus. In her, however, Jesus always meets us on His terms, not on ours: He lovingly condescends, comes down, to meet with us; we do not in any way compel or require Him. Above all He comes thus freely and lovingly when, at Holy Mass, we do what He requires of us ‘in memory of Him’; we do not force or oblige Him by any power of chosen words or secret associations, for all the blessings and powers He has given her are given for our saving fulfilment not for His enslavement.
This most sublime fulfilment comes our way today when, in response to His command, we have come together on His Sabbath Day -- in memory of Him and in the name of all creation -- to offer worship, praise and honour, glory and thanks to God our Father for His great goodness to us. On this sublime occasion we are drawn by the Spirit to share in the heavenly and eternal liturgy being celebrated by our High Priest and Saviour before the Father: a celebration where the whole of obedient creation is united by the Holy Spirit of God under the leadership of the God-man Jesus Christ: here He does indeed come to us in Communion, but above all, He draws us, by His Gift of the Spirit, ever more and more with Himself towards the Father; He fills us, inspires and enflames us, ever more and more, with that Love which makes Him one with the Father, that Triune Fire of eternal Love which is the glory and very Being of God the Almighty and which can – O wonder of wonders!! -- be shared by us in Jesus as life everlasting; communion, both total and fulfilling; joy, ever fresh and at peace.