14th Sunday Year (C)
(Isa. 66:10-14; Gal. 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20)
In our first two readings we were given an understanding of the essential character of Mother Church; for we, who are in her and of her, are according to St. Paul:
A new creation.
Paul had been granted the insight that, -- through the power of Christ’s Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension -- we, who as baptized believers in Him 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 sharing in the glory 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 meant to enable us to live, henceforth, in a heavenly way for heavenly and eternal prospects.
Moreover, we could truly expect that for such a new creation there would be appropriate new nourishment, such as the prophet Isaiah had 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, your bodies flourish.
Isaiah could imagine nothing more intimate than that; but Jesus -- beyond any and all imagination -- nourishes us with His very own Body and Blood!
In the Gospel reading we then heard of the Lord sending out ‘seventy-two others’; not the twelve apostles but disciples who were learning to delight in Mother Church as they foreshadowed her universal mission by their obedience to and communion with Jesus as they prepared the way for His own subsequent visiting of Israel in the strength, peace, and grateful joy He gave 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, having a clear message to proclaim, they were not to become 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 in any way 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 not apologetic: in no way lacking confidence in their mission, and being most clearly aware of their own duty to bear personal witness to its imperious character. Their message was from the Lord, not from their own imagination or fancy; and 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 downgrade the message into something that can wait for their attention until they have finished more pressing business. Jesus, however, did not want to have His disciples either projecting themselves in order to win people's approval, or holding back in their proclamation of His Gospel for fear of their disapproval, and therefore He said:
Whoever listens to you listens to Me. Whoever rejects you rejects Me. And whoever rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.”
And, as it turned out, despite initial apprehension arising from the awareness of their own incapacity, those disciples found that in all their endeavours for the Lord they had indeed been endowed with:
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 amazed 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 Christian-and-Catholic 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 have, in Him, been crucified with Him:
Through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.
Indeed, so deeply did St. Paul contemplate and experience this mysterious yet glorious union of Christians with Christ that he was finally able to say of himself, objectively and visibly:
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 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 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 win us salvation. 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 to us in “our Lord Jesus Christ” through the uplifting power of His most Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that if as a Christian believer one must boast, one should boast about what the Lord Jesus has done for us all on the Cross, in His Resurrection, and by the gift of His Spirit; reflected and realized also in these our days of Catholic discipleship by the truly sublime blessings bestowed on both you and me and countless others during the course of our short lives of witness! Blessings known only to us individually, blessings we alone can and above all must, give thinks for.
And, People of God, that spirit of personal confession of Jesus for gifts received from Him in our individual and personal lives is so lacking today! People are so self-conscious: so prone to lie-low and willing to apologise for what past Saints may have done with a mind-set far purer in faith-intent than our modern torrent of passing worldly considerations, whims and fancies.
Just think of people today -- indeed, just think of our own unspiritual 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 of God, reverence or respect. This, however, should not surprise us, dear People of God, for being so much alive to themselves and so committed to their worldly prospects, they become well-nigh dead to God from the beginning and ultimately 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. 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 saving power on which we can rely, that is, His own 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 Corinthians 12: 6, 11)
He is indeed, the Spirit of Glory, Who alone can ensure our names ‘are written in heaven’, and those are His gifts -- in the name of and for the glory of Jesus -- for which He should be praised and glorified by us who are their recipients.
Therefore, People of God, we are encouraged today, by the prophet Isaiah, to rejoice in Mother Church: the Church Our Lord Jesus 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 for us.
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 desperately lustful and wilful world around -- is nevertheless 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. He comes thus freely and lovingly to give us strong and supernatural food; sure teaching, which we must embrace and acclaim, and never in any way to satisfy men presume to apologize for; and above all draw us closer to Himself by the Gift of His Spirit as He leads us ever on towards His and our heavenly Father. When, at Holy Mass, we do what He requires of us ‘in memory of Him’ we open ourselves up to receive all the blessings and powers He comes from heaven to bestow on His Church and His/her children, 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 closely 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.