Proclamation and Prayer in the Kingdom of God
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 19, 2009
(Pope Benedict has asked that today be a special World Day of Prayer for Middle East Crisis)
In last Sunday's Gospel, Jesus was sending the apostles out to proclaim the kingdom. This week, they've returned to Jesus and they are excited and eager to report on their mission. Of course we don't know what they reported to Jesus, "all they had done and taught." But we can imagine, can we not?
Jesus, you should have been there. So and so was filled with unclean spirits and with our simple command, we were able to drive them. The demons came out of this guy. Everybody was excited about it. Wow! That was some power you gave us.Another pops up and says "Well, Jesus, that was nothing, compared to the guy we met who was on his deathbed! We anointed him and now he's the picture of health." Another one said "Jesus, I tried, but so and so wasn't interested in hearing your message; like you said, I quickly shook the dust from my sandals and left the house at once. Maybe later, can go back to him. But it made me sad to have to leave him." Perhaps they went on and on, breathlessly interrupting one another with their own personal stories of their ministries.
Nor do we know what Jesus might have said: Well, done, men. I'm proud of you. But I notice that some of you look tired, a couple look exhausted. I tell you what, let's go off by ourselves a while and rest. You need some R and R."
Well, the rest of the story? They were no sooner at their place of relaxation than the crowds began to show up. They were looking for more help - perhaps some healings, some miracles, some comfort, and some reassurance from Jesus.
One thing this says to me is that we all need some balance in our spiritual lives. As disciples of Jesus, we need to be doing what Jesus was doing, reaching out and helping people in whatever way we can. Yes, this can be taxing at times. I've watched young mothers with little children in tow, hanging on to her skirts, sometimes crying, sometimes fighting one another. I can only imagine her doing this 24/7. But everyone seems to be so busy, with so much to do. I'm as busy as a retired priest as I ever was.
On the other hand, we need to spend time, quality time, with Jesus, on a regular basis. The Sisters here come to chapel seven times during the day to pray. We in our own vocations need some regular or surely frequent moments with our Lord. He is the Center of our lives. We pray that we may become more like Jesus in every way. Work hard; never cease to serve those around us, those in the whole world, but to recognize too our need to return to Jesus and sit at his feet, to absorb more and more of his love and compassion, to listen to the directives our Lord gives each one of us in our particular vocation.
The spiritual life for all of us involves these two dimensions: the horizontal - reaching out to those we encounter along the way - be those family members, people with whom we work, people who directly appeal to us, or whom we notice along the way.... To be involved with our neighbors, near or far. Mother Theresa's nuns spent time living in the midst of the direst poverty in Calcutta, London, Detroit, wherever. But in order to do so, Mother Theresa said her nuns were to spend three hours a day in prayer....When asked why the sisters didn't spend those extra three hours with the poor, she replied, "Unless they spent that time with the Lord, they'd never go out into the streets at all."
We need this horizontal dimension to our lives. On Judgment Day, we will be reminded of the hungry, the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned, that we did or did not care for. We're been shown this picture time and time again in our lives. It is one we must never forget.
My favorite quotation from the Sixteen Documents of Vatican Two is from the Church in the Modern World, in the opening words:
"The joys, and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts."
I don't hesitate to share this quotation here in the sanctuary of this cloistered Passionist community. If we call ourselves disciples of Jesus, or indeed, apostles of Jesus - those who are sent out - then this expression of the Vatican Council Fathers is appropriate for all of us.
The other dimension in our lives is the Vertical Dimension, the line that goes from our heart to the very heart of our God. Passionists would say that that vertical line to the Father passes directly through the pierced hearts of Mary, standing at the foot of the Cross, and of Jesus hanging on the Cross. Passionists find their own special place on the Hill of Calvary, but their hearts know of the sufferings, the needs, the cries of God's people everywhere.
There's need for balance in the lives of all of us, including Cloistered nuns... You Sisters have been given a very special call from our blessed Lord - to spend your lives pondering the mystery of God's love manifested by his willingness to die on the cross... You spend your lives in the shadow of the cross, but you don't neglect God's people "out in the world." Mary and the other women were at the foot of the cross, along with John the Beloved Disciple of the Lord; At least John's Gospel paints this picture. Jesus looks down from the Cross, moments before he dies, and says to Mary," Behold your Son," and then to John "Behold your mother." He could have said "Keep your eyes only on me all the time. In fact, he said, "take care of one another."
Somehow, with the guidance and grace of the Holy spirit, we'll keep both dimensions in mind: to work, to proclaim the kingdom, to spend ourselves; but then to rest, to relax in the presence of the Lord Jesus. To work, to be with Jesus. This is the rhythm in our lives; this is how the symphony of our lives is written and played out. This is the music of our union with our God, with Jesus, and with the many who need what Jesus has already shared with us.
In the first Reading, the Lord is displeased with the Shepherds. In those days the kings, those in leadership, were looked upon as shepherds. Because they were often remiss in their responsibilities to guide, protect and care for their people, the Lord God was not happy with them. The Lord then promises to give his people other shepherds to care for them. Eventually, Jeremiah tells us, God would call David to be shepherd for his people. In time, Jesus will himself take over the role of Shepherd: "I am the Good Shepherd."
The Liturgy wants to remind us that by reason of our baptism, we share in the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ. We share in his role as priest, prophet, and shepherd-king. We too are called to be shepherds. This is both comforting and challenging.
We pray that like Jesus, we too will have hearts full of compassion for those who are in need: many today hunger for truth, for instruction in the faith; many are looking for direction. Some parents may be grieving over the direction of some of their children. A man out there is being stripped of his dignity because he can't find decent work. A woman is facing pregnancy alone. Some elderly are feeling diminishing strength in their aging bodies. Some have lost confidence in leadership, whether political or religious. There are all kinds of people out there looking for answers. They are like sheep without a shepherd. To whom should they turn? How do we figure into this? This is not my question. This is Jesus asking each one of us.
Oh, did I forget to mention: Live this Gospel and we'll all find that incredible peace that St Paul tells us about in the second Reading.
Some here are perhaps on the verge of making a life-changing decision. All of us need help in knowing how to carry this message back to our homes, our families, to our businesses, our recreation. It is Jesus who shares his dreams with us all.