Sunday, July 12, 2009

Like Amos, be Prophets!

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
– for the Intention of Archbishop Paul Tabet –
Chapel of the Apostolic Nunciature
Port of Spain, T&T

“Let us see, O Lord, your mercy and give us your saving help”.

There are times when I wonder whether some of the people I meet are clear about what it means to be a Catholic. I say that in the sense that I at least, maybe you too, commonly run into people who are very shy about sharing their faith; it is not just that respect and reserve we owe to sacred things, rather faith seems almost to be such a private or personal thing for them that they dare not share even with people they love and respect what the Gospel refers to as hidden treasure or the pearl of great price.

There are two problems with this: one, it doesn’t make sense not to share the joy of your life with other good people and two, this private approach is hard to reconcile with the mission Jesus gave to the Twelve as reported in today’s Gospel. Maybe it’s just the fact that sharing the faith is not as simple as showing a friend our pictures of the children or grandchildren. Sharing the faith means inviting others to change. The Twelve understood very clearly their mission from Christ:

“So they set off to preach repentance; and they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them”.

In the Church, we cannot leave this work which is really what is meant by prophecy or a prophetic mission to the professionals (the priests and sisters). Today’s Old Testament prophet Amos, a farmer really whom God had called to preach repentance to Israel, is the foreshadowing of the calling all of us share as a result of our baptism, no matter what our walk in life. We’re called not only to save our own souls, but to save others by sharing the faith with them, which basically involves inviting them to change their lives to conform to the law of the Lord.

That may be a problem in and of itself, but Amos’ life points to a second part of the experience, which verifies itself time and again in the lives of all those who seek to share their faith with others. Very simply put, the prophet Amos rubbed the people of Israel the wrong way:

“Go away seer… We want no more prophesying in Bethel; this is the royal sanctuary, the national temple”.

While I was home in the States this year on vacation, I had a visit with a friend of some years, a woman who shared with me her perplexity over the situation in her parish. In the last year both her parish priest and the associate priest had been changed. The old ones were fine to her mind and parish life had been OK. You could say, however, that nobody had really “rocked the boat” much in the past. The new priests had a different approach even though they were very popular and obviously worked hard for all aspects of parish life. You see, they also preached on some very difficult and controversial topics, moral issues, which some of my friend’s fellow parishioners took as a “punch in the face” of sorts. The new priests, like the Twelve whom Jesus sent out two by two in the Gospel or like Amos, were preaching repentance.

My friend told me there had even been cases of people getting up during the homily and stomping out of church in a rage. However, for everyone whom the two priests angered, she told me, there were other people, the vast majority, who rejoiced in sound teaching and the priests’ courage in facing squarely some very hard issues. People were coming from other parishes in town of a Sunday to be able to listen to them and worship together with them. These men were successfully fulfilling the mission given to them by Christ.

Some people would argue that religion does not necessarily have to be so “in your face” and they’ll point to some of the preachers on TV. I asked a bishop friend of mine, whom I respect very much, what he thought of the mega-church phenomenon, which still seems to be attracting many people not by calling them to repentance or change of life, but by providing a comfortable, even beautiful place of a Sunday, with great music and a simple message not unlike the old “power of positive thinking” business of years ago. The bishop observed that for many people the mega-church experience was only a passing thing. They would try it for a while and in the case of many fallen-away Catholics he had met, the mega-church experience was a little nudge to bring them back to the Catholic Church. My bishop friend told me that it may not be the full Gospel, but sometimes it can help people on the pathway to fullness of life and faith in Christ’s Holy Church.

Conclusion number one: Sunday worship should challenge us to be renewed in the faith of our Baptism; it should be a call to repent. Catholic worship of a Sunday cannot be jumping up and shouting. It’s not meant to be a diversion or a festival of song and dance. It’s a time to lift our face to Jesus. It’s coming to that “out of the way place” with Him to draw strength for the week ahead. It is as much standing at the foot of the Cross as it is anything else and coming to understand how our whole life cannot really be lived anywhere else but in the presence of the Crucified and Risen One.

In a sense, Sunday Mass is Viaticum for the living. Viaticum, as you know, is Holy Communion under that special form which the Church gives to the dying. As believing people, we seek to call the priest when someone is near death; we want him to hear that person’s confession if he or she is still conscious; we want the priest to give that person the Anointing of the Sick and to bring that person Viaticum: Viaticum is a Latin word meaning basically “with you on your way” and means Jesus with you on your way to the Heavenly Father. For us the living, Sunday Mass could be called Viaticum, because it puts us back in touch with the loving Jesus, with the teaching Jesus, Who demands of us change. We take Him with us (Viaticum) from Mass on Sunday to be with us hopefully all week long.

We were washed clean on the day of our Baptism and then challenged with the bestowal of the white baptismal garment and the baptismal candle to keep our new dignity unstained and with the light of faith burning brightly in our hearts to go to meet the Lord when He comes again. Seeing as how none of us is perfect, a prophetic word from Father of a Sunday would seem to be an important part of that experience, really the only way to go for the Lord’s companions, for you and for me.

Back to our starting point and that part which is ours, as non-professionals, in the work of preaching repentance, just like the Twelve did at Jesus’ command, just like Amos did even if people did not appreciate his message in the name of the Lord! We all know that being preachy or nagging is counterproductive; it can drive our children away from the faith. Nonetheless, we have to realize that there are countless opportunities, some each day, not to get up on our soapbox but rather to share with others the reason for our hope both by word and good example. Yes, this Sunday’s message sheds light on how tough it can be to be a follower of Christ, but by the same token how necessary it is that we embrace that cross and share our faith with others.

Today’s Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians is a bit longish but oh so important in reaching an understanding of who we are in Christ and what we have to share with the world. I am sure that many of you have a Sunday Missal at home or perhaps subscribe to Magnificat. I hope the rest of your Sunday is restful enough to give you a moment to pick that reading up again, read it over and savor it. It speaks eloquently about the nature of our adoption in Christ, about who we are, about our destiny from before time began.

Radiate Christ’s love at home, at work, and wherever you may be! Be prophets for our day and time!

“May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our mind, so that we can see what hope his call holds for us”.

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