Our Mission as Citizens of Heaven and the U.S., 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), July 4, 2004

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
Fourteenth Sunday in OT, C
July 4, 2004
Is 66:10-14; Gal 6:14-18; Lk 10:1-12,17-20

1) Over the past few weeks, there has been a trilogy among the Gospel passages. Two weeks ago we focused on Christ’s identity as the Messiah and Son of God and of our call to follow him along the way of self-giving love until death. Last week, the Gospel featured the various types of excuses — personal security and well-being, business and family concerns — by which people refuse to follow Christ right now. Today we encounter the crowning of what it means to be a disciple of Christ: to follow him all the way so that his priorities become our priorities, his message our message, his mission our mission, his zeal for the salvation of others our own.

2) Jesus appointed seventy-two of his disciples and sent them out in pairs to proclaim the Gospel he himself had been proclaiming to them. A short time earlier (cf. Lk 9:1-6), Jesus had sent out the twelve apostles, those who would become his first priests. But to preach the Gospel was not meant to be the task of priests alone. So he appointed 72 — 60 of whom we would call today lay people — and sent them out with the twelve to the neighboring towns and villages. “The harvest is plentiful,” he said, “but the laborers are few.” Jesus not only instructed them to pray to God the Father to send more laborers, but was showing them one way the Father responds to that prayer, by sending THEM out as laborers for his harvest of souls. I’ve always thought that the 72 was more than a symbolic number, but probably implies that the Lord basically sent out EVERYONE who was a willing, consistent follower.

3) He sent them out with a message and a “packaging” for that message. The message had two elements to it: “Peace” and “The kingdom of God is at hand!” The two are allied. The “peace” they were to announce was precisely the peace that Jesus had been preaching — peace with God through the forgiveness of the sins by which human beings offend God. The way to enter into that peace is to enter into God’s kingdom, to allow the Lord to be the king of one’s thoughts and actions. We’ll return to this message shortly, and apply it to our mission in our land as we celebrate 228th anniversary of our country’s independence.

4) Jesus sent them out with a certain “packaging” for that message as well. They were sent out as “lambs in the midst of wolves,” not wolves in the midst of lambs. They were to proclaim the Gospel with confidence, but with meekness. They were not called to proclaim it with force of weapons or the power of threats, but with the persuasive force of their faith, goodness and holiness. That was why Jesus instructed them to go out with no purse, no bag, no sandals. How could they possibly proclaim effectively that the kingdom of GOD is at hand if they were trying to increase the size of their purse and build an earthly kingdom of their own — or if others even suspected them of doing so? They were to proclaim the Gospel as Jesus did, who himself had carried no purse, bag and sandals. If they were welcomed by a household, they were to stay there, lest they ever start to look for a “better deal.” The joy that comes from God and his love was meant to be the most powerful proclamation of the Good News. They were sent out two-by-two in order to show precisely that they did love each other and invite others to enter into that communion of love. Even the way Jesus prepared them to handle rejection — by wiping the dust off their feet as a witness of their rejection — showed that the Gospel was never meant to be proclaimed through force. They were sent to PROPOSE the Gospel in a compelling way to others’ freedom, not to IMPOSE anything (cf. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 39).

5) Even though they were sent out to preach the message as lambs of God, their message was startling. We have heard the words, “The kingdom of God is among you!” so many times that perhaps they no longer startle us. We need to think back to the context. The seventy-two were sent to proclaim this kingdom at one of the times of greatest strength in the Roman empire, an empire that didn’t take well any challenges to its authority. In the midst of Roman dominion, the seventy-two ordinary disciples of Christ were ambassadors of a different kingdom, a different type of allegiance — the kingdom of God. The two kingdoms did not necessarily conflict, as Jesus himself pointed to when he said, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and give to God the things that are God’s” (Mt 22:21). But he also said that when there was a conflict, we were to “seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness” (Mt 6:33). This is the truth to which St. Peter pointed when — after he had been arrested by the Sanhedrin and flogged for proclaiming the Gospel when they had told him not to do so — he resolutely proclaimed, “We must obey God rather than any human authority!” (Acts 5:29).

6) Jesus wants to send each of us out to our neighboring villages and towns with the same message, the same packaging, the same priority for the kingdom of God. All of us are called to be missionaries, a few of us to far away lands which have never heard the Gospel, all of us to our own locales, where, although they have heard of Jesus and most have been baptized, they really haven’t lived in or for that kingdom and for that King. There’s an unforgettable story in the life of St. Philip Neri, who earned the title “Apostle of Rome” in the 16th century. He came down to Rome in the early 1500s as an immigrant from Florence and a layman. When he arrived, he noticed the physical and moral devastation of the city. Rome had been sacked by the Germans in 1527 and left much of the city shell-shocked and ruined. The Gospel wasn’t being preached, and many priests and cardinals were living in open defiance of Christ’s moral teachings. Philip prayed to God to learn what he might do. He read the letters that our patron, St. Francis Xavier, had sent back to Europe from India, where he had been converting tens of thousands and Philip thought that God was calling him to follow the great Basque missionary to India, to give his life in proclaiming the Gospel. He went to his spiritual director and told him what he thought God was asking of him. The wise old priest affirmed his desire to serve and witness to Christ, but told him to focus his attention on reevangelizing those around him: “Rome is to be your Indies!” This was quite a task for one man, but Philip, relying on God’s help, started — first as a layman, then as a priest — to convert Rome one person at a time. He would jovially going up to the street corners and say, “Friends, when are we going to start to do good?” He developed various fun social and religious activities to give the people, especially the young people, better alternatives for their hearts and time than what was being offered by the debauched culture around them. His impact was enormous, and by his death in 1595, much of Rome had been reconverted. The same God who spoke to him almost five hundred years ago speaks to each of us this morning and says, “Cape Cod is your Indies!” We’re called by him to labor for the salvation of others in Hyannis, Yarmouth, Barnstable with the same zeal with which St. Francis Xavier labored in Ceylon, with the same joyous fire with which St. Philip Neri harvested in Rome.

7) There is such a harvest here waiting and so few who are harvesting. Many come to their comfortable Churches on Sunday morning, but few who leave to go hunt down Christ’s wandering sheep, the sheep for whom the Lord we love gave his life. Christ once gave the parable of God’s love, saying he would leave the 99 sheep behind to go after the one lost sheep and bring that person back to the fold. One great modern preacher, says that today we need to leave the one sheep behind and go out after the other 99. The point is that there are so many lost sheep out there, so many lives not being harvested for God, and the Lord calls us to pray for laborers and to become those laborers.

8 ) To carry out our mission effectively, we first have to enter fully into the kingdom that is at hand, the kingdom Christ calls us to proclaim. We enter into God’s kingdom when we allow God truly to be King in our lives. Jesus expressed this reality when he taught us the Our Father and used a typical Jewish couplet, in which two successive lines reiterate the same thing in different words: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of God is where his will is done. The fullness of that kingdom is in heaven, where his will is done perfectly and lovingly; it exists in this world to the extent that we follow Christ in saying to the Father, “Not my will, but thine be done.” We’re called first to enter into that kingdom, experience its fruits, and joyfully go out to proclaim to others that that kingdom has come and Jesus invites them in.

9) The second thing we have to do to become effective evangelists today is to realize that we have a citizenship far greater than even our U.S. citizenship — the latter of which is the envy of the world, and for which so many of our ancestors and even contemporaries have paid such a precious price for us to enjoy. Before we are U.S. citizens, we are CELESTIAL CITIZENS! This is the truth to which St. Paul, a Roman citizen, points in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus: “You are CITIZENS WITH THE SAINTS and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Eph 2:19-20). Each of us is called to glory in this citizenship along with the saints and live as good citizens of heaven here on earth. To do so is the greatest contribution we, as U.S. citizens, can make to our nation. The greatest way we could serve our nation is to become a saint, like the great American saints before us (St. John Neumann, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, St. Katherine Drexel). If so many young men and now women over the course of our nation’s history have been willing to lay down their lives for our nation, then surely we can do the same for God — and in the process help our nation.

10) The founding fathers of our country recognized very clearly that for our nation to endure, U.S. citizens needed to live as citizens of heaven and call others to do the same. The experiment in ordered liberty which is the United States of America would only succeed, they said, if the citizens were moral and religious, if they used their freedom well, if they obeyed God on their own and did the right thing even if they could get away with doing the wrong thing. Our fellow Massachusetts native, John Adams, stated this very clearly, as we can read in his latest biography by David McCullough. “It is religion and morality alone,” Adams wrote, “which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. Religion and virtue are the only foundations … of republicanism and of all free governments.” On another occasion, President Adams noted, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . … Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

11) We have to keep these admonitions from our second president in mind in our own day, when so many of the elites in our country think that our faith in God threatens our republican form of government. The founding fathers could not disagree with them more. In fact, they would argue strongly that it is these elites’ practical atheism that threatens the very survival of this nation we love.

12) That’s why the mission of Christians today in our country and culture is so urgent and necessary. Many are trying to bring about a declaration of independence from God in our land, as if God and faith in him is the new King George, rather than the foundation of all our freedoms. They will tolerate our going together to Church on Sundays, provided that we never take our faith into the public square. They claim that by our voting our faith-filled consciences and trying to have our civil laws respect God’s laws, it is tantamount to “forcing our morality” on them. At the same time, however, by their lawsuits to take God out of schools, out of the pledge of allegiance, and off our currency, to remove prayers from our graduations, to remove all of historical precedent and the need for both a man and a woman in marriage, they are forcing their own practical-atheism on us and on our kids.

13) We have to admit that these publicly atheistic elites — which include some who claim to be privately religious — are winning the battle for the future of our nation, because so many believing Christians just have not been willing to fight for the survival of their nation, because so many of us have not been living as citizens of heaven. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil,” the great Irish thinker Edmund Burke wrote, “is for good men to do nothing,” Much of the moral evil and lack of true peace that afflicts our nation has happened because so many good men and women, Christians and non-Christians, have done nothing or very little as these publicly atheistic elites have been trying kick God out of our public discourse and our country. Thirty-one years ago these elites got the Supreme Court to legalize the killing of our children in the womb and called it freedom of choice, even though the Declaration of Independence, signed 228 years ago today, clearly declares inalienable the right to life. They’re trying now in the name of freedom to get us to allow doctors to help their patients commit suicide. They’re striving, with the help of many from Hollywood, to get us to create human beings in laboratories only to kill them to harvest their stem cells, and they’re calling this a “great medical advance.” They’re attacking the very fundamental building block of society — the family — by saying that it is whatever they, or four Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justices, claim it is. In all of this, they are assailing the foundations of our society and our culture, killing off a third of all children conceived, attempting to kill of the elderly, trying to make human beings just to harvest their biological material and transvaluing the very meaning of marriage, of family, and of our masculinity and femininity. They do this all claiming the “separation of Church and state,” but this Constitutional provision, as any honest scholar of the time has to note, was not a separation of God and religion from the state, but was meant only to prevent one religion from becoming established as the official religion of the entire country. “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people,” as John Adams said. “It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Our nation will not long survive unless good men and women do something.

14) To this society, Jesus is sending US, all “72” of us, to proclaim that God’s kingdom has come, that Jesus welcomes us and calls us to conversion. Like Isaiah, who heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, who will go for us?” and stood up saying, “Here I am; send me!” (Is 6:8), so each of us needs to stand up in the face of the deepest needs of our nation and say, “Here I am, God; send me!” The Lord trusted the 72 so much that he sent them out with the message God the Father gave him, and gave them God’s own power to cure the sick. That same Christ trusts us that much to give us this mission today. His vicar on earth has recently called us to live up to our founding and step up to the plate. Listen to what Pope John Paul II said to the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast in 2000: “As one who is personally grateful for what America did for the world in the darkest days of the 20th century, allow me to ask: Will America continue to inspire people to build a truly better world, a world in which freedom is ordered to truth and goodness? Or will America offer the example of a pseudo-freedom which, detached from the moral norms that give life direction and fruitfulness, turns in practice into a narrow and ultimately inhuman self-enslavement, one which smothers people’s spirits and dissolves the foundations of social life? … For religious believers who bear political responsibility, our times offer a daunting yet exhilirating challenge. I would go so far as to say that their task is to save democracy from self-destruction.” The Pope concludes with a prayer that ties in to our task to preach that the kingdom of God is at hand: “This is my prayer for you: that as men and women involved in public life, you will truly be builders of a civilization of love, of a society which, precisely because it embodies the highest values of truth, justice and freedom for all, is also a sign of the presence of God’s kingdom and his peace.”

15) To proclaim the Gospel has never been easy. Jesus suffered for it and died for it, but in it he found his glory (cf. Jn 17:1). The apostles suffered for it, but counted themselves worthy to suffer “on account of the name” of Jesus (Acts 5:41). St. Paul, in the second reading today, who was stoned, imprisoned and ultimately decapitated for the Gospel, said he found his glory and his sole boast “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” by which the world was crucified to him and him to the world.” And so it will be for us. If we respond to Christ’s call to us this morning to proclaim his Gospel to our family members, to our friends, to our colleagues and neighbors, to our legislators and judges and those invested with the common good, we will suffer. Some will reject us like Jesus promised the 72 they would be rejected. But if we suffer out of love for Christ and for those he loves, then we will receive a reward far greater than anything Congress could bestow. As Jesus promises at the end of the Gospel, our names will be INSCRIBED IN HEAVEN, where the kingdom he sends us to announce will reach its fulfillment.