Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Seventeenth Sunday in OT, Year C
July 28, 2013
Gen 18:20-32; Col 2:12-14; Lk 11:1-13
To listen to an audio of this homily, please click below:
Here is the written text of the homily, given on the day of the Missionary Co-op.
The Mission that Is the Church
This morning in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis is finishing up his apostolic pilgrimage to Brazil for World Youth Day focusing on the theme of Jesus’ last words, his valedictory command to all of us: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Just as much as Jesus called and sent out the original 11 apostles and with them the early Church, just as much as Pope Francis has repeated that Great Commission to the crowd of more than three million people at his Mass today in Rio, so Christ through the Church is confirming us in our Christian mission to spread the faith. A couple of days ago, Pope Francis said to young people that he wanted them to return from World Youth Day and “make some noise” and he described “I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses, I want the noise to go out, I want the Church go out into the streets.” We’re all called to make that holy noise, so that others through us may hear the echo of the voice of Jesus.
The Church as a whole doesn’t merely have a mission, but is a mission. The reason the Church exists is to continue the mission for which Jesus came from heaven to earth. That’s why I am so happy this weekend to welcome Brother Vin Pelletier of the Christian Brothers of St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle to speak to us before the Masses of the work his community does to make disciples in the countries of east Africa especially among boys and girls who otherwise would not have any access to an education, to the truth, to a future filled with hope, to a formation in which they themselves can freely and enthusiastically embrace the call to discipleship and with what they learn go out to make disciples in their future families or as priests and religious.
The Necessity of Prayer Before, During and After our Mission Work
But in order to be effective disciple-makers, we need first to pray. We see this in the example of Jesus. Before Jesus called his first disciples, he pulled an all-nighter in prayer to the Father for them, so that they might receive the strength to say yes to that call. Likewise, none of us can truly “make” disciples of others, because, as Jesus tells us, no one can come to the Father unless God himself draw him (Jn 6:44). But we can pray for others to accept with freedom and joy God’s call and we can pray for ourselves and other Christians, that we may be instruments God can use to draw people to become disciples of his Son.
St. Therese of Lisieux was once asked by one of the missionary priests she spiritually adopted how it was possible that then almost 1900 years after Christ came, there were still so many people in Africa who had yet to come to know the Gospel. Her response was striking in its candor and simplicity. She said it was because of the laziness and lack of love of Christians, that so many of us don’t pray for others to come to Christ, that we don’t sacrifice for others to experience the same life that comes to us in Christ, that we put our comforts ahead of others’ salvation. Pope Francis said this morning, “Jesus did not say: ‘if you would like to, if you have the time,’ but: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’ Sharing the experience of faith, bearing witness to the faith, proclaiming the Gospel: this is a command that the Lord entrusts to the whole Church, and that includes you. … Jesus did not say: ‘One of you go,’ but ‘All of you go’: we are sent together.”
We’re not all called, like Brother Vin, to be missionaries on the front line in foreign countries, but we are called to be missionaries among our family members and friends, coworkers, fellow-students and neighbors. The Pope commented this morning, “Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all, he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love.”
Not all of us are being asked by God to go to far away from home, but all of us are asked to participate in the missions by our financial sacrifices and especially by our prayers. One of the reasons why St. Therese is co-patronness of the missions along with the great evangelist St. Francis Xavier is because in her cloistered Carmel in Northwest France she prayed unceasingly for people to come to the faith, she prayed indefatigably for the missionaries on the front line, and she prayed with her entire heart and soul that all Christians might get involved in the great mission that is the Church so that everyone would come to know the love of God in Jesus Christ and to live in that love here on earth and forever.
Last night during the Vigil of Prayer on the famous Rio beach that has been dubbed during this week Popacabana, Pope Francis asked the young people and all of us sincerely to examine whether they pray, whether we make the time, whether we really treat it as a priority, and pray not just for ourselves but for others. Today that’s a question each of us needs to answer in conscience before God, how much we’re praying especially for others to come to know the treasure we have in Jesus Christ. In the readings today, God is reminding us that just as Abraham prayed before God for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah, we’re called to pray for the salvation of those in San Francisco and Provincetown, and Fall River and New Bedford, and Rio and Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Dar es Salaam. In response to the disciples’ request for Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus showed us that we’re called to knock continually on the door of God, for in Jesus Christ God has made himself our neighbor. Jesus teaches us to ask the Father not merely for “three loaves of bread” as the neighbor begged in the parable, but as the Greek text of the Our Father has it, for our “supersubstantial bread,” the Living Bread come down from Heaven, Jesus himself in the Eucharist — something we’re called to pray for not just for ourselves but for all people. Jesus promises us that the one who seeks finds, and we’re called in our discipleship to be the signposts who help all those seekers in our culture come to find what their hearts and heads are searching for, God himself, who alone can bring their restless hearts peace. God is summoning us today, like Jesus, to go away from the crowds to pray and, like he did so often, to pray for those whom he wants to call as his disciples and apostles that they use their freedom to say yes to that gift.
Even more than earthly parents want the best for their children, Jesus tells us, God the Father wants the best for his children, not just for us but for all those he’s created, so many of whom have not yet even come to know that they have a Father who loves them this much. But God in his plans he has made the salvation of others dependent on our cooperation, because he loved us enough that he wanted us to share in his love for others. Pope Francis said this morning that God wants us to “experience that the one who evangelizes is evangelized, the one who transmits the joy of faith receives joy.” He has given us the great commission not just for the sake of others, but for our own sake, because it is only by sharing our faith that our faith grows.
The Presence of God as We Fulfill this Mission
And when we go out to share our faith, we are not alone. When Jesus gave us the command, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” he also said, “Know that I am with you always until the end of time.” Jesus is with us as we carry out this task for which he gave his life and wants us to give ours. And we not only go out with Jesus, but with the power of the Holy Spirit. In the Upper Room, after Jesus said to the apostles, “Just as the Father sent me, so I send you!,” he breathed on them the Holy Spirit to strengthen them for this task. On Pentecost in the same room, he and the Father sent down on the members of the early Church the Holy Spirit as tongues of fire so that they might preach the Gospel with burning love. That’s what God the Father always does, Jesus tells us, whenever we pray. He gives us himself to help us to pray more as beloved sons and daughters and to strengthen us for our task to help others become and live as much loved children of God as well. Jesus tells us today, “how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” That promise of the Holy Spirit should fill us with confidence because the same Holy Spirit who strengthened the members of the early Church to make disciples of all nations will strengthen us. So as we pray without ceasing today for those who have not yet come to the Gospel, for those who have left Christ’s way, for all missionaries and for all Christians who are called to be missionaries, we get ourselves ready for the way God the Father will respond, by sending us as well the Holy Spirit so that, just like the first Christians, we might be continue the mission of Pentecost and be the instruments to Christ, to the salvation and to the joy of the Gospel.
The greatest prayer of all we’re called to make to the Father for others and for ourselves, the most important door on which we’re called to knock continuously, is to enter into Jesus’ prayer from the Last Supper, from the Cross, and on Easter Sunday, which is the prayer of the Holy Mass. The prayer of the Mass is called to work a moral miracle of spiritual transformation in us. At the beginning of Mass, we confess our sins and failings, the way we haven’t lived in loving communion with God and brought others to know and share that love. But through the encouragement of the Word of God, through our prayers, and most importantly through receiving Jesus Christ within us by the power of the Holy Spirit, we’re changed, renewed, and made capable of going forth to carry out together with Jesus his mission of the salvation of the world. The end of Mass is highly significant. God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit blesses us, and proclaims to us once more our Christian mission: “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” And we respond, “Thanks be to God!,” because we know that this mission entrusted to us by God, is one of the greatest gifts God has ever given us. We also say “Thanks be to God!” because know that as we carry out that mission God is continually blessing us and through us blessing those to whom we announce the Gospel. So let pray to God today and ask him to make us ever more aware of that blessing as we, together with Pope Francis, together with the three million with him this morning in Rio and the 1.1 billion Catholics across the world, recommit ourselves to this task of going and making disciples of all nations. Thanks be to God!