Putting Ministry in Focus
The Fourteenth Sunday of the Year: July 3, 2016 (Year C)
What did Jesus come to give us? — not “pie in the sky when we die,” but on this earth? What does being a Christian do for you here and now
How do you experience your religion? As restricting? As depressing? As threatening? How do you experience Mass? As an endurable obligation? As boring?
If your answer to any of the above was “Yes,” you are not experiencing authentic Christianity. If it was, “No way!” you are already in the spirit of today’s Mass.
The Opening Prayer(s) speak of “new life,” the Prayer Over the Gifts of “eternal life,” and the Prayer After Communion of “the fullness of life.” This is the “loving kindness” the Entrance Antiphon celebrates, because of which God’s “praise reaches to the ends of the earth.” What we celebrate here is the goal and promise of Jesus’ own ministry: “I came that they might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
The prayers contrast Jesus’ promise of “joy that lasts forever” to the “empty promises of passing joy” held out by sin. We see the promise of God in relationship to the reality of life as we know it in this “fallen world,” and we ask him to “free us” and “purify us” from sin. But our focus is on the hope restored by Jesus. We ask that we may “never fail to praise” God for the “fullness of life and salvation,” because praise leads to appreciation, and appreciation for any gift is our best defense against losing it. That is why the Prayer After Communion says God gives us this fullness of life in Eucharist. “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving,” and it is only when we thank God for his gifts that we fully realize what they are and accept them.
And that is why we insist in the Responsorial (Psalm 66) “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.” Christianity is joy. If we do not have joy, we have not understood Christianity. Or we are not living it.
Isaiah 66: 10-14 holds up before our eyes the promise that Jesus came to fulfill — and is still fulfilling through his Church — “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full.”
Rejoice… Be glad…. Exult…. For thus says the Lord, “I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river…. Your heart shall rejoice.”
Our religion is a religion of joy and exultation over the fulfillment of God’s promises; — a fulfillment, however, that is still taking place through the ministry of all who are the living body of Jesus on earth today; that is, through our ministry.
Whenever and wherever we see this ministry taking place — in church, at home, in schools and workplaces, in business and politics — our spontaneous response should be, “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy!”
In Luke 10: 1-20 Jesus sets out five principles as the foundation of all Christian ministry:
1. “Rejoice… that your names are written in heaven.” Our ministry is founded and based on the identity, the “new name” we received at Baptism. And that name is the name of Jesus, whose body and bride we are (Isaiah 62:2-5; Song of Solomon, chapters 4-5; John 3:29; Revelation 2:17, 3:12, 19:7-9, 21:1-10). As St. Augustine said, by Baptism “We have become Christ.” We minister as Christ, letting Jesus act with us, in us and through us. The first principle of ministry is to remain conscious of this.
Whether “the demons are subject to us” because we act in Christ’s name, or “the people of any town” reject us, we don’t rejoice or resent. Our joy is simply to say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
2. “The harvest is rich but the workers are few; therefore pray….” Jesus is just saying to ask God to send more people into ministry. But since all Christians are already consecrated as priests by Baptism, they are all committed to ministry. The problem is that to minister effectively they must be disciples; that is, students of the word, of the mind and heart of God. What is needed is ministers who can say with John:
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard… seen with our eyes… looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life (1John 1:1; and see John 8:38).
This is faith-experience. And it is acquired through the “three R’s” of discipleship: reading, reflecting and responding to the word of God. If we want to minister effectively, we have to dedicate ourselves to being disciples; that is, to living lives characterized by reflection on the message of Jesus.
3. “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.” The key to evangelization is the witness of a prophetic lifestyle, living in a way that
radiates faith in values that go beyond current values, and hope in something not seen, that one would not dare to imagine. Through this wordless witness they stir up irresistible questions in the hearts of those who see how they live: Why are they like this? Why do they live in this way? What or who is it that inspires them? (Paul VI, Evangelization in the Modern World, no. 21).
To give the word in ministry we must “give flesh” to the word in action. This commits us to a life of continual conversion, constant change, as prophets intent on making every choice we make bear witness to the values of Christ.
4. “The Lord… sent them in pairs before him to every place he intended to visit…. as lambs in the midst of wolves.” Now that Jesus is risen, he goes where the members of his body go. As his ministers we make Jesus present. The key to ministry is surrender to the Spirit, letting Jesus within us express himself in and through all we say and do. This is to “die to ourselves.” Self-expression = exposure = vulnerability.
If the self we are expressing is our true self, our graced self, Christ within us, then we risk the same rejection he received. But our baptismal consecration as priests commits us to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice,” offering “our flesh for the life of the world” as “victims in the Victim.” We are consecrated to communicate to others the invisible life of God within us. We do this by giving physical expression in words and actions to the invisible faith, hope and love in our hearts — at whatever cost to ourselves. This is the core of Christian ministry.
We minister as community. Jesus sent his disciples “in pairs.” Christian ministry, by its very nature, makes present and calls people into the community of the Church.
5. “Say to them, ‘The reign of God is at hand’… I have given you power… and nothing shall ever injure you.” Since he added later, “They will put some of you to death,” Jesus obviously did not see death as causing any “injury” to his disciples. And the truth is, Jesus was taking, and instructing his ministers to take, the long-range view of things. We have to live already in the “end time,” when the kingdom has come, and God’s will is being done as perfectly on earth as in heaven. Ministers live and work in unshakeable hope, knowing that in the end Jesus triumphs. “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
To persevere as ministers, we must be conscious of our baptismal consecration as stewards of the kingship of Christ. Jesus is King. He has triumphed. He “lives and reigns with the Father and the Spirit, one God forever and ever.” Therefore nothing can ever frighten or discourage us. St. Paul has told us:
All things are yours, whether it be…the world or life or death or the present or the future — all these are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
And so we think of ourselves “as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries.” We know that what is “required of stewards” is “that they be found trustworthy.” To persevere in faith and fidelity, working to establish the reign of God over every area and activity of human life on earth until he comes again, is our ministry as stewards (1Corinthians 3:21 to 4:2).
The Focal Point
In Galatians 6: 14-18 Paul says it all: “May I never boast of anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Through Baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection we died to natural human life in order to live by the divine life of God. The bottom line is that we are “created anew.” This is “all that matters.” We have become Christ. Each of us must be able to say with St. Paul, “My all-absorbing hope is that:
Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”
If we are to go on “living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor” in love for God and every member of the human race. What else is worth living for? (Philippians 1:20-22).
Do you see that Christianity is “life to the full” — both now and forever?
Initiative: Give God’s life:
Re-read the five principles of ministry above. Embrace them as your way of life.