I am preaching a mission in an inspiring parish in Oregon. The people are educated, reflective and open. I don’t pick up the presence of the “Pharisee party” in the pews. Result: I am much more free in what I talk about. That raises a question.
A supporter took out a piece of paper while we were at lunch and wrote on it: MISSION —— AGENDA.
“What is coming across in your talks,” she said, “is two things: your mission and your agenda.”
‘Your mission is pure Gospel: relationship with Jesus, the mystery of Baptism. Being a Christian, Disciple, Prophet, Priest and King.” She is right. My mission would be equally exciting to fans of the National Catholic Reporter and Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). And I think that is no mean feat.
“But you also have an agenda. You bring up — by way of example, it is true — controversial issues.” In short, I address issues that are drawing some people into the comforting embrace of the establishment and driving others out of the Church.
“If you would stick to your mission,” my parish ombudsman said, “You would do more good. As it is, some people are walking out.”
Right after that, I got a phone call praising me to the skies for addressing those very issues. I told the caller what my other friend had said. “Yeah,” he answered, “and if Jesus had kept quiet about some things, he might have been better accepted too.”
That doesn’t answer the question. My first advisor said, “Read your audience. Don’t give everything to everybody. Give your mission in some places; preach your agenda in others.” Wise advice. Jesus himself said, “Don’t cast pearls....”
The problem is, we act in space and time. The same place doesn’t invite you for two different kinds of input. Most chances to speak are a one-shot deal. And almost every audience is going to have the wounded and the wounding alike; those to the right and those to the left; some who can’t take more than the “milk of children” and others who are thirsting for the “new wine.” For every person I have shocked and alienated, I could probably name another who thanked me for lifting an intolerable burden. There are afflicted sheep that need to be healed; and there are unafflicted for whom strong medicine acts like poison. What sheep do you sacrifice?
Plus, there is never time to explain everything adequately. Is it better to let sleeping dogs lie, even though you know they are biting people in their sleep?
I have been trying to “play it by ear,” grateful for the advice I get from every side. And praying I will recognize the voice of the Spirit.
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