12 July 2009
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Am 7:12-15; Ps 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14; Eph 1:3-14 or Eph 1:3-10; Mk 6:7-13
There are common threads that run through the readings each Sunday. Today is no exception. In the First Reading, we hear of Amos’ apologia for his being a prophet: “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me: Go, prophesy to my people Israel” (Amos 7,14-15). In the Gospel, we listened to how Jesus sent his apostles on a mission with particular instructions to follow. The theme of vocation runs through the readings today.
Whenever Catholics hear the word “vocation”, the first thing that comes to mind seems to be that of the priesthood or religious life, pagpadi o pagmadre. I would like to talk not so much about these specific vocations in the Church, but more on our common vocation as Christians, more along the lines of what St. Paul says in the Second Reading: “In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the one who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1,11-12).
For our reflection, I would like to focus on three vocations common to all Christians.
1. To represent Christ to the world.
The apostles were sent by Jesus to preach about the kingdom and do miracles in His name. St Paul writes in 2 Cor 5,20: “We are ambassadors of Christ, as if God were appealing before us.” Now, in order to be faithful to this vocation, we have to:
a. Practice detachment. The apostles were asked not to bring along food, sack, money, not even a change of clothes. I can only imagine, when they stretch their arms for healing, they must have been really… powerful. Now detachment can be best understood by knowing not just what we are detaching from but more so, what we are detaching for.
Here’s a story… A small caravan of merchants were traveling in the desert when they came upon a frail old man, obviously tired and barely able to walk. They stopped their caravan and took time to give him water to drink, food to nourish him and some shade. The old man, moved by their generosity, told them that he would like to give them a gift. He said that he would like to give them the contents of his bag. They could take as much as they wanted, for at the right time his gift would serve its purpose.
When they opened the bag, it was filled with sand. They were a bit disappointed. Not to embarrass the old man, each of them took some sand from his bag, in different quantities according to how much they gave credence to his claim. Some would have wanted more but were unwilling to let go of some of their goods to make space for the sand, many just stuffed them into whatever available pocket they had.
When they reached their destination, the sand in their pockets turned to gold, to their great amazement… and dismay. They wished they had let go of some of their goods to make room for more of that magic sand. But the old man and his bag were no longer there.
Herein lies the nature of detachment. In order to receive what will be given to us by God, we need to let go of some of our possessions to create enough space for it in our soul. And if it is grace from God, shouldn’t we devote more space for it? Our detachment then needs to cover more and more spaces of ourselves.
b. Stand firm in the face of opposition. Jesus’ instructions made realistic provision in case they meet rejection and opposition. In the First Reading, we first hear of the words of the priest Amaziah condescendingly trying to “shoo away” Amos.
Have you ever tried witnessing to your faith or to its moral demands? Have you ever tried it in the face of opposition or rejection?
c. Support each other. The apostles were sent by pairs, to make their witnessing to the truth they proclaim more convincing to the Jews, and also, many say, so they would be able to support and help each other.
Indeed, the most effective recruitment strategy of any organization is still the witnessing of its members in their mutual support and concern for each other. 2 Thes 5,11 says: “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do.” Is this also true in our friendships, families and communities?
2. To present Christ’s Gospel to the world.
There is a need for evangelizers, presenters of the Gospel to the rest of the world, because the world needs the Gospel. The world needs Christ Himself.
Last Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI released his third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth). It is a social encyclical and teaches about genuine human development in an era of globalization. Pope Benedict teaches: “The Gospel is fundamental for development, because in the Gospel, Christ, “in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals humanity to itself” (CIV 18; GS 22).
Our presenting of Christ and His Gospel may be done in a variety of ways: in words and deeds and artistic expressions. How many times have we been moved or inspired by a painting, a picture, a film, a poem, a song? The lyrics of the song “In Him Alone” comes to mind whenever the subject of people’s great need for Christ comes up.
“When will you cease running,
in search of hollow meaning?
Let His love feed the hunger in your soul
till it overflows with joy,
you yearn to know…
In Him alone is our hope,
In Him alone is our strength,
In Him alone are we justified,
In him alone are we saved.”
There is another vocation, I would like to mention. This one comes from Pope Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate. Quoting Pope Paul VI in his landmark social encyclical Populorum Progressio (The Progress of Peoples), he says…
3. “Progress is a vocation” (CIV 16).
Indeed, we are called to progress: to live better lives than generations before us, to make ourselves better, to attain perfection. Christian life is the way to perfection. Yet this very progress “is incapable, on its own, of supplying its ultimate meaning”.
“The vocation to progress drives us to ‘do more, know more and have more in order to be more’ (PP15). But herein lies the problem: what does it mean ‘to be more’? Paul VI answers the question by indicating the essential quality of ‘authentic’ development: it must be ‘integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every man and of the whole man’ (PP 15)”(CIV 18).
The Church recognizes as our common vocation the promotion of integral human development: the good of every person and the whole person.
One final story… (I got this from Fr. Bel San Luis, SVD.)
Towards the end of the Second World War, the German army was retreating and the allied forces entered a badly battered Italian village. Some entered the village church. They saw the statue of the Sacred Heart toppled down from its pedestal and was broken to a thousand pieces.
To boost the morale of the people, a Catholic soldier reconstructed the statue. Piece by piece he pasted it together with the exception of the two hands, which were so damaged they could not be reconstructed.
In their place, the soldier who truly understood his faith, made a plaque (caratola) on which he inscribed the following words: “You are the hands of Christ.”
According to legend, the caratola is still there telling us graphically what it means to be a Christian.
Brothers and sisters, “we are the hands of Christ”, this is our vocation. We are the hands of Christ not so much because He needs us, but because we need Him to be His hands.
The difficulties and sufferings that may come in the pursuit of our calling will still come to us as difficult and painful, but they will be less daunting to endure for Christ promised to make them all worth it. Our vocation, in whatever way it is expressed in each of our lives, is that which gives meaning to our existence, direction to our life, and that genuine happiness that comes as a fruit of our labors at satisfying our need for self-actualization and transcendence.
So, what is your particular vocation? What is Jesus calling you to do?
Pope Benedict XVI signs his third encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate