When I read St. Paul’s message to Timothy in our first reading last night, I resonated with the spirit of his message. St. Paul reminds Timothy of his calling and of the authority that was given him when St. Paul laid hands on him. The life that Timothy was called to lead as a consequence of that anointing was one that would be challenging, but blessed. He would have to bear his share of hardship for the Gospel, but St. Paul tells him never to be ashamed of it. Whatever is to befall them, St. Paul’s confidence is in the Lord: “For I know him in whom I have believed,” he says, “and I am confident that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.”
That got me thinking about my own ordination as a priest, which was two years ago yesterday. I clearly remember the words that Bishop Imesch spoke when he handed me the chalice and paten that I use for Mass to this day. He said, “Receive the oblation of the holy people, to be offered to God. Understand what you do, imitate what you celebrate, and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.” I think those very words would be words that St. Paul would understand. “Understand what you do” seems easy enough, until it gets to the second instruction: “imitate what you celebrate.” What I celebrate here is a sacrificial moment, and if I am to imitate that, then my life must be basically sacrificial. That’s what is meant by the third instruction in what the bishop said to me: “and conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.”
Sometimes it’s hard for all of us to know that whatever our call may be, it will involve sacrifices. Every single vocation necessarily requires that, because nothing authentic can ever be just about us. We have to lay down our lives in love every single day because that’s what Jesus did for us. Some days, as I tell the couples getting married here when I preach the homily for them, that may be hard work. But it is always our hope that every day, whether it’s easy or difficult, it will be the greatest joy of our lives. That’s why St. Paul tells Timothy that he should not be ashamed of his testimony to the Lord. That’s why the bishop told me to conform my life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross. Because none of us will ever regret anything we’ve sacrificed for love.
Today's readings [display_podcast]
Sometimes we get an idea and it seems well, a little uncomfortable. We may well have had a call or even a gentle moving from the Lord, and are afraid to act on it. Today’s Scriptures speak to those of us who are sometimes hesitant to do what the Lord is calling on us to do.
I think St. Paul must have been exhausted by this point in his life. As we hear of him in our reading from Acts today, he is saved from one angry mob, only to learn he is to go to another. Out of the frying pan and into the fire. He has borne witness to Christ in Jerusalem, but now he has to go and do it all over again in Rome. And underneath it all, he knows there is a good chance he is going to die.
In the Gospel today, Jesus prays for all of his disciples, and also for all those who “will believe in me through their word.” And that, of course, includes all of us. He prays that we would be unified and would be protected from anything or anyone who might seek to divide us from each other, or even from God. He says that we are a gift to him, and that he wishes us to be where he will be for all eternity.
What we see in our Liturgy today is that God keeps safe the ones he loves. If he calls us to do something, he will sustain us through it. Maybe we’ll have to witness to Jesus all over again or we’ll have to defend our faith against people in our community or workplace or school who just don’t understand. We might well feel hesitant at these times, but we can and must go forward, acting on God’s call. When we do that, we can make our own prayer in the words of the Psalm today: “Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.”
Today's readings [display_podcast]
Today’s readings are full of messengers. In the first reading, Paul is a messenger bringing news of the real meaning of the ancient Scriptures in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. And he speaks of another messenger, John the Baptist, who paved the way for the coming of Jesus by preaching a baptism of repentance. In the Gospel, Jesus points out that a messenger is never greater than the one who sent him, and that those messengers sent by Christ should be accepted as Christ, since Jesus himself was sent by the Father. Accepting the messenger is accepting Jesus is accepting God the Father.
The word messenger goes back to old French and Latin words for “send” and is closely tied to the word “mission.” The messenger is truly on a mission from the one who sent him. When you think of it, all of us disciples are messengers on a mission. We all have been charged with the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and witnessing to Christ. We do that in our own ways; sometimes, as St. Francis would say, we use words. But often we do not. Most often our witness depends on how well we live our mission, the message that we send comes in the things we do and the way we live. As my father used to say, “actions speak louder than words.”
And so we come to this place to be nourished for our mission. We hear the words of Scripture that gives us the message to preach and receive the Eucharist that gives us strength for the journey. People will come to know Christ as they come to know us. We pray that our message might be a good one, a message that compels everyone we meet to turn to our God. Because the mission, the message that we have is better than anything on earth. As the Psalmist says, “For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”