14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Preached at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, WA
English Recording & Transcript
[00:00:01] So despite the fact that the pastor installation is on Tuesday, the canonical document I received from the diocese said that I became pastor on Friday. So I’ve been reflecting on what does that mean? Pay is the same, the responsibilities are the same, the people are the same. What’s different? Shorter title: fits better on a business card. I think the thing that’s different is now I have a lot more flexibility to do imprudent things, inadvisable things like preaching on my pet peeves. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m supposed to preach out of a place of love and caring about my people, but we’re just going to talk about things that grind my gears. It’s great. Love having that document from the diocese.
[00:00:51] So what grinds my gears today? What grinds me gears today is something that we Catholics have been now doing for centuries, and the Second Vatican Council tried as best as it could to push back on that and reframe the way we do things. And yet we still do it. So what we’ve been doing is we’ve been using the word “church” as synonymous with the word “hierarchy”. So we’ll say things like, “Oh, did you see what the Church just did?” Or “The Church should do this.” Or “I really hate how the Church does that.” But what we mean is the hierarchy, what we mean is, “Oh, did you see what the bishops said?” Or “The bishops should do that or whatever.” That’s what we mean when we say that.
[00:01:32] But the word Church is far more expansive than just the hierarchy. And to understand that, we need to understand what is the Church. Now, I could preach for months and months just on the concept of the Church. She is a mystery that that is beyond this 45 minute homily. [I’m the pastor! I can preach for 45 minutes! It’s fine!] She is an incredible mystery that we can’t get to in one homily. So for today, we are going to stick with one concept. And that concept is the origin of the word. Now, I don’t know German well enough to know how it came into English, but in romance languages like Spanish, where the word is Iglesia, the word comes from a Greek word “ekklesia”. Ekklesia – “ek” is the ex that we still have in English, that’s the “out from” – Ekklesia is to call out from something. So when the Bible uses the word Ekklesia, the Bible is referring to a community that has been called out of the world into a new existence. The word Ekklesia is used in the Old Testament regularly for the nation of Israel because the nation of Israel is called out. They’re called out from Egypt. They’re called out from the world. They’re called out from the practice of their neighbors into a new status, a new creation. They are now the people of God, the nation of God, the people God has chosen as His own to be a light to the nations. They are the Ekklesia, the community of those who are called out.
[00:03:19] Well, the Church is the continuation of Israel. The Church is, in a sense, the new Israel. We see that in our second reading from Saint Paul. Dr. John Bergsma says this phrase should be translated slightly differently, so I’ll give you his translation. Saint Paul says “Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule, that is, the Israel of God.” He’s saying all who follow this rule are the Israel of God. He’s writing to Christians. He’s writing to one of the early churches in Galatia, and he’s calling them the Israel of God. He’s saying, You Christians are those who are called out just as Israel was called out, called out from the world. And he says those who “follow this rule”. Well, what’s the rule? The line earlier “for neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation”. Saint Paul talks regularly about Christians as a new creation. We are recreated particularly through baptism in Christ. We are made new and so we are called out from the world to be a new creation in Christ. And that makes us the Israel of God, the people of God, the nation of God, those who are called to live out the mission of God. That’s the church.
[00:04:40] As a general rule, you could say that the Church is all of the baptized. As Henri de Lubac, a very important theologian of the 20th century, said, Even Protestants, Orthodox, those who are not in communion with the visible Catholic Church, even they participate even imperfectly in the Church by their baptism. They have been – just as we have – they have been called out by God into a new creation in Christ. And even though their communion with the visible church is broken or imperfect, it doesn’t change the fact that they are members of the Israel of God.
[00:05:21] Now the church transcends this. There are a lot of ways in which the church is more than the sum of her parts, more than just the baptized. We call the church our mother. As we see in the first reading, the church is also the new Jerusalem. The church is the spotless bride of Christ. But again, so that this homily doesn’t go to an hour, we have to leave those concepts behind and move on.
[00:05:46] So if the church is those who are called out by God into a new creation, then you can see why the Church is more than the hierarchy. The hierarchy is called out by God into a new creation, but that happens for us at our baptism, not at our ordination. The Church is more expansive than the hierarchy.
[00:06:07] The reason we fell into using the word church and the word hierarchy synonymously is because, following the Council of Trent, there was a huge focus on the jurisdiction of bishops and also a huge focus on the doctrines of the church. And those are two roles given specifically to the hierarchy. We know that the bishops are entrusted with the doctrine of the faith. It is their job to preserve the teachings of Christ and the Apostles handed on to us through the ages. That is the job of the bishops to preserve that unstained. And so if we think of the Church only as the doctrine, only as that organization which preserves the teachings, then you can see why the hierarchy and the church become coterminous, become the same.
[00:07:00] The bishops are also entrusted with the power of governance. The Lord calls His apostles to govern the church. We see that in St. Paul’s care for the Galatians. It is the job of the Bishops to minister to all of the baptized, to guide them and to direct them. And so if we think of the Church only in terms of power – which is thanks to a guy named Foucault who did horrible things for modern philosophy – but if we think of the Church in terms of power and power alone, then yeah, we focus on the bishops because they have the power of governance. But the Church is so much more than just preserving doctrine and the Church is so much more than just internal governance. The Church is all of us called out from the world into a new creation in Christ, and all of us have our own roles to play.
[00:07:55] We are not all bishops. We are not all entrusted with the doctrine or the governance, but we are all Christians. We are all the Israel of God and the Israel of God has way more to do than just govern and preserve. If we look at the New Testament, there are a few instances where we see the Lord Jesus himself calling out. We see him do that a lot with individuals. There are individuals in the Gospel: he calls them to follow him, or he calls them to a new life or a new creation. But there are only three instances that I can think of where the Lord calls as a group, which we might say is the foundation of the Church, that calling out a new community in Christ.
[00:08:40] The first is the Apostles. We think about their call all the time, called out as apostles first and foremost, and then secondarily as priests at the Last Supper. That is the constitution of the church, in a sense, insofar as it’s the constitution of the bishops. The bishops are the continuation of the apostles. And so calling out the Apostles, whatever the Lord entrusts to the Apostles, is entrusted to the bishops.
[00:09:05] But there are a couple other calls. There is, for example, the day of Pentecost, the day that the church celebrates as her own birthday, the day where the Holy Spirit was sent upon, not just the Apostles, but we’re told there were other disciples and the mother of God, Mary herself, in the upper room when the Holy Spirit was poured upon them. We know that all of the church, all of the baptized, is entrusted with the Holy Spirit. And given whatever mission and charism the Holy Spirit has in their individual lives, that’s not restricted to the hierarchy. All of you have received the Holy Spirit and all of you are sent forth by the Holy Spirit. That is the Church in general, the church at its most maximal guided and directed by the Holy Spirit.
[00:09:55] And then the third instance I can think of is this gospel. Saint Luke is very clear that this is not the Apostles being sent out. The Apostles are sent out in other places in the Gospel. This is not that place. It is 72 others. Saint Luke sends others, which is to say, beyond the apostles. This is the Lord calling out the Christians, the disciples, what we today would say, the baptized. And what does he do with them? Does he say you should focus on this, that or the other internal issue? You should, you know, debate all of these different questions. He sends them on mission. He says, I’m going to call my disciples, all of my disciples – again, this seed of the church in her fullness – I’m going to call my disciples to mission, and I am going to send them into the world to preach the Gospel.
[00:10:56] If we’re asking what the Church is, we have to look to these institution narratives of the Church. And this one tells us that a foundational identity of the Church, the very core of who we are, is being sent out on mission. Pope Francis says that the Church is unhealthy when she turns inward on herself. The Church is healthy when she turns outward toward others. This is a healthy church. 72 disciples being sent out to preach the gospel, to announce the coming of Jesus, the arrival of the Kingdom of God, to heal the sick, to bring peace. That’s what the Church does. That’s what she was created to do. And we can see it because the Lord himself gave us that constitution.
[00:11:48] If this is true – and I wouldn’t preach it if I didn’t think it was true – if this is true that being missionary is core to the Church’s identity, then we should expect that missionaries are continually being called forth.
[00:12:08] There is something to be said for charisms, certainly. When we think about the day of Pentecost and the fact that Mary, the Mother of God, was present with the Apostles, we don’t have any evidence that Mary went out and created churches like the Apostles did. We don’t have any evidence that she went forth and preached the Kingdom of God. But you can bet, based on everything we know about the Mother of God, that she spent the entire remaining days of her life praying deeply and ardently for the success of that mission. She was called to go on mission, not actively, but through her contemplative life, through her relationship with her son and her prayers. And so I know that even as the entire Church is always called to go on mission, we go on that mission in different ways. We have different charisms and different gifts.
[00:12:53] But I also know, based on this Gospel, that we should expect to see more missionaries than we do see, that the Lord is calling more people today than are responding to that call, that more of us are called to go on active mission, to preach the gospel actively, to have conversations with people about Jesus. More of us have that call. The Lord tells us in this Gospel, the harvest is abundant. There are so many people in the world who long for Jesus, who want to hear about him, want to know the message of salvation, who want to know who they are in the light of God. There are so many people waiting for that conversation. But the laborers are few. Few of us feel equipped to go out on that mission. And so we pray for those laborers. I pray for those laborers all the time. Every day I pray that we would be a parish full of missionaries.
[00:13:51] Because if we’re a parish full of missionaries, I know that we are going to experience with the what the disciples experienced, which is they had power over even the demons. The Lord said He saw Satan fall like lightning. If we don’t go on mission, evil wins because nobody is out there conquering the forces of evil. Nobody is out there with power over the demons in the name of Jesus. If we go on mission, Satan will fall like lightning. Like lightning. Immediately down. We are called to go on mission now.
[00:14:37] Why? Why do we not see as many people responding to that call to active mission and acting on it. Two things. One, we’re afraid, and rightly so. The Lord tells His disciples that He is sending them as lambs amidst wolves. That’s a very scary idea. But when they return, based on their experience, seeing that they were successful, he reminds them, I have given you the power to tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy, and nothing will harm you. We have nothing to fear if we go out in the name of the Lord Jesus, nothing at all, because He has promised us that we have power over the full force of the enemy and nothing can harm us. Why would we be afraid? The Lord has promised us this and He doesn’t break his promises.
[00:15:32] But second, I think it’s because most of us don’t know what this would look like. We know – because we’ve seen it fail over and over and over again – we know that going on mission doesn’t look like standing on a box on the corner of Cornwall and Holly Street. It just doesn’t, it doesn’t work. People don’t listen to that. That’s not mission in the 21st century. Instead, what we’ve learned in this century is that mission looks like relationship. It looks like having the relationships we have already with family and with friends, but making those relationships based in the Lord. To say, I love this relationship that we have. I love being friends or being related. I love the conversations we have. I would love for those conversations to be deeper. I would love for those conversations to be founded on Christ.
[00:16:20] And so what we’ve done at Assumption is we’ve run four training groups, we’re going to run more. But I keep talking about these small group trainings, and that’s… We call it that, because people can conceptualize, okay, they’re training people to be leaders of small groups. But deeply and ultimately these are not small group leader trainings. Deeply and ultimately these are missionary trainings. We are training people how to be missionaries. The training talks about what does it look like to pray, what does it look like to ask about the will of God? What does it look like to discern a mission? What does it look like to be called to a specific people or to a specific person? To pray for those people or that person and then to talk to those people or that person to bring Jesus into the relationship we have with those people or that person.
[00:17:14] For most people, if they go to someone and say, I love you, I love our relationship, but I’d like to go deeper. I’d like to bring Jesus into the relationship. For most people, that is going to look like the other person responding, “I want that, too, what do we do?” And for most people, it looks like a small group praying together, weekly or biweekly, so that we can have that depth of relationship founded on Jesus. And so we call it small group leader training, because for most people it looks like leading a small group, a group of prayer, a community of praise, a community based on Jesus.
[00:17:51] But ultimately, it’s missionary training, because what we’re asking is, Lord, who are you calling me to? In the Gospel, he calls them to all of the cities. And John Bergsma says, not just the Jewish cities; the Apostles were sent to the Jewish cities. These disciples are sent to the Gentile cities. They’re sent to places that don’t even necessarily know the Creator God, to pagan areas, to places where Jews are not welcome, to places where they’re going to have to ask questions about, Well, do I keep the Jewish dietary laws or not? Which is why the Lord says, Eat whatever is put in front of you. He resolved that question for them. The 72 are sent everywhere. We as a parish have to pray, “Who am I being sent to? What do they look like? What are they faces look like?” And then ask, Lord, what are you asking me to do with these people? For some people in small groups, for others I don’t know. The Holy Spirit is in charge. We just follow His call.
[00:18:49] What I’d ask all of you to do: First, always pray that the Lord would send laborers for the harvest. Always pray for that. We need it so deeply. And I know a lot of priests this weekend are preaching on priesthood. And fair enough. We need those kinds of laborers. But what I need more than priests is I need missionaries. And if someone is a missionary and the Lord wants them to be a priest, well, he’s going to increase that call. That’s going to happen. But you can’t be a priest if you’re not a missionary first. I need a parish full of missionaries. I need a church that’s more than just the hierarchy. I need you to pray that there would be missionaries sent out to the harvest.
[00:19:27] And then in that prayer, the Lord may call you to be that missionary. He may respond to that prayer and say, you go and preach the gospel. If that’s true, if you receive that call, please talk to me. I want to give you the tools that you need to be a missionary. I want to send you through this missionary training program so that you feel confident and equipped to do what you need to do. Of course we’re confident because the Lord tells us the powers of evil have no power over us and we will conquer them and we have nothing to fear. There is that confidence, but we also need to know what to do, and I want to give that to you as well.
[00:20:10] Brothers and sisters in Christ, not only should we not have any fear, but we should have some excitement. Because when the disciples came back and reported back to the Lord Jesus about what had happened, Saint Luke says the 72 returned, rejoicing. I can tell you from my own time as a missionary in the 21st century, not on a soapbox, but with my own family and friends, it is an incredibly joyful experience. The Lord has deepened that in my life through the priesthood, but that just increased the joy. For any of you called to the missionaries here in Bellingham – not in Africa, not in Asia, here in Bellingham – for any of you called to be missionaries here in Bellingham, I can promise you it is incredibly joyful because you can watch the Lord work. You can see His power. You can experience Satan fall like lightning.
Es muy importante notar en nuestro Evangelio de hoy que los setenta y dos discípulos que el Señor Jesús envía al mundo no son los Apóstoles. Él envía a los Apóstoles en otros lugares del Evangelio, pero en este caso, se trata de un grupo de personas completamente diferente.
La razón por la que es importante recordar esto es porque los Apóstoles eligen sucesores y esos sucesores eligen sucesores, hasta llegar a los obispos de hoy. Cualquier cosa que hagan los Apóstoles, o cualquier poder que se les dé a los Apóstoles, creemos que se aplica a nuestros obispos. Pero este grupo de setenta y dos discípulos no son los Apóstoles, lo que significa que cualquier cosa que hagan estos setenta y dos discípulos puede aplicarse a todos los seguidores de Jesús, no solo a los obispos.
Así que pregúntese: ¿de quién es el trabajo de predicar el Evangelio? ¿De quién es el trabajo de llevar el mensaje de Jesús a todos los rincones del mundo? ¿A quién está confiado el mensaje de salvación? Si tu respuesta es los obispos y los sacerdotes, estás equivocado. Es tarea de todo bautizado salir al mundo y predicar el Evangelio. El Señor dio esa misión a todos sus seguidores, no solo a los Apóstoles.
Hemos adquirido una muy mala costumbre durante los últimos siglos de la Iglesia al creer que es trabajo de los obispos, sacerdotes, y monjes predicar el Evangelio, y que todo lo que los laicos tienen que hacer es asistir a Misa, rezar un poco, y dar dinero de vez en cuando. Es la creencia de que solo los sacerdotes, y los monjes tienen que ser santos, y que todos los demás pueden ser simplemente normales. Pero esta no es la verdad. Este no es el Evangelio. En el Evangelio, Jesús llama a sus seguidores a ser misioneros. Jesús envía a sus seguidores al mundo a predicar el Evangelio. Y Jesús sabe que los envía como corderos en medio de lobos, y los envía de todos modos.
Entonces, ¿por qué nuestra parroquia no está llena de misioneros? ¿Por qué no hemos tomado en serio a Jesús y escuchado su llamado a salir y predicar la venida del Reino de Dios? ¿Por qué nos hemos vuelto complacientes y perezosos, creyendo que alguien más, tal vez el sacerdote o el personal de la parroquia, lo hará por nosotros?
Parte de esto es falta de fe y falta de celo. Algunos de nosotros simplemente no nos preocupamos lo suficiente por Jesús. Pero para muchos de nosotros es porque no sabemos cómo hacerlo. Escuchamos este llamado a predicar el Evangelio y nos preocupa que signifique pararse en una esquina y gritarle a los extraños.
De hecho, para la mayoría de nosotros, predicar el Evangelio significa aprender a hablar con las personas acerca de Jesús, personas que ya conocemos y en las que confiamos, como familiares y amigos, no extraños. En el siglo veinte uno, el Evangelio se predica al mundo a través de las relaciones, pero la mayoría de nosotros no sabemos cómo convertir nuestras relaciones normales en relaciones que involucren a Jesús.
Es por eso que nuestra parroquia ha estado ofreciendo esta capacitación en grupos pequeños. Lo llamamos entrenamiento en grupos pequeños, pero en realidad es entrenamiento misionero. Queremos formar misioneros. Queremos formar personas para orar a Dios y preguntar por su voluntad. Queremos capacitar a las personas para que reciban del Señor una comisión específica para un grupo específico de personas, y darles las herramientas para salir a este grupo de personas y hablarles de Jesús. Para la mayoría de nosotros, el Señor nos llamará a dirigir un pequeño grupo de oración, por lo que lo llamamos “capacitación para líderes de grupos pequeños”. Para algunos de nosotros, el Señor nos llamará a predicar de una manera diferente. Pero esta capacitación es importante porque, si alguien está siendo llamado a ser misionero, necesita las herramientas para responder a ese llamado.
Y sé que algunos de ustedes están siendo llamados a ser misioneros, aquí mismo en Bellingham. Sé que el Señor los está llamando porque llamó a sus discípulos hace dos mil años a ser misioneros, y no hay razón para pensar que el Señor ha dejado de llamar. El Señor nos dice que oremos por obreros para la cosecha, y yo estoy orando exactamente por eso. Estoy orando para que levante misioneros de nuestra parroquia, no para ir a África o Asia, sino para predicar el Evangelio aquí mismo en Bellingham, a sus familias y amigos. Por favor, si sientes ese llamado en tu vida, háblame. Quiero darte las herramientas que necesites para predicar el Evangelio. Si respondemos al Señor, si nos convertimos en una parroquia de misioneros, destruiremos las fuerzas del mal y veremos a Satanás caer del cielo como el rayo. Llevaremos el mundo a Jesús.