Oct 20, 2012

29th Sunday - Our mission of faith

"Whoever wishes to be great among you will be will your servant . . . "
Is 53: 10-11
Hb 4:14-16
Mk 10: 35-45

Towards the end of his life Pope John Paul II wrote that all the horrible experiences of his youth (death of his mother, brother and father; Nazi and Communist oppression in Poland) taught him that there was a “limit imposed on evil in . . . history.” This limit had to do with the mercy of God.  Ultimately, despite what seemed like the unmovable strength of evil, its destruction and darkness, God’s love ultimately remains greater and we need not be afraid. 

How many of us could say the same?  These are the thoughts and convictions of a man who was tried and tested greatly and through his own perseverance and the grace of God came out on top.  It is an inspiring testimony to the power of faith that was lived out not with force and fear but with the moral power of love and truth.  

The Church has begun a Year of Faith and we again hear a word that is both ancient and new: Evangelization. It is a word that has spoken in darkness and persecution over the ages of Christian history.

When Pope John XXIII formerly opened the Second Vatican Council in October of 1962 he spoke about opening the windows and the necessary reform of the Church which is both ancient and new.  He spoke about optimism and not despair in the face of global nuclear threat. The Church must speak to the modern world in a way that is not stilted and distant but active and participatory. That is no small task to announce with conviction the powerful message of Christ’s Gospel.   

To share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to evangelize.  It began with the mission of the Church entrusted to it by Christ himself: “Go and make disciples of all nations . . .” (Mt 28: 19).  Those words have passed down from generation to generation of Christians. We can say with confidence that the mission of the early Church is still our mission today - to be of service to society which sorely needs good news and a clear moral voice.

In this Year of Faith we now hear of a “new” Evangelization which calls all of us to not be silent or passive about our faith.  Pope Benedict XVI has set two visions for the new evangelization:

-           To “re-propose” the Gospel to “those regions awaiting the first evangelization.” It may be hard to imagine in this age of information overload and instant communication that someone has never heard of Jesus Christ and his Church.  Yet, we think of lands that have been so consistently non-Christian as to essentially know nothing about the significance of our salvation in Christ.

-           Secondly, the new evangelization re-proposes the faith “to those regions where the roots of Christianity are deep but who have experienced a serious crisis of faith due to secularization.”  We don’t have to look far at all to see how much God and religion, Christianity and the voice of Catholicism in particular, have been pushed far to the margins here in America, Canada, and Western Europe.  We need to hear a “let’s take another look at this” invitation. Some would rather the Church simply stand in the corner like a potted plant and say nothing in regards to moral issues that threaten to reform culture in ways far from the truth revealed to us by God. But effective evangelization is not silent. How must the Church speak and fulfill its mission of service? 

In our Gospel this Sunday from Mark 10: 35-45, we hear of two brothers, James and John, among the chosen twelve who misread the very mission of Jesus.  They presume Jesus’ mission is rooted in fame, success and earthly power.  When the time is right, they want to take advantage of opportunities to bask in that same glory and power: "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left."

The other disciples are clearly resentful at this blatant grab for power.  For in the ancient culture of Jesus’ day, the only way one could advance would be through deceptive means. It was somewhat fatalistic as the occupation of one’s family (father) determined the future career of the sons. Privilege was believed to be foreordained and to fight against one’s fate was evil.

Our Lord reminds James and John, and through them ourselves, that his mission is one of humble service and it is there where greatness lies. That true Christian leadership is not expressed with the self-glorification of raw power but with the authority of moral example and service to others after the imitation of Jesus himself: “. . . whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mk 10: 44-45). What better moment was that expressed in than the cross?

How, then, would we best re-propose the faith of the Church to others and to ourselves? The history of Christianity has shown us less than stellar examples of moments when the intent was laudable but the method used was misguided in the spread of the faith - the Crusades and the Inquisition for example. 

But we see true conversions taking place through the moral leadership of our great saints: Francis of Assisi, Vincent de Paul, Teresa of Avila, Blessed Mother Teresa, and Blessed Pope John Paul II just to name a few. Through them the faith was re-proposed to those who already believed. It seems to me, this is what Jesus is getting at as he invites James and John, and us, to drink from: “. . . the cup that I drink from you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized . . .” (Mk 10: 39).

Jesus speaks of a cup to drink from.  As we gather for the Eucharist we are fed on his Word and share in the living presence of the risen Lord where we eat his body and drink his blood. Our year of faith challenges every one of us to hear again that Word and Presence re-presented to us. It seems that it can begin with the place where we are most fed for the mission of Jesus is not ours but his.  We need to begin with ourselves – to re-propose the faith to our own lives first and only then can we be authentic and convincing disciples of the Lord.  

This Sunday, it might be good for all of us to pause a moment and reflect as to just how deeply the good news of Christ has touched me.  Though I may indeed be trying my best, is there some part that has yet to embrace the challenge of the Gospel?  Do I need to hear it again – to hear a re-proposition of what I may think I have heard but only in part?