Jul 1, 2017

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: "Whose agent am I?"

"Whoever receives you receives me . . . receives the one who sent me."

(James Tissot) 

Likely most of you have noticed more and more advertising for various companies which promise to test your DNA and your ancestral code in order to discover things about your past family connections you may have never known.  One add has a young man stating that he was surprised to discover, according to his DNA, that his lineage was not majority Italian but rather also contained a significant percentage of Irish .  By another, you may discover you have more DNA from Eastern Europe rather than from the Scandinavian Countries.  You may even uncover the fact that you are connected to one of our founding Fathers or some royal lineage you were unaware of.  It all makes for some intriguing connections that tie us together as a human family.  Such information may be helpful to some extent by connecting to distant relatives or it just may help us to feel less isolated and expand the blood line of our family descendants.  Once we discover these things, we would rarely want to hide them, unless you discover one of your ancestors was involved in some sort of shady behavior perhaps. 

However, in our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus makes a statement that is somewhat harsh and may seem dismissive of such important family connections: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me . . .” What about the importance of family life? Then he adds to the demand: “. . . whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me . . .” The audience to whom Jesus spoke would have been more than mildly disturbed for family was everything in ancient times.  This is why the parable of the prodigal son was so shocking since no Jewish son would ever treat his living father in that manner. 

Yet, while blood lines and family relationships are important, after all Jesus himself was born to loving parents and grew up in a family, the demands of discipleship are essentially at play here;  likewise, the measure of our loyalty to Jesus.  Do we follow him only when things are easy and comfortable or can we remain loyal as we share in his cross and the personal sacrifices demanded by our Christian way of life? As he prepares his disciples for mission he asks they weigh the level of their commitment to him and his Gospel. 

What we hear from our Lord this Sunday is that to be a true Christian, we must think beyond the limits which life imposes.  We would never be asked to renounce our family ties but the demand of Christian love and sacrifice must go beyond the familiar and comfortable.  The mission of the Church may demand somewhat of a physical detachment from family members or a re-prioritizing of our own lives beyond what is easy.  The Gospel must be preached to all and not just to those who agree with us.  Called as missionary disciples we are challenged to become witnesses to Christ in this world and there may be times that even our own family members disagree with us.  Can we still be loyal to the truth which Christ has revealed to us? 

It's interesting that we often hear from those in the RCIA process for example, that family members of those who seek to be baptized and in full communion with the Catholic Church do not understand their choice and in some cases may outright strongly disagree with their embrace of “those Catholics.”  It may even be a spouse who is uncomfortable or a son or daughter who wants nothing to do with Catholics.  It’s tough, of course, and somewhat hurtful.   Yet called to loyalty we are invited to seek the grace to be faithful members and followers of Christ and his Church. 
For example, in the world of Church ministry, we hear of something called “agency.” One great example of this would be those who work as the parish staff or school staff.  In other words, as we work together for the common good of all, we have to recognize as a “team” that we cannot all represent ourselves and our own personal interests.  For things to go well a common goal is identified; a kind of purpose, what we hope to accomplish through our efforts.  So, we collaborate together, each according to his ability and experience, for the same common goal.  Likewise we decide whose “agent” we are – who do I speak for and who or what do I represent?

In the end we are essentially agents of Jesus Christ and his Church.  When we decide on programs, ministries, how we do things collaboratively, we all keep in mind the same common purpose: to be agents of Christ in the world and to bring others to his Church: to announce the Gospel in a way that is welcoming and attractive.  In order to do this, I hear Christ inviting all of us to check our loyalties today.

In addition, we all who were “baptized into Christ,” as St. Paul speaks today, live a new life in him. And the demands of that life mean that what he asks of his disciples today, he asks of us as well.  Will you be my agent in the world? Can you put all other loves and attachments as less than your focus on me? This is not a demand that we leave our families behind but rather a challenge to make our position as his agents in the world, the framework by which we measure what we do. This kind of commitment to Christ and the Gospel, and by that to his Church, is a very real thing for many. Sometimes, it is particularly difficult at first.

So the readings, particularly our Gospel this Sunday, are not to disturb us but to remind us that as a Christian I can’t be simply lukewarm or wishy washy.  Faith is more than a title only but a profound life changing choice to follow the Lord who should be the center of my spiritual life.

As true agents of Christ, our Lord promises that our loyalty will be returned generously.  “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me . . .”
Our first reading from Kings, shares the great blessing received by the woman who had consistently shown the prophet Elisha hospitality.  Elisha was the prophet of God, the agent of God for whom he spoke, the woman welcomed him, and received the blessing of a child in her future.   

So, I may ask myself about where I stand in the measure of importance with the things of God and my spiritual loyalties.  Do I treat my faith as if it was a hobby or a life time commitment? Am I hungry to learn more or simply satisfied with what I know?  Is “Catholic” the Church I attend or the way I see myself in the world? Do I find myself behaving very “Christian” in public or when I attend Mass yet during the week I fall back into old patterns that are more harmful or certainly not productive for my faith life?  Am I simply a Sunday Catholic or do I allow the Gospel to frame the kind of person I am?  When my faith is challenged do I really stand up and be counted or do I hide in the safety of the shadows? 

Our Lord asks a great deal of those who believe in him.  We may feel at times that Catholicism and the Christian faith need to “loosen up” a bit.  Yet, Jesus’ words in the Gospel are still timely for us: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” 

Our gathering to share in the Body and Blood of Christ is to receive a great act of love from the One who calls us to join his winning side as it were.  To follow Christ is to make a conscious decision which means that other priorities have to be measured against the Gospel. Still, after receiving so much from him how can we offer any less? 

“Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”  


Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, 
my understanding, and my entire will, 
all I have and call my own. 

Whatever I have or hold you have given me. 
I return it all to you and surrender it wholly
to be governed by your will.

Give me only your love and your grace,
and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more. 

- St. Ignatius of Loyola (16th Century)