Isaiah 2:105; Ps. 66; Ephesians 3:2-12; Gospel of Mark 16: 15-20
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 20 October 2019
Jesus in today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, commissions His Eleven apostles, “Go out to the whole world, and proclaim the Good News of Salvation to all peoples.” Our Holy Father, Pope Francis has declared that this month of October be the celebration of the “Extraordinary Missionary Month”, and today we are gathered here to celebrate “Mission Sunday.” Pope Francis explains that to be a “missionary” is to be a “living witness” of the faith.
In other words, to be a “missionary” is more than proclaiming the Good News of Salvation of Jesus a foreign country. To be a “missionary” is to bear “witness” to one’s faith in our daily living, wherever we are. And, this includes “one’s willingness to suffer and die rather than to renounce our faith.” The word witness has the same root as the word “martyr” in Old English and Late Latin. In launching the “Extraordinary Missionary Month” Pope Francis explains that “martyrs live by spreading peace and joy, by loving everyone, even their enemies, out of love for Jesus”.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters in Christ, Pope Francis is inviting you and I to face the truth that if we wish to be a good witness of Jesus, then the first and most basic question you and I need to challenge ourselves honestly and sincerely is, “Are we spreading peace and joy to people in the way we live daily?” And, in reflecting on the quality of our witnessing, Pope Francis is inviting us to ask ourselves, “Are we loving everyone, including our enemies, out of love for Jesus” and as Jesus Himself has shown us through His life?
For this, it is understandable and expected, that many of us cannot very instantly proclaim, that “Yes, we are truly loving everyone, including our enemies, out of love for Jesus.”
As this is so, then let us remind ourselves what St John Henry Newman says, “Everyone who breathes, high and low, educated and ignorant, young and old, man and woman, has a mission . . . We are not sent into this world for nothing; we are not born at random . . .” God not only sees every one of us; He creates every soul, He lives in each of us for a purpose, and He needs every one of us, because He Loves us.
For this St Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises says that every human person is created to “Praise, Reverence and Serve” God. In many ways, you and I know that our purpose of our life is to live for God and to love Him as wholeheartedly and fully as we can. However, whether we actually live our lives in accordance to God’s Will is another matter.
There is as story of a great tight rope walker, Carlos who asked the crowd, “Do you believe that I can walk on this tight rope, 100 feet high without any safety harness and safety net?” Yes, roared the crowd. After his successful feat, Carlos then asked the crowd, “Do you believe that I can walk on the tight rope without any safety harness, without any safety net and also blind folded? The crowd applauded and shouted in reply, “Yes, we believe!” Again, Carlos amazed the crowd with his breath taking feat. Then, Carlos asked them once again, “Do you think I can walk on the tightrope without safety harness, without safety net, blindfolded and pushing this wheelbarrow across? The crowd, now having great confidence in Carlos shouted back, “Yes, we believe you can.” Carlos asked them again, “Are you sure?” “Yes,” the crowd shouted in reply with great excitement.
Then, Carlos asked, “Who is willing to sit on the wheelbarrow?” There was a great silence . . . No one dared to volunteer; everyone’s belief and confidence in Carlos has now changed because their lives are at stake.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, it is easy to say and profess that we believe in God and trust in Him, but when God asks us to trust in Him more fully, many of us do not dare to let go and entrust to God our lives and what we consider to be precious.
As such, the crowd’s response to Carlos’ invitation to sit on the wheel barrow as he walks on the tight rope, in many ways, represents the way we live our faith. Like the crowds, we chant and clamour that we believe in God, but when we are challenged by God to trust Him more fully and live His Will, especially when God’s Will affects our comforts, conveniences, and what we hold close to our hearts, including our pride, we often find ourselves too weak to accept God’s Will and Ways; and cannot love the people or forgive them and accept them, or make the needed sacrifices that Jesus has shown us.
However, in such challenges we are not alone. St Paul himself too admits, (Rom. 7:15) “I cannot understand my own behaviour. I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and I find myself doing the very things I hate.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we truly and sincerely desire to witness to the Gospel of Christ, then we have really to challenge ourselves daily to become more fully conscious of our weaknesses, and sinfulness, and beg God for the graces we need to grow into becoming more like Jesus. For this we are called to break free from our routine way of living, beg God for the wisdom to recognise our prejudices, and admit with humility the perversions and the pride within our hearts, so that God can then enlighten and empower us to change for the better, and become more like Jesus.
You and I are indeed called to witness our faith in Praising, Reverencing and Serving God more fully and more wholeheartedly. Fr Leonard, once shared, “last week, the Resurrection took on another new meaning for me. It was a particularly hectic week. I felt as if I was running from pillar-to-post starting fires in some places and putting them out in others. In such a frantic situation, the doorbell rang, and even as I was very tempted not to answer, something within me urged me to do otherwise.
Jane, someone I knew was at the door. I have not seen her for some months in the parish. When I greeted her, Jane said, “Father can I see you for a moment?” Reluctantly, I found myself saying, “Yes, do come in.” Jane began to pour out her heart breaking story for the next hour or so. When Jane finally left my office several hours later, but somewhat relieved by our conversation,
I realised that when we make the needed sacrifices to listen with attentiveness and sincerity of heart, God’s Spirit will never fail to enlighten the seeming overwhelming problems of our lives, and will always give us the renewed hope and strength we need to face the challenges, and embrace them as Jesus did when He faced His enemies and persecutors.
And so, Pope Francis reminds us, that we are not simply to go through life daily in a routine manner, our mission in life is to give life.” We are also “not to complain about life, but to share in the tears of all who suffer”.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, unlike Fr Leonard, if our self-love prevents us from making ourselves available to the needs of others, then we are clearly not living our missionary vocation of witnessing our faith as God Wills of us in today’s Gospel.
For this Pope Francis asserts that we sin against mission, when we fail to spread joy, “when we think of ourselves as victims, that no one loves or understands us”. We sin against mission “when we yield to resignation”, or when we complain “that everything is going from bad to worse in the world and in the Church”. We sin against mission “when we become slaves to the fears that immobilize us”, or when we live life as a burden and not a gift, putting ourselves at the centre, “and not our brothers and sisters who are waiting to be loved”.
If the Church “is not on the go, it is not Church”, says Pope Francis. However, for a Church that is on the go, it is a missionary Church “that does not waste time lamenting things that go wrong. A missionary Church also does not seek safe oases to dwell in peace, but longs to be salt of the earth and a leaven in the world”. We are all missionaries that proclaims and witness to the Gospel of Christ daily, wherever we are, and to whenever and whoever God puts in our path of life.
In today’s Gospel, the Risen Christ, proclaims that we are to be a missionary church of fervent and committed witnesses, when He commissioned His Eleven apostles, “Go out to the whole world, proclaim the Good News (of Salvation) to all creation.” Every single person is precious in God’s eyes, and if we live our faith routinely and do not challenge ourselves to draw others closer to God, then in our routine faith, our relationship with God will become weak, superficial and even superstitious.
A flea trainer explains that fleas have a predictable way of jumping high and out of the jars they are in, if it is not covered. But, if the cover is put over the jar, it is predictable that after a short while, the fleas will not jump as high, so that they do not hit their heads on the cover. After some time, when the flea trainer removes the cover totally, the fleas no longer jump out of the jars, because they have conditioned themselves, and have come to believe that they can no longer jump as high.
As I conclude, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if we do not nourish and deepen our faith and relationship with God, as in all relationships, where we take God and our loved ones for granted, the saddest and the darkest moment of our life may just happen when we find ourselves turning away from God, and worse still, against God.
And so, my sisters and brothers in Christ, the behaviour of fleas are also in many ways predictable behaviours of a human person. If we do not live the way we believe, we may end up believing the way we live. The surest way of growing in our sense of wanting to be an effective and credible witness of the Gospel of Christ is to love God and value each person as precious, in each concrete small steps of our daily living, as God Wills of us. For this I would like us end with this poem by Catherine Ryan
God teach me to be kind and good,
By the things I say or do
God teach me to be tolerant
To those who prove untrue
God teach me to show sympathy
To those who show despair
God teach me in a humble way
To prove I love, I care.
God teach me to spread sunshine
When days are dull and grey
God teach me to be thoughtful
Of those I love and meet each day
God teach me how to hum a song
When things don’t go just right
God teach me how to carry on
When my cross is not too light.
God teach me how to share my eyes
With those who cannot see
God teach me how to lead the way
So they can trust in me
God teach me to appreciate
Those blessings that I share
Adapted from: More Sower’s Seeds, Second Planting; by Brian Cavanaugh, T.O.R.; Paulist Press, New York, Mahwah, 1992; Nos.50, pp 50-51; Nos. 83, pp. 78.
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.