Immersed in Christ: June 28, 2020
THIRTEENTH Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)
Practical Guidelines for Ministry
What are my feelings toward those who minister in the Church (both clergy and lay)? How do I perceive people who minister? How do I respond to them? Do I recognize the mystery of Christ in them?
Attitude and assumption test: When you read “minister in the Church,” did you think only of those who minister in the church? Or did you think of all in the Church who minister, whether through parish ministries or not?
The Entrance Antiphon invites us not only to have joy, but to express it: “All nations, clap your hands. Shout with a voice of joy to God.” So do the Responsorial Psalm — “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 89) — and the Communion Song: “O bless the Lord, my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” Clearly, this Mass invites us to see and to celebrate God’s goodness to us.
What goodness do we single out? In the Opening Prayer we ask God: “Free us from darkness and keep us in the radiance of your truth.” And in the alternative Opening Prayer we ask him: “Form our lives in your truth, our hearts in your love.” We see our joy, then, as rooted in truth and love, both of which are God’s gift to us, a share in his own goodness communicated to us.
How does God share his truth and love with the human race? The Prayer Over the Gifts focuses the answer on the sacraments and on service. The sacraments give God’s life to us, and we communicate it to others in service: “Through your sacraments you give us the power of your grace. May this Eucharist help us to serve you faithfully.” The Prayer After Communion has the same focus: “Lord, may this sacrifice and communion give us a share in your life and help us bring your love to the world.”
As this leads us to expect, the readings will alert us to recognize God’s truth and love shared with us through the service, the ministry, of people he has united with himself. And they invite us to become one with Christ ourselves so that we might communicate his truth and love to others.
Serve the Servers
2 Kings 4: 8-11, 14-16 is a preview of what Jesus will say in the Gospel: “Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward” The woman who gave hospitality to Elisha was rewarded with the gift of a child. Later the child died, and then Elisha came again and did something we see today as an image of Jesus uniting us to himself on the cross to restore our life (compare this to the 2nd reading):
When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed… he got up on the bed and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and while he lay bent over him, the flesh of the child became warm.
Whenever anyone ministers to us, we should recognize, not just a prophet but the crucified and risen Jesus ministering. And we should respond with gratitude appropriate to this mystery. In every kindness shown us we recognize the kindness of God: “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”
Life through death
Romans 6: 3-4, 8-11 teaches us the central mystery of our redemption. We live in Christ because through Baptism we died in Christ on the cross. We share in Christ’s divinity because he united our humanity to his on the cross and took us down to the grave with him in death so that he might raise us up with himself in his resurrection.
We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.
This is why we are redeemed. It is why our sins are not just forgiven, but taken away. Mere forgiveness does not change what we are. Forgiven or not, I am still the person who did whatever I did. But the mystery of our redemption is that as “Lamb of God” — sacrificed for us and uniting us to himself in the sacrifice — Jesus takes away the sins of the world. All who have been incorporated into his body by Baptism were “in him” when he died on the cross; died in him and then rose purified in him without any record of sin. Paul says, “For a dead person has been absolved (δεδικαιωται: to be “set free, made pure”) from sin” (Romans 6:7). The one who sinned died. The one who lives now in Christ is a “new creation” living a new life, without any record or history of sin (2Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). This gives us a new self-image:
Christ died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. Consequently, you must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.
It is contrary to our faith to carry around the burden of past sins. Those sins were annihilated in the death of Christ. They no longer exist. This makes joy a profession of faith for us: “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”
A mystery of identity:
Matthew 10: 37-42 proclaims our identification with the risen Jesus. As St. Augustine taught, speaking to the baptized, “We have become not only Christians, but Christ. Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ!”(quoted by John Paul II in The Splendor of Truth, no. 21). The words of Jesus are: “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Whether we minister or are ministered to, it is the same mystery of Jesus giving and receiving in the members of his risen body on earth. Carrying this mystery into the “end times,” St. Augustine teaches that in heaven “there will be but one Christ, loving himself.” It begins on earth.
Then Jesus gets specific and says that if we recognize and serve prophets because they are prophets, we will receive “a prophet’s reward.” If we welcome and serve righteous people because they are righteous, we will receive “a righteous person’s reward.” He may just be giving examples for emphasis, but he also may be establishing a principle, which is that the benefit we receive from interacting with anyone will depend on how much we recognize the truth of that person’s identity. If we serve our fellow human beings as humans, we will enter more deeply into our own humanity. But if we recognize and serve them as Christ we will enter more deeply into the life of grace we have as Christians.
Christian ministry is humanitarian, but never just humanitarian. It is the lived experience of being Christ to others, recognizing Christ in others, serving Christ and being served by Christ in others.
When we ask God in the Opening Prayer: “Free us from darkness and keep us in the radiance of your truth…. Form our lives in your truth, our hearts in your love,” we are recognizing that ministry is mystery. To be fully Christian in our ministry we must love in the light of revealed truth. Our love must come from our faith-enlightened perception of truth, express the divine truth of what we are and others are, and lead others into faith-inspired truth and love.
That is why ministry has to be nourished by “word and sacrament.” Ministers, to be authentic, must constantly seek deeper union of mind and will and heart with Jesus Christ by doing those things that let the life of grace expand within us. Ministers are not pipelines but fountains: to bring light and love to others we must be filled ourselves with light and love. In ministry we don’t just transmit; we share. So first we ask Christ to share with us. In the Prayer After Communion we ask: “Lord… give us a share in your life and help us bring your love to the world.”
Jesus did not choose people who were particularly bright, educated or virtuous to be his co-workers. But before he sent them out as ministers, they did have to become his disciples; that is, his students. Jesus can and will use anyone to give life to the world; but that person first has to accept life from Jesus. “We cannot give what we do not have.”
That is why the death of Christ into which we were baptized in order to live in Christ must continue in us as a constant “dying to self” to live for God and others in love. “While we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh” (2Corinthians 4:11). A commitment to ministry commits us to grow in the experienced joy of holiness: “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”.
What can I do that will make me more able to minister as Christ?
Pray constantly, “Lord, do this with me, do this in me, do this through me.”.