June 25, 2017 : THE TWELFTH SUNDAY OF YEAR A
Grounding Principles of Christian Ministry
Questions to Ask Yourself
What is the one most important characteristic that qualifies a person for ministry? Who are the most effective ministers you have known?
What is the greatest danger in ministering? Do you know of anyone who by ministering suffered spiritual damage? Do you know people who were deeply engaged in ministry and who left the Church
because of what they suffered through it?
Ideas to Consider
The Entrance Antiphon invites us to trust in God in all temptations: God is the strength of his people. In him, we his chosen live in safety. As we embark on the ministry of saving others, which has its own special temptations, we pray, “Save us, Lord, who share in your life, and give us your blessing; be our shepherd forever.” God is the “shepherd of the shepherds.”
In the Opening Prayer we ask God, “guide and protector of your people,” to “keep us always in your love.” The essential requirement for ministry, without which ministry shreds the minister, is that we minister to others with love. Those who lose love lose themselves as well as those they were trying to help.
In this prayer we ask God to keep us loving by giving us “an unfailing respect for your name.” It is our knowledge of God, of his intimate being, his “name,” that makes us able to persevere in loving others. The key to ministry is union of mind and will and heart with God through Jesus Christ.
The Readings warn us of the temptations we will find in ministry. The Responsorial Psalm teaches us to depend on God for protection against them: “Lord, in your great love, answer me” (Psalm 69).
Look to God
Jeremiah 20: 10-13 describes an experience common to those who minister: “I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!’ All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.”
The more prophetic our ministry is — that is, the more faithful it is to the Gospel — the more opposition it will arouse from those who do not want to change and grow.
Ministry that is true to the Gospel aims at conversion. Authentic ministers want to do what Christ came to do: “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full!” (John 10:10). No matter what level people are on, true ministers want to raise them higher. And in the life of grace we only get “higher” through responses. More knowledge, even of Scripture and theology, will not give us growth in grace. Knowledge only prepares the way. Knowledge gives us something to respond to. But we grow in faith, hope and love by choosing to express these gifts in action. The principle is: “We grow in grace by letting grace (God within us) express itself in and through our human actions.”
There is obvious need for ministers who just comfort, instruct and respond to people’s felt needs. This is Christian ministry. But it will not excite much opposition. If the minister goes on to the real goal, however, and challenges people to change, that is when hostility ignites.
When this happens, the minister must not focus on the hostility, the backbiting, the false reports and efforts to undermine. All this should cause us to look to God and recall: “The LORD is with me, like a mighty champion.” I do not have to fight and overcome my persecutors; they “will stumble, they will not triumph.” We do not seek vengeance: “Lord, in your great love, answer me. To you I have entrusted my cause.”
Romans 5: 12-15 identifies the two great threats to our existence in this world: death, that threatens our physical life; and sin, that threatens life itself. The unenlightened tend to fear death more than sin, which is a big mistake, but Paul says we need not fear either one of them, because Jesus has overcome them both.
“Through one man [Adam] sin entered the world, and through sin death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all have sinned.” But Jesus, by dying on the cross and rising from the dead, overcame both sin and death in one act: “For if by the transgression of the one [Adam] the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”
The bottom line is, we have nothing to fear from anybody or anything. And since fear is what motivates us to strike back at those who attack us — verbally, physically, or by plots and manipulation — we as Christians never have any reason to defend ourselves by violence of any sort.
Those who by ministry put themselves in danger of being attacked must be on guard against the greater danger of attacking back. The pre-condition for engaging in ministry is a real desire and firm determination (which does not exclude occasional failures!) to love back, no matter what is said about us or done to us. To minister as Jesus we need to “die to ourselves” and let Christ live in us. This includes accepting whatever evil falls on our shoulders because of the sin of the world and “enduring the evil with love.” If we cannot do this, ministry will be a danger for us. Our efforts to love can excite opposition that will turn us into haters.
The reality is that if we cannot carry the cross with love, we cannot extend to others the life Jesus won for them by dying on the cross in love.
Have no fear
In Matthew10: 26-33 Jesus tells us simply not to fear. If people hate us, accuse us, betray us, persecute us, or even kill us, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of them.”
If people lie about us or misrepresent what we are saying, the truth will out: “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing is secret that will not become known.” We don’t have to worry about justifying ourselves or clearing our name. We simply have to “speak in the light” and “proclaim from the housetops” whatever Jesus has said to us in the “darkness” of our inmost hearts.
The worst anyone can do to us is kill us, and this is actually to do us a favor! Those who kill us are giving us early admission to the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” We recall in every Mass, during the Rite of Communion, the words of Jesus’ triumph:
The Lord has established his reign, our God the Almighty.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him the glory.
For the wedding day of the Lamb has come,
his bride has made herself ready….
Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb!” (Revelation 19: 6-9).
Through these words the Church proclaims in every Mass, “Blessed are those who are going to die!” Jesus has overcome both sin and death. "Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?… Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Corinthians 15: 54-57).
So if Jesus tells us, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” it stands to reason we should not fear those who can do anything else to us. And if we have no reason to fear, we have no reason to fight. Jesus says, “Not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge… So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” If we look to God who is loving and protecting us instead of looking at those who are hating and hurting us, our hearts will be filled with love and peace instead of with anger and fear. This is the attitude that must be maintained in ministry.
To minister is to give expression to our religious faith, our Christian hopes and desires, our love for friends and for strangers. We are hesitant to do this. We don’t like to “talk about religion.” We are afraid to show enthusiasm for God, even in church. It exposes us, makes us vulnerable. But Jesus makes this a very personal issue: “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” Are we afraid to acknowledge Jesus Christ? So afraid that we will risk not being acknowledged by him before the Father? If ministering has its price, what is the price of not ministering?
How do I feel now about ministering? What do I fear from it? What do I hope for from it? How am I expressing my faith, hope and love now? How might I acknowledge Christ more? Do I need to use words to do this?
Resolve to give life to others by expressing what is in your heart by grace.