Thursday, Week Twelve
Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles Vigil Mass (from June 28)
For the glory of your name, O Lord, deliver us. (Responsorial: Psalm 79)
Acts 3:1-10: Everyone knows the story of a pope who said, commenting on this text amid the riches of the Vatican, “Peter can no longer say, ‘Silver and gold have I none.’” A saint replied: “No, and neither can he say, ‘Rise and walk.’”
Since the remark is attributed to various saints, it may be just legend, but it makes us think: how do
money and ministry mix?
No one questions the need parishes and dioceses have to pay salaries, provide services and put up necessary buildings. The question arises when buildings, their ornamentation, or the lifestyle of priests and bishops, project an image of wealth. When does the magnificence of a church make us see it less as a place of worship and more as an art museum? Or as proof to ourselves and others, where the Church has a poor and immigrant past, as in the United States, that Catholics have “arrived”? Apart from obvious needs for funding, can a rich Church minister as well as a poor Church? Jesus apparently thought not:
Proclaim the good news.... You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag, or two tunics, or sandals.... 1
Ministry in the Church has repeatedly been renewed by “mendicant” religious orders, such as the Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits, who all, in their beginnings, at least, followed these instructions almost literally. And it is constantly in need of renewal.2
Most important of all is the “first law of ministry,” which Jesus gave to Peter in John 21:15-19: “If you love me, feed my sheep.” When Church officials are more intent on making rules and enforcing them than on facilitating access to Communion, something is wrong.
Galatians 1:11-20 is an essential text for reconciling the “ordinary magisterium” of the Church with prophetic witness. In the wake of the Protestant Reformation, Catholics became fixated on obedience to the pope as proof of orthodoxy. The phrase, “Roma locuta est, causa finita est” (“Rome has spoken; the discussion is over”) was interpreted in practice in a way that silenced the Spirit. It shocks us to hear Paul insist that he “did not receive from a human being” what he preached, “nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” It was only “after three years” that he “went up to Jerusalem” to compare notes with Peter. In ministry authority and charism either respect or ruin each other.
Initiative: Listen when God speaks. Discern what makes you open to his voice.
SAME DAY June 29, 2017: Thursday, Week Twelve
The Responsorial (Psalm 106) reminds us never to doubt God’s goodness. On the contrary, no matter how bad things seem, we should keep saying, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.”
Genesis 16: 1-16 shows us that God is good to us even when we bring pain on ourselves. Sarai told her husband Abram to have children by her slave Hagar. He did, but when her advice backfired and Hagar despised Sarai for her barrenness, Sarai blamed Abram and began to abuse Hagar. So Hagar ran away.
Enter God. He sends an angel to tell Hagar to go back and submit to Sarai’s meanness because, even though Hagar brought it on herself by despising Sarai, God will make it up to her: “I will make your descendants so numerous that they will be too many to count.” This squared things for Hagar. Happy ending: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.”
One of the greatest dangers in ministry is discouragement. Ministry always aims, in some way or degree, at conversion. Even healing ministry seeks to help people believe more in God’s love for them, which is a conversion. But true conversion depends on grace and free will, neither of which is under the minister’s control. So there is never a predictable cause-and-effect result we can expect from ministry. We just have to do our best and leave the rest to God. Whether we see results or not we must still say, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.”
We could aim at and possibly achieve other results than conversion. In Matthew 7: 21-29 Jesus discounts eloquent preaching and exhortation (“prophesying”), driving out demons and working miracles — not that these are bad; they just aren’t necessarily good. What is good? What can we aim that we can be sure is fruitful to ourselves and to others?
The answer is decisions. Ministry, like the spiritual life itself, is fruitful when it leads to decisions in response to God’s word. “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” Ministry that does not produce decisions is as futile as housebuilding on a sandy slope: when put to the test, anything it seemed to have accomplished will slide downhill.
But decisions and concrete actions that put Christ’s words into practice are the hardest thing to produce. Ministers can only focus on living out in action themselves what they exhort others to do, and then leave the results to God — while they keep saying, regardless of visible results, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good.”
Initiative: Be a priest. Focus on fidelity in action, not success.