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A Homily on the Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
I apologize in advance for a longer than normal Gospel Reflection. The text below is from a Homily I recently gave to the Outer Banks NC Ministerial Alliance as part of an Ecumenical Lenten Afternoon of Prayer. If only we could be as one in our mission! As you will note, I am passionate about the topic. :)
Listen to the words of Jeremiah again.
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. (Jeremiah 20:10 NABRE)
Ever feel that way? Jeremiah is definitely having another crisis moment. This is not the first mission crisis we hear from him, but the fifth! Jeremiah is the quintessential reluctant prophet. Given the circumstances at the time, and the mission he was given, we would all likely have been as terrified!
I served in the Army for a total of 42 years. Though I have my time in combat, I have spent much more time in peacekeeping, or the more difficult, peace-making operations. I have led and sent many on missions in which the government and the population is hostile one moment and receptive the next. It is an environment where there is a tendency to want to shoot the messenger, but only after they get what they want. It is not easy and wears everyone down. I used to tell those under my command that it is good to be paranoid, but at the same moment remember always that our mission is to build a peace. I often reiterated that the mission is paramount, as many lives are at stake. In my time on these operations, I would daily ask the Lord for help. Though I am sure that the Lord always answers our prayer with the very best solution; as it was for Jeremiah in the first reading, it was not always immediately apparent. So, I can understand Jeremiah’s faith and exasperation.
A People on Mission
Like the prophet Jeremiah, the Church too, is a people on mission. It is a mission that should burn within us, as it did for Jeremiah. Jeremiah, though not always very happy about his task, describes it as inescapable. In the verse just before we began our first reading, Jeremiah 20:9, he likens his call to mission to a “fire … burning in [his] heart, imprisoned in [his] bones”. Every person that bears the name of Christ, Christian, should feel this same burning for our mission. For, our mission, comes from the Christ. From the Gospel of Matthew,
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19–20 NABRE)
Jesus did not say, “go only when you are comfortable”, or “go only when you think the other is receptive”. He commands us to, “Go!” If Jesus is truly our Lord, our only answer is, “yes.”
The Word for “Mass” comes from the last words of a Catholic Mass. In Latin they are: ite, missa est. The Latin means; “Go, you have been dismissed! In other words, get after the mission! To which everyone replies, “Thanks be to God!” If only we would pursue our mission with that thankful enthusiasm.
Jeremiah, though reluctant, was driven by his mission. Most Christians, when it comes to evangelizing, tend to sink back into their shell, often afraid of offending for being too pushy about our faith, afraid of what others may say, or afraid of hostility, those people who might grab some stones ready to throw them at you. Why do I say every Christian? Because the fastest growing religion in America is those who proudly claim to have no faith at all. It is now over 43% of the American Population. (Ganiel)
Satan rejoices, for fear, division, or just old-fashioned complacency has won out. In his book, the Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis has the demon, Screwtape, advise his nephew demon, Wormwood that,
[The Christian] will want his prayers to be unreal, for he will dread nothing so much as effective contact with the Enemy. His aim will be to let sleeping worms lie. (Lewis 59)
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Let Sleeping Worms Lie?
Sadly, I think we have become the, “I am OK; You are OK” generation, letting the “sleeping worm lie”. This is at the cost of hope for our youth, many struggling increasingly with depression. (Bennet) It is also at a cost of so many souls for eternity. God’s command to, “Go and proclaim,” cannot be accomplished with complacency, but only with persistence and courage.
The Gospel today picks up with Jesus in the Temple. The temple authorities have just demanded of Jesus, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24) Jesus’ answer is clear and unequivocal, “The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30) Jesus has fearlessly walked into the snake pit of those who resist Him and made a clear declaration. The people around Him already have the stones in their hands and are ready to murder Him right then and there. Yet, Jesus does not run away and hide.
Love, the willing of the good of the other without consideration of how that will affect me, cannot do this. Jesus, love, cannot ascribe to the “I’m OK, You’re OK” mantra. True Love stands His ground and says, look at my works, are they not of God? And, if we are, as the law describes us, gods, little “G”, then who is being God-like right now? Who is the reflection of the Love of God; the one who declares the truth in love or the one who stands with a rock in his hand, ready to murder? Jesus will not, cannot, back down. In fact, He doubles down to attempt to break through the shell that has surrounded their heart. As God promises in Ezekiel 36:26,
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26 NABRE)
Some do receive a heart of flesh. Jesus’ steadfast love bears fruit. We hear in the Gospel, “and many there began to believe in him.” (John 10:42 NABRE)
This is the right attitude of evangelization for a world that has lost its way. It is the love our Lord commands us to. We are commanded by Christ to remain on mission. We are not to shrink back in fear. Paranoia may creep in, but the Gospel should burn in our hearts and be “imprisoned” in our bones as it was for Jeremiah. That burning should drive us forward. We are on a peace-making mission, that mission must remain paramount.
We Must Carry the Aroma of Christ!
We are coming to the close of our Lenten journey. Throughout these forty days, the guideposts of that journey are fasting, prayer, and charity. I see them as the building blocks of evangelization. Fasting leads us to prayer, and prayer leads us to God, who impels us to charity. What greater charity is there than to proclaim the Good News of Salvation. Having been fortified during Lent, we have been made ready for Easter. The resurrection is the proof that Jesus is God. It is with this Easter joy, that we go into the world. As St Paul tells the Corinthian Church,
“For we are the aroma of Christ for God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing”. (2 Corinthians 2:15)
Believe, and in believing, stand firm against those holding stones, poised to throw them. Fearlessly, let our hearts burn with the Gospel, the aroma of Christ, and may our mission be imprisoned in our bones.
We are on mission and lives are at stake! Go, each person who bears the name of Christ; “dare [now] more than ever, to proclaim the word fearlessly!” (Philippians 1:14 NABRE)
Bennett, Steve. (2022, May 19). Mental Health Statistics 2022 - Everything You Need to Know. WebinarCare. Retrieved March 24, 2023, from https://webinarcare.com/best-mental-health-software/mental-health-statistics/
Ganiel, Gladys. (2022, October 30). And no religion, too: Who are the 'nones'? Slugger O'Toole. Retrieved March 24, 2023, from https://sluggerotoole.com/2022/10/30/and-no-religion-too-who-are-the-nones/
Lewis, C. S. The Screwtape Letters (p. 59). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
New American Bible. Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.