14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Preached July 7, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

Last Sunday we heard how Jesus resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, where he knew that he would be crucified and rise again from the dead. (Lk 9:51) I commented that the Christian is called to follow Jesus on his pilgrimage from this world to eternal life, the heavenly Jerusalem. We are not promised happiness in this life; we are promised eternal life, if only we will be resolute and faithful, like Jesus.

We were also reminded of eternal destiny last week by the words of Jesus: Foxes have holes, birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. (Lk 9:58) The animals belong to this earth; they have their home here; they have no purpose beyond this life. Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became the Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary, reveals to us the true purpose and goal of human life. Like Jesus, the Son of Man, we have no lasting home here on earth, even if we have a roof over our heads. Our true home is the Father’s house, where Jesus has gone before us by the way of the Cross and Resurrection.

This is important to understanding today’s Gospel. Jesus chooses seventy-two others and sends them out on a mission. He had already chosen and sent the twelve apostles. We can say that as the Catholic bishops continue the mission of the twelve apostles, the Catholic priests continue the mission of the seventy-two disciples. The mission is essentially the same, the proclamation of the peace of God’s kingdom. This is also the mission of the whole Church, which is shared in, each in his own way, by all the baptized, especially through the sacrament of confirmation. Jesus’ instructions to the disciples show that everything else must be subordinated to the mission; in other words don’t let anything distract you from your mission. Don’t let the flesh, the world, or the devil derail you from your mission.

So far so good. In the Church today we hear a great deal about ‘mission’ and about ‘the Kingdom’. So now, since 2000, we have the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, including the 3rd Luminous Mystery: “The Proclamation of the Kingdom”.

Well what is the “proclamation”?

Very often the answer given is simply that God loves us. Well that is very good and true, but what does that really mean for us? Very often that comes down to being nothing more than an affirmation of my life, here and now, as it is. “He accepts me just as I am.” Well that is only half true and half-truths are the most destructive forms of lies. The full title of the 3rd Luminous Mystery is “The Proclamation of the Kingdom and the Call to Conversion”. (cf. Compendium to Catechism of the Catholic Church, Appendix A) If God simply accepts me as I am why is there any need for conversion?

So what is the Kingdom of God’s love that is being proclaimed? That requires conversion? Very often it seems to mean that we get together, love one another, and build a better world together. Conversion then means: “Get with the program! Join the effort to build the better world.” Building a better world is fine, so far as it goes, but identifying building a better world with “the Kingdom” would be a betrayal of Jesus Christ, his Church, and the Gospel. Jesus did not die on the Cross to teach us how to build a better world together.

If this world is our common home, it is only a temporary home. We are neither foxes nor birds, but human beings, sons of men. Jesus Christ resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, where he was to be crucified, in order to teach us to how to be pilgrims, by the way of the Cross, to the new and eternal Jerusalem: that is the Kingdom.

That means if everything in the Church is subordinated to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, then the mission of proclamation is itself subordinated to the pilgrimage and to the heavenly goal of the pilgrimage.

Mission cannot itself be the goal; logically mission is in service of some other goal. Nor can the goal be “building a better world”; this can only be secondary and “better” can only rightly be defined and understood in light of the eternal heavenly goal. Indeed, I dare say that our whole modern endeavor of progress, of building a better world, has become very dangerous, destructive, and toxic, precisely because it has been undertaken without God, without any order to our eternal goal and without being illuminated by that goal. In the end, we are not united so much by our common home here on earth, our temporary home, as by the common goal, our true common home in the Father’s house, in eternity.

That is why when the disciples return to Jesus, flush with success in their mission, having even vanquished demons, Jesus tells them, Rejoice rather because your names are written in heaven. In other words don’t let anything, not even the here and now mission, distract you from the ultimate goal of eternal salvation.

Mission is above all an expression of the love of neighbor whereby we help each other on the pilgrim path to the heavenly Jerusalem, or help people to find the path or return to it.

So don’t let the flesh, the world, and the devil, empty “the Kingdom” of its true meaning and true reality, placing an empty illusion of worldly progress in its place.

Only when we keep the reality of eternal life and our heavenly goal before our eyes will we be able to make sense of the words of St. Paul, May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

To boast in the Cross of Jesus Christ and to be crucified to the world means to subordinate everything in life to the pursuit of the pilgrim path to the heavenly Kingdom.

Life is hard. We have often been hurt, we might feels as though we have been deeply wounded. We might have suffered disappointment and disillusionment. There might be moments when we feel so completely weak, helpless, and alone that, even though we are adults, we long for the comfort and security of a babe in its mother’s arms.

We can and must learn to be strong and brave; we cannot let ourselves wallow in self-pity. But we can’t do it alone and we can’t do it without God. We need to learn here and now to embrace the suffering and the hurt, not for their own sake, but recognizing therein our own little share in the Cross of Jesus Christ. He is the one who gives us strength. He is the one who walks with us on the way. At the same time, we need to learn that all the hurt and ache we carry inside of ourselves, all the longing for healing, for home, for the comfort and security of a babe in its mother’s arms, is a longing for heaven. In the famous words of St. Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” (Confessions I.1)

Today’s 1st reading tells us that we will find that supreme consolation only in Jerusalem; that means the new and eternal Jerusalem. There God will comfort us like a mother comforts her child. Then our hearts will rejoice in the vision of God and our bodies flourish in the resurrection .

Once again, to boast in the Cross of Jesus Christ and to be crucified to the world means to subordinate everything in life to the pursuit of the pilgrim path to the heavenly Kingdom.

That is why St. Paul tells us that here and now what is of supreme importance is the new creation. This is life of grace, sanctifying grace, God’s own life in our souls, the work of the Holy Spirit within us. Through the reality of grace we can even begin to attain a little foretaste of the milk of comfort that belongs to the heavenly Jerusalem.

We do not journey to the heavenly Kingdom by getting in a car and driving to some distant place, or by going to an airport and getting on a plane, or by launching a rocket ship into outer space. Rather, we journey to the heavenly Kingdom by cooperating with the Holy Spirit and letting him build the Kingdom of his grace in our hearts. We cooperate with his grace, above all, by the interior acts of faith, hope, and love for God, which should be the motive of everything we think, do, or say.

“My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love you.” There is the expression of the Kingdom within us. “I beg pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, and do not love you.” There is the expression of the heart of the mission.

The Kingdom of God’s grace is fully revealed in the Blessed Virgin Mary, full of grace, Spouse of the Holy Spirit. She is the most perfect fruit of the redeeming work of her Son, Jesus Christ, from the beginning of her existence through the gift of the Immaculate Conception, to her heavenly glory in her bodily assumption into heaven, to her continual intercession for us before the throne of God, and to her maternal presence to us as we make our own pilgrim journey.

Jesus has given us his Heart to be our heart, his Holy Spirit to be our spirit, his Holy Mother to be our mother. All this to build up his Kingdom in our hearts and so prepare us for his coming in glory when the new and eternal Jerusalem will come down out of heaven from God.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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