Monday, June 16, 2008

The Harvest is Great

11 Sunday A #91

Ex 19, 2-6b
Ps 100
Rom 5, 6-11
Mt 9, 36. 10, 1-8

Deacon Tom Cornell

Saint Mary’s Church
Marlboro, N.Y.
June 15, 2008

In Paul’s Letter to the Romans we read, “When we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, we were still enemies; now that we have been reconciled, surely we may count on being saved by the life of his Son.” What strikes me is “we may count on being saved by the life of his Son.” We are accustomed to hearing that we are saved by the passion and death of Jesus on the Cross. But here we are told that we are saved by his life also, by his words and his deeds, his teaching and example.

Our Gospel has Jesus sending the Twelve out on their first mission. He tells them to avoid Gentile territory, not even to enter a Samaritan town but to go only “to the lost sheep of the House of Israel” with his good news, that the kingdom of God it at hand. Little by little, the disciples came to realize who Jesus is, the Christ, the awaited one. When Jesus asks them, “Who do you think that I am,” Peter answers for the rest, “You are the Christ, the Son of God.” At Lazarus’ tomb, Martha exclaims, “You are the Christ, the one who is to come into this world.” On Mount Tabor, at the Transfiguration, Jesus instructed Peter and James and John to tell no one their vision of him with Moses and Elijah until after his Resurrection. That Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, is a secret, “the messianic secret,” as it is called, that they are to keep until the Resurrection. Then the Holy Spirit will descend upon them. They will be enlightened and grasp the meaning of all the things that had happened.

The first reading today from Exodus has Moses and the People Mount Sinai after forty years in the desert. Moses will ascend the mountain and receive the Ten Commandments. God is about to establish his Covenant with the People of Israel: “You shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine. You shall be to me kingdom of priests, a holy nation.”

Israel was not worthy. No people, no nation and no person can ever be worthy of God’s grace. God’s gifts are given freely, undeservedly. “Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give.” Israel was unfaithful over and over again, but God called the People back through a faithful remnant and through the Prophets. God did not choose Israel for its own sake but that Israel might be a light to the nations, a beacon of his justice, mercy and peace to all. All the nations will some day climb the Mountain of the Lord to learn the Lord’s ways. Then they will beat their swords into ploughshares and study war no more.

Jesus’ earthly mission was to the lost sheep of Israel. But after his Resurrection, his last instruction to his disciples was to go out to all the peoples. “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,” the Great Commission. The apostles preached Jesus as Messiah and Lord, and they established churches throughout the ancient world. And as he promised, Jesus has been with us, and will be with us, through the end of time. But just as God did not choose Israel for its own sake, so God did not establish the Church for its own sake. The Church is to be a beacon of God’s justice, mercy, peace and reconciliation for all peoples and lead them at last to the Holy Mountain and to teach them the Lord’s ways.

I was trained as a high school teacher. As a teacher I learned that people do not learn so much from lessons, sermons, lectures or books as they do from stories, stories of people whose lives inspire. We have so many examples in our saints. The Church shows her human face, Christ’s face, in the witness of the saints, the canonized and the un-canonized. And we are all called to be saints.

When I am in Rome I like to live in the house where the young men from England and Wales live as they prepare for ordination to the priesthood. During the time of Elizabeth I, these men knew that if they returned to England as priests they would be pursued by agents of the Crown, and if they were caught they would have the opportunity to deny their Catholic faith or be killed. One by one, two by two and three by three they went back to England as newly ordained priests. Forty-three were hunted down, executed, hanged, drawn and quartered. Walking the halls they walked, eating in their same refectory, praying in their same chapel, you feel the presence of those young men. Theirs was a faith worth dying for. Go to Assisi and you will sense the presence even today of Saints Francis and Clare and Saint Anthony, who denounced social injustice with vehemence! And at Pietrelcina, Padre Pio. There Padre Pio established a hospital that he called “The House for the Relief of Suffering.” Isn’t that a wonderful name for a church, the Church? “A house for the relief of suffering!” Theirs is a faith worth living.

We think of Damian the Leper on Molokai, of Mother Cabrini and Mother Ann Seton and Mother Teresa, of John Henry Newman and Dorothy Day. They met the poor and the wretched, lived with them and gave them not only physical relief but a sense of worth, a feeling of being loved and forgiven their sins and their faults, God’s love. They did it day by day, directly, person to person. Our young people should know these stories. They will strengthen them in the Faith more than any threat of eternal damnation! Young people crave adventure and great deeds; their hearts are generous. They seek something bigger than themselves. The harvest is great, but the laborers few.

The saints are our models. Their stories are close at hand. People who follow their example can not fail to grow in love. They will also grow in courage and strength. They will inevitably come to ask why there is such need, why are there so many poor and why so much needless suffering in this world. Why the enormous gap between the few very rich and the many very poor when God’s creation is meant for all? Do we have more than our share? They will search for answers and they will take them into the public square.

There will be a reckoning one day, and all who cry “Lord, Lord!” will not enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of the Father. Our graces, our gifts from the Lord, we never earned them and they are not for our sakes only but for the world, the whole world, the good and the bad. For the Lord makes his rain to fall on the good and the bad and his sun to shine on the just and the unjust alike. It is not ours to judge, simply to act, in truth and in love. God will do whatever sorting there need be at the End.