The Mission of the Son

Unity in Heart and Mission

 Fr. Raymond Lafontaine  January 27, 2019

This morning, about 75 people coming from many of our English-speaking parishes gathered together to reflect on what it means to be on a mission, to be doing the Lord’s work together.  We shared some of the success stories of the work being done by the Holy Spirit in our parishes, identified some of the obstacles and difficulties that block the work of the Spirit, and creatively explored ways of overcoming these obstacles so that all of our faith communities can be renewed.  We dared to dream that the Catholic Church in Montreal can become again a place where faith in the Lord Jesus is real and vibrant, where strangers are welcomed, where diversity is celebrated, where the power of the love of Christ to transform us, and through us, the world around us, is alive!

Last Sunday, as the storms blew and most people who had any sense stayed home (congratulations to all of you crazy Christians who braved the elements and made it here!), I went to St. Kevin’s Parish in CDN to celebrate Mass at 1 PM with over 300 people, mostly of Filipino descent, to mark the 35th anniversary of their special devotion to Senor Santo Nino de Cebu, a devotion which honours the child Jesus which goes all the way back to the first evangelization of the Philippine Islands in 1521, when a statue of the Child Jesus was presented by the explorer Ferdinand Magellan to the local royal family.  It was beautiful to see not only how many people made it to the feast-day Mass, in spite of the bitter cold and blowing snow and icy conditions, but how everybody came downstairs after Mass, shared a meal and fellowship together, how they sang and danced in their Sinulog tradition, hundreds of people each carrying their own little statue or image of the Santo Nino and dancing with it, literally lifting Jesus higher in the joy of their celebration.   Their faith is alive and vibrant. It is something worth celebrating!

We see a similar dynamic at work in our first reading today.  The books of Ezra and Nehemiah narrate what happened to the people of Israel as they returned from their exile in Babylon, as they began to rebuild their lives and their traditions after a long period of uprooting and displacement.   

In this reading from Nehemiah, we hear that the people literally weep with joy as gathered together, they were able to once again hear God’s Word, their beloved Torah, as proclaimed by the scribe Ezra, and interpreted by the priests and Levites.  That same word which had sustained them as a people through their long exile in Babylon, could finally once again be proclaimed in public, for all to hear.  They weren’t looking at their watches, wondering “when is this going to be over”? They listened to the Word, they were attentive to the homily that interpreted it for them; they allowed the word to touch their hearts, and they were drawn to worship and praise.  Then they celebrated it with food and drink, with music and dancing: “Do not be grieved,” says Ezra to them, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

As I read this passage, I found myself asking a few questions which all of us could reflect on.  How do I respond to God’s saving word? Do I take time to read God’s word each day, to bring it to prayer, to allow it to nourish, comfort, and challenge me?  Do I merely endure the liturgy of the Word at Mass – the readings, and the homily that interprets them – as a mere preamble to the more “important” part of the Eucharist – or is my heart open to be changed and challenged by the Word?   Like the Jewish people in this reading, like so many of our Evangelical brothers and sisters, do I treasure the Word of God, allow it to speak to me “up close and personal”, drawing me to prayer and worship and witness? Do I believe and live the beautiful message we have just sung in the psalm refrain, “Your words, Lord, are spirit and life?”  

Two weeks ago, we celebrated the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  We heard the beautiful account of the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus in the form of a dove, naming him as the Father’s Beloved Son, anointing Jesus for his public mission.  Last week, we saw Jesus performing the first of his signs at the wedding-feast at Cana in Galilee, changing water into wine, changing us who receive this new sign into vessels of grace and celebration for others.  

Sixty years ago this week, a recently-elected Pope who chose the name John made an announcement which shocked the world: for just the second time in nearly 400 years, he was going to summon all of the bishops of the world to Rome to meet for a great Ecumenical Council.  That council, which became known as Vatican II, met from 1962 to 1965 and helped to set the course for the Catholic church’s entry into the Third Millennium. In it, the Church would discover itself not only as a teaching church, but as a learning church; it would embrace its vocation to be a Light to the Nations, but also acknowledge the presence of shadows and darkness within its own structures and members, a darkness that often obscured its witness and damaged its credibility.  Announced at the end of the week of prayer for Christian unity, it also reminded us of the call to build bridges of understanding and cooperation within the Catholic church, with Christians who belong to other churches, with believers of the other faith traditions in the world, and indeed with all people of good will, who want to work for a better, more just, more peaceful world.

This weekend, Pope Francis, who was inspired to take the name of the humble saint of Assisi, is meeting with hundreds of thousands of young people at the World Youth Day celebrations in Panama.  (Our Archbishop is there, and about 200 young people from our diocese, whom we carry in our prayers.) And they will be gathered, listening to the same readings that we have just heard, celebrating with joy, but also accepting the challenge of living that message, of putting it into practice in our daily lives, of becoming true missionary disciples.

And what is that mission?  That mission is revealed by Jesus today as he opens the scroll, and speaks those immortal words written long ago by the prophet Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, freedom to captives, new sight to the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."  In this text, Jesus proclaims his mission: anointed by the Spirit, formed by the message of the Law and the Prophets, Jesus will reach out to the poor, the blind, the oppressed, the marginalized, the captives. He will remain faithful to this mission even unto death, sustained by his Father’s love, by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.  

It is a mission he shares with each of us.  In baptism, we too are God’s beloved children, anointed by the Spirit for mission.  We have been called and gifted, and we are sent forth, as Jesus sent first the twelve, and then the seventy-two, and then finally all of us, challenging us to “Go out into the world and proclaim the Good News, and make disciples of all the nations, to remind them of all that Jesus said and did.”  And then the most important part of the promise: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the world.”

Today, the Father calls all of us – calls Christians of every stripe and culture and denomination – to the same mission, the mission of his son Jesus.  In one baptism, we are anointed by the Spirit as God’s beloved, as members of the one Body of Christ. In sharing this identity with us, Jesus also gives us a share in his mission.  Whatever our gift, whatever our capacities, we can all make a difference. We can reach out to those in need – in Syria or Venezuela, in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, even right here in N.D.G. – by random acts of kindness and heartfelt generosity, bearing living witness to our faith.  It may not seem like much. But when we work together, when we unite our gifts for the sake of a common mission, anything is possible.

So let us strive towards the larger goal of full unity in heart and mission, as we pray:  

 

Prayer of commitment

Take us from where we are, to where you want us to be;
make us not merely guardians of a heritage,
but living signs of your coming Kingdom;
fire us with passion for justice and peace between all people;
fill us with that faith, hope and love which embody the Gospel;
and through the power of the Holy Spirit make us one.
That the world may believe, that your name may be enthroned in our nation,
That your church may more effectively be your body,
We commit ourselves to love you, serve you,
and follow you as strangers no longer, but as fellow pilgrims.  Amen.