Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
There’s a beautiful simplicity to the apostolic mission we hear about today in our gospel passage. Jesus sends the Twelve out, two by two, instructing them to take nothing for the journey, but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
Yet, despite their apparent poverty, their ministry is extraordinarily fruitful. They drove out many demons and cured many people. In the end, what mattered most was not what they possessed, but that they were sent.
Ironically, possessions can become a form of restraint. We go only as far as our resources will allow; that can be the mindset. That’s how possessions can box us in and limit our imagination. Possessions can also be a form of distraction. When we receive possessions or wealth as a reward, they can unwittingly be made the reason for our labor.
Our Lord seems aware of the vanity of possessions; and so, he sends his disciples out poorly financed, with only one traveling companion.
I’m reminded of a book I read a few years back called, Essentialism. In it, the author recalls a number of startup companies that were very successful in a short span of time. But some of these companies also began to fail rapidly. The author argues that the source of their undoing, ironically, was linked to their success.
You see, when companies are small—and lean—they have no choice but to cultivate a razor sharp focus on the essential. The core mission must be on the mind of everyone involved, or else they’ll fail as an organization.
Now, should that company succeed, new possibilities present themselves, and it can be tempting to shift focus on those opportunities. But that can be deadly to a company, if those efforts pull too much focus away from what made the business successful in the first place.
The Church isn’t immune from that danger that is born by success.
When the Church is successful, in a cultural sense, we call that Christendom. Christianity becomes part of the way of life. Going with the flow means being Christian: Catholic schools are affordable and filled to capacity; there’s no shortage of vocations to the priesthood or religious life; non-profits that serve the community are plenty; volunteerism is at its highest; it’s normal for politicians to be Christian and promote Christian values; Christianity inspires the greatest art and music; the family is a protected institution. That’s what Christendom looks like.
But all of those things—good as they are—are not the goal of Christianity. They’re certainly signs—and blessings—of Christianity, but they’re not the goal. Good as they are, they can distract one away from the beautiful simplicity of the apostolic mission.
The sign that we’ve been distracted by them is when we become overly attached to them, or experience an exaggerated discouragement from their absence.
On this topic, there’s a book—more of a long essay—called, From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, published just last year by the University of Mary, that describes this distinction between Christendom, when Christianity governs a society; and apostolic mission, when the faith is counter-cultural.
In the early pages, the author rhetorically and anachronistically considers the Apostles, after Jesus had ascended into heaven, after having just commanded the disciples to evangelize the world.
Had the Apostles established a committee, as we often do today whenever the Church decides to do something, the minutes of their first meeting might look something like this:
“Our Agenda: To bring the Gospel of Christ to the World."
“Our resources: Bishops? Eleven. Priests? Same number. Deacons? None. Trained theologians? None. Religious orders? None. Seminarians? None. Seminaries? None. Christian believers? A few hundred (in the whole world). Countries with Christians in them? One. Church buildings? None. Schools and universities? None. Written Gospels? None. Money? Very little. Experience in foreign missions? None. Influential contacts in high places? Next to none. Societal attitude toward us? Ignorant to hostile."
That's it. That was the extent of their resources. Now, "if the Apostles had been thinking in a Christendom mode, and had assessed their situation from the viewpoint of the strength of existing Christian institutions, they would have been overwhelmed by discouragement. They’d be facing crises in every direction: vocations, finances, catechism, education, and numbers of the faithful."
“But they weren’t discouraged; rather, they were filled with joy and hope. They had great confidence in their Lord, in their message, and in the creativity and fertility of the Church. They knew that their task was to be used by the Holy Spirit to grow the Church… and grow she did.”
Now, over the past year-and-a-half or so, we’ve been very limited on what we could and couldn’t do with regard to Church and our practice of the faith. Some might have lamented—and may still be lamenting—the loss of certain trappings of Christendom.
But even before the pandemic, Christendom throughout the world has been collapsing. Long gone are the Christian empires and monarchies of the past, and even Christian democracies are a dying breed. In our own country, seminaries become more vacant, Catholic schools shut down, Christians are mocked for their views and canceled, to use a word of the day, Christian universities increasingly adopt the values of the world, the family is undermined, marriage is redefined by the state, statues are torn down and law and order are rejected, objective truth is denied, children and the elderly are treated as nuisances, human dignity is attacked; the list goes on.
The fall of Christendom and the pandemic have caused many to doubt God’s presence and the relevance of his Church in the world.
But we need not be discouraged by these challenges, as the Apostles were not discouraged by the challenges in their day. We already have so much more than they did—at least materially. The most important reality remains: like the Apostles, we have been sent by Jesus Christ to bring his message of salvation to others. This includes not just priests, bishops, catechists, or trained theologians, but all of us.
Our first reading from Amos relates directly to this. In our first reading, the prophet Amos writes: I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”
In other words, Amos is saying that he’s not a professional at this. He wasn’t a prophet, nor was he trained as one. But those things don't matter. Most importantly, he was sent. That was the only qualification he needed to be a prophet for the Lord.
I know that most people in this room also aren’t “professional” religious speakers. But we all are sent by virtue of our baptism. When we each were baptized, we became priests, kings, and prophets.
The prophet’s responsibility is to proclaim God’s message publicly for the sake of others. I preach God's word from this pulpit, but I can't do the same in your own homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods. Nor can any priest. But you are in those places and you have been sent to preach the message of Christ, and we all must start somewhere.
We can begin by not being ashamed of our faith before others. How about making the Sign of the Cross in public as we pray before our meals at a restaurant? How about invoking our belief in God and the Lord Jesus Christ even in our daily conversations?
"You seem happy today, what's going on?"
"God has blessed today for me with some goods news. Here's what happened..."
"You have such a beautiful family."
"The Lord has blessed me with a loving spouse and beautiful children..."
"You seem a bit sadder today, how are you?"
"I'm okay... I believe in God's providence, and I can see he's leading me in a certain way through this difficult time"
As prophets, it is the responsibility of each of us to proclaim God’s message publicly for the sake of others. Through the grace of the Mass, may we have the courage to do so.