Sunday, July 07, 2019

The Mission of the 72 in Luke 10; the Mission of the Laity in the Church Today

(Fourteenth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on July 7, 2019 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 66:10-14c; Psalm 66:1-20; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourteenth Sunday 2019]

What do you do to serve the Lord?

I think many lay Catholics would answer that question by telling you what they do in and around the church—“I’m a lector”; “I’m an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion”; “I’m an altar server”; “I’m a cantor”; “I sing in the choir”; “I’m on the parish finance council”.

Now please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say—all these acts of service are good!  Lay people have essential roles to play in the liturgical and financial life of this and of every other parish.  But these roles are only secondary!  Even though they’re very important, they are not at the core of a lay person’s vocation in the Church.

In paragraph 898 of the Catechism, it says this (quoting one of the documents of Vatican II): “By reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will.”

Very simply, this means that if you’re a lay Catholic (and most of you are), then you are to live in the world, but you are not to be “of” the world; and you are to take your Catholic faith with you wherever you go.  THAT’S YOUR PRIMARY CALLING!  Your faith, in other words, is to guide your personal life, your marital life (even in its private dimensions), your family life, your recreational life—and yes, even your life at work and/or at school.

When I was a deacon at St. Philip’s Church in Greenville back in 1985, there was a lector at the parish who was involved in local politics.  Eventually he became a big political figure at the state level; if I mentioned his name, many of you I’m sure would recognize it immediately.  But this man was also pro-choice when it came to the issue of abortion.  Thankfully, he eventually was told he could no longer serve as a lector.  I mention him today because he’s a great example of a lay person who was “doing something for God” at Sunday Mass, but who was not doing for God what he really SHOULD have been doing for God out there in the world!  He was fulfilling a lay person’s “secondary role” very well—he was an excellent reader!—but he was failing miserably in fulfilling the primary role of a Catholic lay person in modern society. 

His problem, of course, was that he had “compartmentalized” his faith—as many Catholics today do!  In the words of St. John Paul II—words that he wrote in his famous document on the laity, Christifideles Laici—this man had engaged in the “unwarranted separation of [his] faith from [his] life.”  (CL, 2)

I was reminded of the vocation of lay people as I reflected on today’s Gospel reading from Luke, chapter 10.  In this story, Jesus sent out 72 disciples on a special mission—a mission that was a little bit different from the one he had given to his 12 apostles.  Jesus told these 72 to go ahead of him to every town he intended to visit, to prepare the way for his arrival.  They weren’t supposed to lead services in synagogues; they were supposed to share their faith with people in a less formal manner, to prepare them to receive Jesus and his message.  That, of course, is exactly what you are supposed to do as Catholic lay people: by your words, actions and example—in the midst of your everyday activities—you are called to prepare others to receive Jesus and his message. 

I remember speaking to a woman on the phone one day who wanted to register for the parish and have her daughter baptized.  That was wonderful.  But during the course of our conversation she indicated that she hadn’t practiced her faith in many years, and she had no intention of practicing her faith in the future.  Her idea was to have her daughter baptized, and then let her daughter decide what she wanted to be when she was old enough.  This woman obviously did not understand her role as a Catholic lay person!  As a mother, she was called to teach the faith to her child; she was called to be an example of faith and charity to her child—to prepare the way for Jesus to become the Lord of her child’s life! 

Jesus wants to visit your children and become the Lord of their lives—so he sends you ahead of him to prepare the way (like he sent the 72!).  Jesus wants to visit your workplace and change the lives of your co-workers, and so he sends you ahead of him to prepare the way.  Jesus wants to visit your school and change the lives of your fellow students, and so he sends you ahead of him to prepare the way.

Will everyone accept the message of faith and love that you offer?  Of course not!  Some—even perhaps in your family—will reject the truth of the Gospel, regardless of how lovingly and respectfully you present it to them!  Jesus made that fact clear to the 72. 

But the difficulty of the task doesn’t make it any less of an obligation!

Many of you know that, over the years, I’ve had a few things to say publicly about the big social and moral issues of our day (like abortion and gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research).  I haven’t been too shy about putting my “two cents” into the discussion (usually in our local newspaper),  But for the most part I’ve left the job of defending the truth in the hands of some very competent and faith-filled lay people from our community—because first and foremost that’s their role, not mine!  It’s the kind of thing they’re supposed to be doing as Catholic lay persons!

My role as a priest is to form them in the faith, so that they can transform our culture with the spiritual and moral message of the Gospel!  Jesus, believe it or not, wants to visit and transform this hedonistic, materialistic culture of ours; he wants to change it from a culture of death into a culture of life!  But he needs committed lay people to prepare the way for him to do that, like the 72 prepared the way for his visits 2,000 years ago!

St. Luke tells us that when these 72 came back from the mission Jesus had given them, they had good news to report.  Yes, they had faced difficulty and opposition, but because of their efforts many people were healed and many lives were changed for the better.

Your mission as a lay person in 2019 is like the mission of the 72 in many respects, but it’s different in this one sense: their mission lasted only for a brief period of time; yours—like mine—lasts a lifetime.  When our missions are finally finished—on Judgment Day—we also will be asked to give a report to Jesus of what we’ve done in his service.  Let’s pray that when that moment comes we, like the 72, will be able to tell Jesus lots of good news!