14th Sunday of the Year 2016
MASS FOR BRAY PARISH FESTIVAL
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, Bray, 3rd July 2016
Today’s Gospel is not just about a historic event of the past. It is about the Church today and tomorrow. It is interesting also because of it full of symbolic language. Let us look at some of these symbols and see what they say to us as we reflect on the future of our Church?
The first symbolism that we encounter is the number 72. Numbers in the Gospel are almost always used in a symbolic way. For the Jewish culture 72 was the number of peoples or nations in the world they knew. So the sending out of those called to preach the Gospel is addressed to all nations, which means not just a geographic extension but also one which must reach to all generations. The Church must be missionary in every moment of time or else it is not the Church of Jesus Christ.
You cannot be a Christian and retreat with the message of Jesus into a world of your own concerns and satisfactions. Christian belief is not a philosophy or a spirituality which responds just to my needs. It is not like an interesting television programme which inspires us or moves us but which we can flick away from at a second’s notice. Christian belief is about responding radically to a message – a complex and concrete message – about how Jesus Christ teaches us who God is and how that affects the way we live.
How are the 72 sent out into the world? Jesus left his disciples under no illusion about how difficult the mission was that he entrusted to them. He knew that he was sending them out like sheep among wolves. The Christian message has never had an easy reception. The wolves – it is important to remember – refer not just attackers from the outside of the Church, but also from within the community. Indeed the wolf is within each of our own hearts also.
The 72 are sent out then like helpless sheep; even more complicated is that not only were they to be like helpless sheep, but they are to take nothing with them to bolster up their image and their security. The believer in Jesus Christ in any generation will always be vulnerable and lacking in worldly security. The believer must rather allow the centrality of his or her mission to have priority over any personal concerns.
The 72 are not to greet anyone along the way. This may seem an unusual admonition but it returns to another dimension of the mission of the Church: preaching the message is urgent. We are not to get lost in irrelevant conversation or events or polemics which will only delay or distract us from preaching the kingdom.
A real temptation for the Church at any time is to get caught up in structures and conflicts and debates of its own which are not essential and which not only impede the message of Jesus being preached effectively but also can actually trap the Church into a false sense of security which then distorts the real Gospel message. The poverty and urgency which should mark the preacher of the Gospel and thus also the Church are not just useful instruments of evangelization; they are an integral part of the message.
The disciples are sent out, but they are not sent out alone. They are sent out in twos, which stresses that the faith is not something we have just for ourselves, the Christian faith is a faith which generates communion. The Church must be a Church of communion.
The kingdom of God can only be preached and understood within a context of communion. Being a Christian is not about asserting what is mine; going to my Mass, saving my soul, having my parish; it is about establishing a communion which reflects the communion of the early Church, built around sharing in prayer, in the word of God and in the breaking of bread and then living a life marked by sharing and communion.
The lack of power and status and the subsequent precariousness which mark the mission of the 72 remind us that lack of status and power is not necessarily a threat to the Church: it can be a clear indication of the Church’s priority commitment to serve the Lord. The Church in every generation will be like God’s people who lived in the dessert and who knew the experience of exile. Perhaps there is a sense in which exile rather than establishment is the default position of the Christian in any society.
Many people say to me that I became Archbishop of Dublin at a difficult time. It would be hard to disagree with that. But I have been called to be a Bishop at this moment of time. I have been called to be a Bishop in the real world. There is no point in dreaming that it would be better in different times. All of us are called to be the Church and to witness to Jesus Christ at this moment of time, in the real world of 2016, and we will be judged on how we responded to the message in this time, no other.
Finally, how do the 72 evaluate the success or failure of their missionary endeavours? The 72 clearly admit that what they achieved came by allowing the work of Jesus’ name to be accomplished through them, rather than by them.
The message of Jesus is not one of rules and norms or of success charts: it is about opening our hearts radically to the newness of the Gospel. It is not an easy challenge. The threshold of commitment demanded by Jesus of those who are called to follow him is very a high one. The threshold is high; but it is possible to respond radically because Jesus will always be close to us in moments of our own weakness. Pope Francis noted that the Christian life: is not ‘a never falling down’ one, but ‘an always getting up’, thanks to this hand which catches us”. And on another occasion he added: “The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity, but to pour out the balm of God’s mercy all those who ask for it with sincere heart”.
The Church teaches the demanding message of Jesus Christ which challenges us to be truly loving men and women. The Church witnesses to that love, through bringing healing and mercy to those who fail and who drift and who fall and helping them to rise up.