28th Week Year II; Priests' Convocation Mass
Ocean City, MD
A. Over at Xerox, a highly paid Board of Directors, senior management, and indeed managers and employees at all levels ponder the mission of the company. Does it exist to sell copiers as it did years ago or does it exist to help companies manage documents and work flow? We can be sure that, in mapping its mission, Xerox takes into account the changing needs of what it hopes is an expanding customer base, even as the company strives to stay true to its core business.
B. In the Archdiocese of Baltimore, there is no highly paid board of directors but there are many consultative bodies at the Archdiocesan and parish levels. In place of senior management there is the bishop and his senior leadership team, in place of managers there are pastors and their pastoral staffs, and in place of customers, there are parishioners as well as a very wide mission field. Xerox and the Church are very different organizations, but we, no less than they, are called to ponder the mission of the Church, “to read the signs of the times”, so as to meet the pastoral needs of our time & place. The fact is we are facing a shrinking “customer base” as fewer of the faithful elect to take part in Sunday Mass and share in parish life on a regular basis. We know there are ways to turn it around but this requires us to “re-think” and, may I say, “re-pray” our mission, and thus return to the “core business” of the Church.
II. The Mission and Core Business of the Church
A. And what might that core business be? After all, we don’t manufacture copiers or widgets and while we educate on a large scale and provide social services on a massive scale, we know that those ministries and others like them are in fact extensions and expressions of our core mission.
B. Simply put, our core mission is bringing God to people and bringing people to God, and, in the process, being transformed into God’s Holy People. St. Paul talks about the core mission in today’s reading from Galatians. It has to do with the kind of people we are forming, people who, in spite of weakness and trials of every sort, strive in God’s grace to live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit. Just to make sure we understand what he’s talking about St. Paul describes with “blue-ray” clarity what it means to live according to the flesh. To be sure, big ticket items are involved such as the misuse of one’s sexuality but there are other ways the lure of a fleshly way of life can ensnare us – things such as hatred, anger, rivalry, factions, dissension, and self-centeredness. All of these things are opposed to the Gospel we preach and it is part of our mission to help those we serve to overcome them in the grace of the Holy Spirit.
C. But our core mission cannot be described simply in negative terms, namely, to stamp out sin! St. Paul describes in positive terms what our “product” should be – simply put, the “product” of the Church’s mission is the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Our mission is to preach, teach, minister, celebrate, and serve so as to form a people who are imbued with and distinguished by the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” – St. Paul did not choose these qualities at random; rather, if we think about them carefully, we see they flow from the Beatitudes which more than one author has described as Christ’s self-portrait. In a word, we are called and graced to bring into being in our time and place a people who resemble Christ and follow Christ, a people who transform a broken world even as they live in hope of the world to come.
D. As we survey the history of the Church we see that this mission has been accomplished with differing degrees of success and it has been carried out in differing ways. It has never been the Church’s goal to produce cookie-cutter Christians. Each person is an “unrepeatable reality” endowed with unique gifts, and the Gospel continues to take root in a wide array of cultural settings, and that is very much the case in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Yet, the mission is always the same – to make disciples of all the nations. And to make disciples who will go forth and proclaim the Gospel by their manner of life, by exhibiting the fruits of the Holy Spirit, by living the Beatitudes, welcoming God’s special gifts, and using them for others.
III. Do We Believe in the Product?
A. For a moment, let’s head back to Xerox corporation. It’s probably company policy that the leadership and employees of Xerox are required to promote the products that are being sold. It won’t do for a member of the sales force to say that a Hewlett-Packard copier is just as good or better than the latest Xerox document management system. Just so, we are asked to believe in the ‘product’, the core mission of the Church; which is why, before ordination or before becoming a pastor or a bishop, we profess our faith anew and even take an oath of fidelity. We not only service what we sell; we have to believe in it.
B. But for the new evangelization that doesn’t go quite far enough. Dear brothers, we are called not merely to believe in the product, that is, the fruits of the Holy Spirit which should characterize Christ’s followers, we also have to be that product; we have to exemplify individually and collectively, what it is we are trying to inculcate in those we serve and in those we hope serve by gathering them into our parishes. Pope Paul VI made the same point when he told us that the world listens more readily to witnesses than teachers. Evangelization does not take off in a parish or a diocese unless we’re witnesses, Christians and priests who have been transformed by the Holy Spirit into living images of the Christ of the Beatitudes.
IV. The Perfect Foil: the Pharisees
A. In these days, the Gospel of Luke portrays Jesus’ dealings with the Pharisees who were numbered among those regarded as experts in the Jewish religion. They were respected for their knowledge and their authority yet Jesus continually clashed with them because they were self-righteous and because they were rule-makers rather than servants and friends of the living God who seek and do his holy will. And we would like to think Pharisaism died out long ago, but alas it is still with us. Being self-righteous and authoritarian are examples of living according to the flesh and lest we think that only one spectrum of opinion in clerical ranks can be guilty of it, let me hasten to assure you that Pharisaism is an “equal ideological employer”. No matter where one falls on the fabled spectrum, one can impose rules on others solely because “me-likes it that way”. The trouble is, this gets in the way of mission. Thus Pope Francis urges us to listen to God and to listen to our people, to bind up their wounds, to walk with them, to help them encounter Jesus, and to lead them back to the heart of the Church, namely, the Eucharist. It is arduous work, not in the way the mechanics of church administration is arduous but rather in the personal demands it makes upon us and our spiritual lives. Let us be confident that the Lord wants to work through us, come what may, and that he has given us and our co-workers the gifts needed to accomplish this beautiful and truly awesome mission.
V. Renewed in the Spirit
So, this afternoon, as we celebrate this Eucharist, let us invoke the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine that they may become Christ’s Body and Blood and as we share in these sacrificial offerings, may we experience as well an increase of the Holy Spirit so that we may resemble in the depths of our hearts, and in our private and public lives, the Christ of the Beatitudes whom we are called proclaim. May God bless us and keep us always in his love!