13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Live-Streamed and Televised Mass (Coronavirus Crisis)
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
June 28, 2020
In his second letter to the Corinthians and again in his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul refers to himself as an “ambassador for Christ”. In other words, Paul spoke to the people as if it were Christ himself, calling them to be reconciled to God and to one another. In his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul describes himself as “an ambassador in chains”, an indication that he would soon represent Christ by imitating his death.
Last Sunday and again today, we listened to the Gospel of St. Matthew where Jesus describes the “qualifications” his “ambassadors” must possess. In today’s Gospel, Jesus also tells us how his ambassadors ought to be received. So, for a few moments, let us refresh our memories. Just who are these ambassadors for Christ? What are their credentials? How indeed should they be received?
Unlikely Ambassadors Who Succeeded
Well, ordinarily we think of ambassadors as official representatives of one government to another. As such, ambassadors are expected to uphold the policies of their native country, and to present them cogently in the countries where they are posted or missioned. In addition, ambassadors are to exemplify the values of the countries they represent, and to build bridges of understanding.
Who, then, are these ambassadors for Christ? Certainly, the apostles were ambassadors for Christ for the very word “apostle” means (in Greek), “one who is sent”. Indeed, in today’s Gospel we see Jesus preparing his disciples to be sent on mission. Jesus will send them forth to represent him, to speak for him, and more than that, to bear witness to him by their words and deeds. Their mission will be to preach repentance of sin, to win minds and hearts for Christ, and to bring together a new People of God, made up of every race and nation. A stupendous mission indeed, more than any ordinary ambassador could shoulder. And, isn’t it amazing that Jesus would entrust such a mission to his apostles, most of whom were considered neither prominent nor well-educated. Yet, the Lord’s ways are not our ways!
Moreover, Jesus seemed to undermine his own mission by the instructions he gave to his disciples, his followers, his soon-to-be envoys. They were not the typical instructions that governments give to their ambassadors. Jesus instructs them to take along no money and virtually no possessions. He tells them to get ready for rejection and outright persecution. He tells them that they are worthy to be his disciples and representatives only if they love him more than anyone and anything else in the world. Thus, Jesus calls them to acknowledge him as Messiah and Lord. And he goes further. His representatives must pick up the cross and follow him … all the way to Calvary. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” What’s more, Jesus is asking those he will send to participate – through a baptism of water and blood – in the death and resurrection he would soon undergo for the world’s salvation. What a baffling set of instructions! Yet, fast-forward to the Acts of the Apostles, where we see with greater amazement how the apostles, filled with the Spirit, took Jesus at his word, brought the Gospel to the ends of the earth and laid down their lives in witness to him.
Today’s Ambassadors for Christ
Who, then, are the “ambassadors” for Christ in the world today? We think of Pope Francis, a successor of St. Peter, and the bishops as successors of the apostles. We think of the bishops’ immediate co-workers, priests and deacons, with whom is shared a ministry of word, sacrament, and charity. Indeed, the Church entrusts a sacred mission to those in Holy Orders. They are to teach in the name of Christ with fidelity and love. They are to bear witness to Christ’s teaching by their conduct … by preferring nothing whatsoever to Christ and his love. They are to act in the Person of Christ so as to bring Christ to people… and to bring people to Christ, and to his heavenly Father, in the power of the Spirit. They are represent the merciful love of God by the practice of pastoral charity, by a life of simplicity, by hard work, and by a special love for the poor and downtrodden.
Yet, the ordained do not minister alone, but rather, side-by-side with lay evangelizers, catechetical leaders, youth ministers, prison ministers, those who serve in our Catholic schools, those who exemplify the justice and love of Christ by advocating for a just society and serving the needs of the poor and defenseless, and in this Basilica parish, we are blessed with the Source of All Hope Missionaries. But hearing this, we may be tempted to say, “Thank goodness, I’m off the hook! With so many dedicated people in the Lord’s vineyard, I can sit back and relax.” To which every Pope in recent memory would say, “Not so fast!” Indeed St. John Paul the II taught that, it is the laity who are called through Baptism to be “the chief protagonists” of the new evangelization…in other words, to be in the forefront of bringing the message of Christ to non-practicing Catholics, and to be in the forefront as Christ’s envoys to a broken, divided, and ailing world. To which we might be tempted to say, “Who, me?” “I can’t see myself doing that!” Exactly what the apostles originally thought! But the Lord’s ways are not our ways! To be sure, Jesus is not promising any of us an easy ride as his representatives but he is asking you and me to unite in drawing wisdom from his teaching and endless strength and hope from his life-giving death and resurrection – all of which is contained in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
How the Envoys of Christ Are To Be Received
If we are called, according to our vocation, to be disciples and ambassadors of Christ, how, then, should we hope and pray to be received? In our reading from the Second Book of Kings, a prominent woman and her husband received the prophet Elisha with great kindness. Not only did he dine at their table, but they also provided a room where he could stay. In the Gospel, Jesus says to his apostles, “Whoever receives you receives me and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” When we bear witness to Christ with purity of heart and loving fidelity, we too deserve a prophet’s reward, namely, receptivity, acceptance, of our message.
For, while I am sure that Elisha truly appreciated that couple’s kindness, what really brought him joy was their acceptance of the prophetic message. After 43 years as a priest, what brings me most joy is being the Lord’s instrument in helping others to open their minds to the teaching of Christ and their heart to the Person of Christ and his saving love. What brings me true happiness is when someone hears, not me, but Christ, and in the joy of the Holy Spirit finds their way back to Christ’s Body, the Church. What a blessing ‘when it is not I who speak, but Christ who speaks in and through me,’ and my word is accepted, “not as a human word, but as it truly is, the Word of God…” The mere prospect of that happening is what gets me out of bed every morning!
The same is true of my co-workers in the vineyard and of each one of you. When we ourselves have welcomed the teaching of Christ into our hearts, when we prefer nothing to his love and are ready each day to pick up our cross, then, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we too will be Christ’s ambassadors: we will speak in his name and bring others home to his Church – and do so – not only through gentle persuasion but indeed through the witness of our lives. This is not to say that we will always meet with success or avoid criticism. But what joy and peace it brings “to stand in the bright light of truth” as the Lord’s disciples and ambassadors, there “to sing the goodness of the Lord”. May God bless us and keep us always in his love.