15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
July 11, 2021
The Call of Amos
Every walk of life has its share of hazards and clericalism is one of the greatest hazards to my vocation as priest and bishop. Clericalism takes many forms, but for our purposes, I will describe it as a tendency to see the priesthood merely as a profession, a livelihood, and a path to worldly esteem.
Of course, we priests should exhibit a high degree of professionalism, and the laborer deserves his payment, and good priests ought to be respected.
Yet, we, your clergy, must not be merely a professional class within the Church – those who go about our work according to standards, even high standards, but without skin in the game, without striving ourselves to be disciples, without walking the same difficult path to holiness that the People of God must walk.
Back in the 5th century, St. Augustine put it this way: “For you I am a bishop; with you I am a Christian.”
St. Augustine’s words resonated in my heart when I read today’s excerpt from the Book of the Prophet Amos. Amos prophesied in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, more than seven centuries before the birth of Christ (722 B.C.). Prosperity had spread across the land, but that prosperity was hollow. The powerful kingdom of Assyria threatened the stability of the Northern Kingdom, and Amos had the temerity to speak out about it, and to speak bluntly. Because of this, Amaziah the priest of the royal sanctuary at Bethel, expelled Amos from the prophetic guild, and I gather that this guild, the nabi as they are called in Hebrew, was “clubby” – a tightknit group of “self-referential” professionals, as Pope Francis might say.
That is in our first reading Amos boldly declares that he was no prophet, only a forester and a shepherd. Yet, it was Amos whom God called, Amos who boldly proclaimed the truth of God, and Amos who tried to save the people from their false sense of security.
Amos was not a professional prophet; prophecy was not his livelihood. But he was deeply and personally invested in the message he preached, a message that came, not from himself, but from God, for an authentic prophet is one who speaks for God.
The Call of the Apostles
The calling of the Amos parallels the calling of the Apostles, recounted in today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel. Mark’s Gospel omits details we find in other Gospels about the call of the Apostles. Mark simply tells us that ‘Jesus called them and sent them out two by two’ – and here let us remember that the word “apostle” means, ‘one who is sent.’
There was nothing comfortable or clubby about the calling of the Apostles. Jesus dispersed them, sending them out in pairs, to heal the sick and to exercise authority over unclean spirits, and along the way, to preach a message of repentance.
The rules Jesus laid down for his newly called disciples were daunting. Bring only the bare minimum and rely on the hospitality of others. If the townsfolk accept the message, well and good, but if not, time to move on. At this point, the Apostles were neophytes; nonetheless, they wielded Jesus’ power over the forces of sin and death. They expelled demons and cured the sick and opened hearts and minds to the Gospel. Like Amos, the Apostles were not religious professionals. Most were fishermen, and one was a tax collector.
From Calling to Content
If the first reading recounts the call of Amos, and the Gospel narrates the calling of the Apostles, the reading from Ephesians summarizes what Apostles were sent to preach, that is to say, the content of Christian preaching.
For the content of Christian preaching is not a system of laws and rules, nor still less any ideology of right or left, or even a philosophy of life. St. Paul teaches us that the heart of Christian preaching is the Person of Christ. So our second reading, which is very likely a hymn from early Christian liturgies, gives thanks and praise to God the Father “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.”
Paul goes on to recite the blessings we have received in Christ Jesus: Christ chose us to belong to him, even before time began; Christ called us to holiness; to be the beloved children of his heavenly Father; Christ’s blood saved us from our sins and instilled in our hearts a spirit of joyful praise.
This is the content, the heart, of Christian preaching, instruction, evangelization, and while this message is written down and beautifully expounded, it is not solely the result of reading and study. Rather, it comes to us from the Wisdom of God, that is, from the Holy Spirit, who enables us to step back from the chaos of our lives, and see not merely the trees but the forest, to envision the whole of God’s plan for the world’s salvation.
This world, with its tumultuous history, is not one long protracted train wreck – but instead it is guided by the mysterious plan of God at the heart of which is Christ, who conquers sin with grace, death with life, chaos with order and unity – a good thing to remember on those days when the world seems to be falling apart.
The Eucharist takes us to the very heart of the plan of God, for in the Mass we share in the Lord’s sacrifice of love, his victory over sin and death. In the Eucharist, we intimately partake of the very Person of Christ, eating his Body and drinking his Blood under sacramental signs.
The Eucharistic Lord binds us together in the power of the Spirit as his Church, and sends us forth, Sunday after Sunday, to bear witness to his love, by word and deed. Just as I cannot afford to be a clericalist, comfortable and apathetic, so too none of us can afford to be ‘cultural Catholics’ – those who identify as Catholics but without any real personal commitment.
Rather, we must all respond wholeheartedly to the call we have received – a call to discipleship, to holiness, to love of neighbor, especially those most in need, and a call to bear witness to the Person of Christ, Jesus who is the heart of our faith.
This Sunday, as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ let us hear the call to proclaim and to exemplify the joy of discipleship, the joy of following and bearing witness to Christ as members of his Body, the Church, women and men in every vocation and in every walk of life.
And may God bless us and keep us always in his love!