06 February 2012

"We're on a Mission from God"

 Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
            Well, we all know that there’s a big game today.  To be honest, I’m not really a Giants or a Patriots fan.  I’ll cheer on the Giants tonight, mostly because I am a Payton Manning fan, and his younger brother, Eli, is playing for the Giants.  If I had my wish, the Detroit Lions would be playing this evening in the Super Bowl.  But, I suppose that if the Lions had played in the Super Bowl, and had won, then I would be coming back here, because we know that would be a sign that the end of the world was imminent.  
            But whether you’re a Giants fan or a Patriots fan, we all know that for each and every one of those athletes, their mind is on one thing and one thing alone: winning that game.  That is, as it were, their mission, and they’re probably hoping that they’re not on a Mission Impossible.
            What is our mission as Catholics?  As St. Thomas Aquinas parish and St. John Church and Student Center, we have a mission statement: “We are a Roman Catholic parish in a university community, joining students of all ages, joining people from all walks of life and from all corners of the world through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  As a Eucharistic people, we nurture spiritual growth through worship, evangelization, stewardship, education, service, justice, outreach and hospitality.”  This mission statement was crafted by members of our Parish Pastoral Council, which is a visionary board with the task of helping Fr. Mark with their advice of how the parish can fulfill that mission statement.
            But imagine being asked, “What is your mission?” on the street and trying to remember all of that.  It’s a great mission statement, but it would be hard to remember all of the wording.  Jesus, in today’s Gospel passage, give us His mission: “‘Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also.  For this purpose I have come.’”  Jesus’ mission is to preach.  And what is He preaching?  The Gospel, the Good News, of God’s love and Truth, made manifest in Jesus’ very Person. 
            This was also the mission of St. Paul.  We hear his words to the people of Corinth today in his first epistle: “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!”  Yes, it is a mission for Paul, but he also calls it an obligation.
            St. Paul has this obligation because he was called to be an apostle, one sent out by Jesus to preach Jesus, and Him crucified, as Paul says elsewhere, for the salvation of souls.  But what about us, who are not the bishops, the successors of the apostles?  What is our mission?  Well, if one part of the definition of the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, and we are members of that Mystical Body through baptism, then our mission is the same as Jesus’: to preach.  But we do not preach ourselves because we cannot save anyone.  Only Jesus saves.  So we preach Jesus: His Word, His Teaching, His saving Gospel.
            This was affirmed by Vatican II on the Apostolate of the Laity: “The Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father, to enable all men to share in His saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might enter into a relationship with Christ.”  This is what the Church calls the apostolate, when each and every member, each in his or her own way according to the individual state in life, is acting towards that purpose.  “In the Church,” the document continues, “there is a diversity of ministry but a oneness of mission…[The Laity] exercise the apostolate in fact by their activity directed to the evangelization and sanctification of men and to the penetrating of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel.”  In other words, while our parish mission statement is certainly helpful, we can really pare it down to the final words of Jesus in the Gospel according to Matthew: “‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’”
            So how do we do that?  We know the what, now what’s the how?  To be honest, there are as many ways to spread the Gospel as there are people here.  We can do it through the way we act and talk at work, the way we relax, the media we promote, etc.  Each day God gives us new opportunities to share with people how important our relationship with Jesus is so that they want the joy and the love that we have found in Christ and His Church.  We are obliged, as was St. Paul, to make Christ known through our actions and through our words.  We can’t just choose one.  If all we do is act uprightly, that’s a good start, but we need to speak about Jesus to those who do not know Him at all, or those who do not know Him fully.  If all we do is speak about Jesus but do not let that influence our actions, then we need to show people by our deeds that the words we speak are not hollow, but change the way we live.
            One opportunity to preach the Gospel has been handed to us recently by the Federal Government.  The United States Department of Health and Human Services has declared that health benefit plans must include coverage for sterilization, contraception, and abortion-inducing drugs, without an exception for those religions that teach that such coverage is contrary to its faith.  The Catholic Church in the United States will never comply with this mandate.  This nation is built upon the three-legged stool of the First Amendment.  Our precious freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly underlie everything this nation is, and everything this nation has ever accomplished.  Religious liberty gives the freedom to preach the Truth.  And the truth is that pregnancy is not a disease.  Nor is the natural fertility of a woman a disease.  Through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Michigan Catholic Conference, the Diocese of Lansing is exploring a number of options, including litigation and Congressional reform.  As these efforts move forward, we Catholics should make clear to our elected officials the crucial importance of religious liberty, and we should pray daily for those who have the responsibility of making these decisions.
            By the laity taking an active role in politics, advising their representatives, regardless of political party, that we will not allow the Federal Government to infringe upon the conscience rights of citizens, we preach the Gospel.  By insisting that Christian people not be compelled to participate in immoral activity, we participate in the mission of Christ to stand up for the Truth. This is not a partisan issue.  This is our obligation, our mission, as members of the Body of Christ, to preach the Gospel, always and everywhere, even when it is difficult.