by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the men’s branch of the Idente Missionaries.
Madrid, July 11, 2021. | XV Sunday in Ordinary Time
Book of Amos 7: 12-15; Letter to the Ephesians 1: 3-14; Saint Mark 6: 7-13.
1. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two. This has little to do with the obvious importance of teamwork or mutual consolation. One of the differences between the Christian life and that of other religions is that the perfection to which we are invited is neither meaningful nor achievable individually.
Unlike some paths of spirituality, especially the Eastern ones, it is not simply a matter of finding inner balance or achieving personal harmony with one’s environment. That, indeed, is often best achieved in solitude and isolation. This is why in many Western cultures, where there is a cult of individualism, people are attracted to (superficial) forms of Buddhism or other spiritual ways. On another occasion, Christ gives us the deeper reason for sending his disciples out in community, at least two persons:
Truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them (Mt 18: 19-20).
On that occasion, Jesus pronounced these words in the context of forgiving sins. In fact, the above verse says, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Now, he also announces that the disciples He sends, He gave them authority over unclean spirits.
It is important for offenders/sinners to be forgiven by the community. It helps them understand that they did wrong and therefore they are more able to move on and their mindset will be changed on the community by their willingness to accept the sinner/criminal. This emotional and spiritual reality helps us to understand why Penance is a Sacrament. In it one receives forgiveness from the Church, reintegration into the community. This is also done with different rituals in many cultures.
On the other hand, it is well known in families and educational communities that most values need to be transmitted in a non-individual way. As one teacher and mother of two boys pointed out, both parents need to be on the same page and support the same values. Even if one parent does not quite agree with the way the other is handling the children, he or she should not question it in front of the kids. Otherwise, children get confused or they take advantage of the situation.
2. All disciples are sent, we all have an apostolic mission, to accompany and care for certain souls that God presents to us and places at our side. This happens in such a clear way that our Father Founder reminds us that the relationship of the apostle with the people he must bring to Christ can be summed up in one word: paternity (or maternity).
Already in the First Reading we see Amos, who feels and declares that he does not belong to the company of prophets. He is not hired by the rulers to attend to the affairs of the temple. He is simply a shepherd and cultivator of sycamore trees from Tekoa, a town of Judah, situated on the edge of the desert, about ten kilometers south of Bethlehem. He clearly understands that it is God Himself who sends him, unexpectedly and surprisingly, to Bethel, where the most prosperous temple is located and religion apparently has an enviable development.
He is not a professional prophet, just as the first disciples were not preachers or theologians, but fishermen and simple workers. The message is not that training and study are to be despised, but that each one of us, even if we feel that we lack talents, preparation and virtue, are called to the apostolate, to make known the plan that God has for each one of us, as mentioned by St. Paul in the Second Reading.
Mark begins his Gospel giving a very good impression of the disciples. They are the kind of followers we can only hope to be. However, shortly after this week’s passage, Mark’s presentation changes dramatically. The disciples are presented as weak, as failures. Mark presents them… as understanding nothing. Again and again, Jesus has to call them aside to explain things to them. Mark even notes that, at the end, all of the disciples forsook Jesus and fled. Mark is trying to help us identify with them. We do not think we are up to the tasks presented to us. We are afraid we will fail. We do not think we know enough. We are already over-committed. Jesus is not asking us to be successful. He is just asking us to put ourselves at his disposal. Success is God’s responsibility. Jesus told his disciples to put on their sandals, take up their walking sticks and go.
The conclusion is clear: first of all, I must discover in my prayer, in apostolic prayer, where to go, that is, which souls God entrusts me to care for. This is the essential step, which immediately allows me to ask for a light to give each soul what it needs. The disciple of Christ must be attentive to the things that bring healing and wholeness to hearts that are wounded and broken and must learn the discipline of putting aside those things that block the possibility of healing. As Pope Francis says in Gaudate et Exsultate:
Let us not forget that Jesus asked his disciples to pay attention to details. The little detail that wine was running out at a party. The little detail that one sheep was missing. The little detail of noticing the widow who offered her two small coins. The little detail of having spare oil for the lamps, should the bridegroom delay. The little detail of asking the disciples how many loaves of bread they had. The little detail of having a fire burning and a fish cooking as he waited for the disciples at daybreak.
Only in apostolic prayer, marked by the same concern of a father or a mother, can I find the answer to the apostle’s question: What are the souls waiting for me and what do they need right now?
3. No food, no sack, no money in their belts.
On one occasion a bishop showed St Thomas Aquinas a large chalice adorned with many precious stones. Look, Master Thomas, he said, now the Church no longer has to say what St Peter said to the lame man at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:6), “Silver and gold I have none.” True, replied St Thomas, and the Church can no longer say the words that followed either, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’
Of course, the indication to live a material poverty is clear in the words of Jesus, but the detachment required by Him does not only imply the renunciation of material goods. It also includes the rejection of preconceived ideas, hide-bound beliefs that always tempt to keep one behind or to which one easily clings to in so emotional and irrational way. Certain uses, habits, even religious customs, tied to a specific historical and cultural past and innocently confused and equated to the Gospel by someone are heavy burdens.
Entering and staying in the house of the people we are to bring closer to Christ, of course, does not necessarily have to be taken literally. But it does remind us of the need to live together, to be fully interested in their lives, to share their pains and aspirations. Otherwise, the apostle would resemble a salesman or a commercial representative. Our Father Founder has always insisted on the need to make true friends in order to be able to live the apostolic life, just as Jesus befriended those fishermen of Galilee.
It is remarkable that Jesus commissioned the apostles to preach such a simple message: repentance. There is no mention in the Gospel text of virtues or other ascetic efforts. The apostles were simply called to share their experience of encountering Christ and to invite others to become aware of an indisputable reality, the presence of God in our personal lives. Repentance is not only to stop doing bad deeds, but – as we well know – to turn our gaze at every moment to Jesus, who has taken the initiative to reach out to us in many ways.
The faithful apostle is called to break away from anything that may disrupt or disturb this spiritual harmony: personal interests, the convictions made and derived from the way of thinking of the society in which he lives. He is asked to give up anything that might impair his testimony and his freedom: some forms of friendship, gifts, economic dependence, compromises with the powerful of this world. This is actually what happened to Amaziah.
All these things destroy the credibility of the message.
The disciple who does not feel the need to share with others the gift received, probably is not yet convinced that, discovering Christ, he has found the most precious treasures.
But the most important thing about this sending is that the apostles received and receive today a special power from God, capable of casting out demons, this word being understood in a literal or figurative sense, as when it is said that each one of us has our inner demons.
The grace that the apostle receives is stronger than his knowledge, more powerful than his talents and goes beyond his plans.
I would like to illustrate this fact with a story, which is part legend, from medieval Europe.
A cunning criminal, named George, who had escaped justice after killing his two guardians, sought refuge in a monastery, claiming to be a cleric without means or residence. He was very well received by the community which, of course, invited him to participate in all its acts and ceremonies. With his wit and intelligence, he soon became accustomed to all the activities of the monastery and gained the confidence of all.
He learned to celebrate mass and his homilies moved the whole community. One night, when he had already retired to his cell, someone knocked at the door. It was the prior of the monastery, who asked him with a saddened gesture to talk about his own spiritual life. He told George that he had deep doubts about his faith and that he did not find himself capable of continuing to be the superior of the community, so he begged him to take his place. To this end, he had already spoken with his two assistants and all three were in agreement.
George had no alternative but to accept the proposal of his former superior and from then on he lived a particularly devout life, dedicated in an exemplary way to the spiritual care of his brothers and to the most humble works. Until after his death, no one knew of his past. Only a brief diary he left behind revealed his identity and his gratitude to God for the special and exquisite way of forgiving him: giving him souls to care for.