Just as there can be no disembodied spirituality worthy of the name Christian - because redemption involves the integrated human person, body, soul and spirit - there cannot be a disembodied understanding of the mission we have as members of a Church which is still called into the world.
CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - On January 19, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI gave a somewhat foreboding address to Bishops from the United States who had traveled to Rome for their five year visit. He told them:
"It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church's public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life."
"Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience."
We know what has happened in one year. The mandate has not been rescinded, a myriad of lawsuits have been filed, and the faithful may soon face the necessity of civil disobedience. We will not obey what is clearly an unjust law and an infringement on the fundamental right to Religious Freedom as recognized and secured in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution.
This is a trying time for the Church in the United States; the kind of historic period which two thousand years have shown us produces heroes and saints - and sometimes martyrs. Before they were called Christians in Antioch, the early followers of Jesus were referred to as the Way (Acts 19, 9, 23). That was because their faith was expressed in the way they lived their lives in the midst of the world. They were missionaries and so are we, no matter what our state in life or specific vocation.
The Pope also told the Bishops, "The Church's witness, then, is of its nature public: she seeks to convince by proposing rational arguments in the public square. The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation."
"Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-ŕ-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church's participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society."
"The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level."
The Gospel this morning is taken from Mark 4: 1-20, the parable of the sower and the seed. At the end of the parable Jesus explains the meaning to his disciples: "Jesus said to them, "Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand any of the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown. As soon as they hear, Satan comes at once and takes away the word sown in them."
"And these are the ones sown on rocky ground who, when they hear the word, receive it at once with joy. But they have no roots; they last only for a time. Then when tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Those sown among thorns are another sort. They are the people who hear the word, but worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things intrude and choke the word, and it bears no fruit. But those sown on rich soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold."
The parable has been the source of inspiration for some of the richest reflections on the dynamic power of God's word in the Tradition. Clearly, we are both the soil and the seed. The Living Word is sown within us and we must cultivate the ground of our hearts, the center of our very identity, so that we can be transformed in the Lord and more fully reflect His Image and likeness.
However, there is the other aspect of the parable, the missionary response, which can be more fully seen within the context of other parables from the Master. We ourselves become seed, in His Holy Hands, being spread into the world, to bear the fruit of the new world. The world which he created, needs to be re-created again in and through Jesus Christ, the first born of a new creation. (See, e.g. Colossians 1:15) We are seeds of the Kingdom.
There are other images used in Matthews Gospel: "Jesus said to his disciples: "You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father." (Matt. 5: 13 - 16)
The passage calls to mind the words of the Lord, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12) We carry His light into the world. We cannot withdraw from the world because we cannot let the darkness overcome it. Just as there can be no disembodied spirituality worthy of the name Christian - because redemption involves the integrated human person, body, soul and spirit - there cannot be a disembodied understanding of the mission we have as members of a Church which is still called into the world.
The words of 1 John 4:17 remind us "As He is so are we in the world". We are in the world with a redemptive purpose. No matter how rocky the soil of the American culture is becoming, we do not have the option of pulling out of our obligation to participate.
In Matthews Gospel Jesus uses other images to communicate this missionary message: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened." (Matt. 13: 31 - 33)
Our mission beckons us. In the words of St. Jose Maria Escriva, "May Our Lord be able to use us so that, placed as we are at all the cross-roads of the world - and at the same time placed in God - we become salt, leaven and light. Yes, you are to be in God, to enlighten, to give flavor, to produce growth and new life. But don't forget that we are not the source of this light: we only reflect it. (St. Jose Maria Escriva, Friends of God, 250)
The power to effect redemptive change in the world comes from the life of God within us. It is amazing how little leaven it takes to raise a loaf of bread. That is because within those little particles of yeast is found the power to ferment, to change the lump of wet dough into a loaf of aromatic, tasty, nourishing bread. However, the power contained within that yeast is not activated unless it is mixed and kneaded into the dough.
Once you work the leaven in, it is still hidden to the eye but my, how it transforms that loaf! So it is with Christians within human culture! The power within us is the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead (See Romans 8:11)! All we are asked to do is to mix it up. We have to get in the loaf. We must be in the world - where Jesus is - in order to be used to accomplish His ongoing work of redemption.
Faith is a verb, it must be exercised. By living in the heart of the Church in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world we participate in bringing the world back to God. This kind of missionary mindset has inspired great missionary ages in the past and brought extraordinary changes to entire cultures. It can once again! However, it always begins one person, one grain, at a time.
The seed of the kingdom, the living Word, has been planted within us. And now, we become the seed, the salt and the leaven for the Divine Sower who continues His redemptive mission in a world waiting to be reborn in Him. He now spreads us in the field of the world to bear a harvest for the Kingdom to come. We are called to live at the crossroads of that world and become missionaries of the new world, of which the Church is a seed and sign.
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