11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Sunday Gospel Reflection

Who are the Apostles today?

“When Jesus saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.”

At this stage of his mission, Jesus had many followers and the time had come for disciples to become apostles (a word which means being sent out).  Twelve were chosen, a number corresponding to the Hebrew tribes.   A modern Business Consultancy would certainly not have chosen this team.  Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen.  Matthew was a collector of taxes for the despised Romans.  Yet, side by side with him was Simon the Zealot who was dedicated to kicking out the Romans.  Are you too ordinary to be an apostle, someone to be a labourer for Christ?

The first time I had to preach at Mass, the Gospel Reading was the one we have today.  It was 1966, just after the Second Vatican Council.  Mass was in Latin except for the Scripture Readings. I had my back to the people until turning towards them for the Readings. I will never forget how I felt when, like Jesus, I saw the people in front of me …  like sheep without a shepherd.  So, this would be my life, reaching out to people with Christ’s message!  Thank God I have never forgotten the importance of that responsibility.

Post-conciliar changes had barely begun although some key ideas of the Council were now known, especially about the nature of the Church as the Light of the Nations, Lumen Gentium.  Two very significant teachings were highlighted: the universal call to holiness (not reserved to priests and nuns):  and secondly, the recognition that every person who is baptised now shares in the priesthood of Jesus Christ and participates actively in the celebration of Mass.

While these ideas have not been forgotten, sadly, the Church continued with the dominance of the clerical model.  The distinction between clergy and laity still remains.  We joked about the tasks of the laity being to turn up, pay up and shut up.  It is now admitted that clericalism played a huge part in the failure to deal with accusations of child abuse.  We are the untouchables!   The charisms of laity, especially of women, have been overlooked.  In fact, when I continue making the distinction between clergy and laity, I am overlooking the universal call to holiness and our baptismal sharing in the priesthood of Christ.

Ten years ago, a new Pope was elected.  He chose the name of Francis, the poor man of Assisi who was chosen by God to repair his house which was falling into ruin.   Pope Francis is ultra-traditional. He is not satisfied to go back partially into history, but he goes back the entire way to what Jesus said and did .  Like his namesake from Assisi, his inspiration is the gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

What did Jesus say?  What did Jesus do?  What would Jesus do today?

The Gospels of Mark and Matthew tells us that his mission was the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.  The taskforce or labourers for this mission would be all who received the light of the Easter candle at their baptism.   It was to all his followers that he said, “You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.”

Christ sent out unlikely candidates as his first apostles.  There are people or situations that only you can reach.  There is a shortage of priests now and many of us are beyond normal retirement age.  Even in five years time, who will be the apostles of Christ’s kingdom?  Fear not, there are millions throughout the world waiting for their talents and charisms to be recognised and fanned into flame.  It will be a very different Church, but one closer to the ideals of the Gospel.   Pope Francis speaks of spirit-filled evangelizers. You do your little bit and if everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world it would be.

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