|July 9, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 18|
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Volunteerism in the United States is one of our most cherished traditions.
It is incredibly admirable the amount of time that people give to volunteer service in our communities. Most of our parishes would have an almost impossible time doing the work of the Gospel without the ministry of volunteers. In fact, many writers on the issues of pastoral ministry talk about the task of animating, educating and encouraging volunteers as one of the primary tasks of the clergy.
It is therefore with a little bit of trepidation that I suggest that the readings today indicate that the Church does not need volunteers, or more accurately that the Church needs volunteers who do not understand themselves to be volunteers.
The dictionary definition of a volunteer includes the following:
1. “A person who performs a service of his/her own free will.”
2. “One who acts without any legal requirement to do so.” Again, one who is acting in this way is acting admirably. The question is, are disciples called to something more than volunteerism?
Amos defends himself that he is not a professional prophet; rather he earns his bread by his own secular business. Yet he is a prophet because God has charged him with a word that must be spoken.
The disciples are charged by Christ to go forth as a community of disciples – He sends them in pairs – to do the same work that He has done, to preach repentance, to drive out demons and to cure the sick.
In one sense they are volunteers since they respond of their own free will to the invitation of the Lord. However, the call of the Lord which is given as gift also radically changes the relationship with the one who is called.
Our response to that call is now rooted in justice rather than gift. A volunteer gifts his/her time; disciples give their service as a response to the overwhelming gift that they have received. This kind of service is not any kind of payment for what has been received, but rather an act of thanksgiving for which no amount of payment is adequate.
This call to service of the Lord is given to those who minister full time within the Church, the ordained and lay ecclesial ministers.
This call of service is also given to all the baptized to minister within and without the Church for the sake of the Gospel.
We have all have been given the Word that must be spoken to the world. We are sent to the World that needs reconciliation, healing and community.
Don’t just volunteer, respond to that call as disciples.
Mature patriotism on the Fourth of July
The Fourth of July is the most patriotic of U.S. holidays. As the red, white and blue waves from sea to shining sea, parades, fireworks and social celebrations fill the day. It’s a special time to cherish what is good about America.
But a mature patriotism also demands that we take an honest look at the dark side of our government and society. After all, how can we genuinely claim to love our nation if we ignore its many illnesses?
Living in a state of denial aids the disease, not the cure. A healthy patriotism recognizes evil for what it is, and works to transform it into virtue.
Every day in the United States, over 3,200 unborn babies are brutally murdered by surgical abortions and the abortion inducing drug RU-486. And it’s all totally legal, although totally immoral, as is the destruction of human embryos for their stem-cells. This is so evil.
Contrary to the rhetoric of some politicians, the U.S. is not broke. The nation has plenty of money.
The problem is that it’s being squandered on astronomical military budgets and war, and is largely concentrated in the hands of a small percentage of individuals who have low overall tax rates, and corporations who often pay little to no taxes – while millions of Americans are jobless, underemployed, medically uninsured and poor. All of this is evil.
Over 10 million undocumented workers — who harvest our food, repair our roads, landscape our businesses and labor in miserable slaughterhouses — are forced to live an underground existence unjustly fearing deportation. This too is evil.
In a world where 1.4 billion fellow human beings live and die in extreme poverty — with little food, no clean water or sanitation, no medical care, no education, no insurance of any kind, dirt floor shacks for houses and with no hope of ever living decent lives – the U.S. government gives only 0.6 percent of its annual budget for poverty-focused international assistance. This stingy response to the poorest of the poor is shamefully evil.
After China, the U.S. is dumping the largest amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere dangerously warming our environment. This is not good stewardship of God’s creation, and is thus also evil.
The U.S. possesses the most lethal nuclear arsenal in the world, and has a military budget larger than the military budgets of the next 14 nations combined.
As the world’s leading arms merchant, America is fueling many of the world’s armed conflicts.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.
And an attack against Iran is still very much on the table.
Furthermore, with at least 700 military bases throughout the world, the U.S. has become a global military empire.
And of course, all of this too is evil. It ignores what God is saying to us through the prophet Isaiah: “. . . they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
Instead of just celebrations, perhaps July 4 should also include mourning and repentance.
If we fairly share the nation’s wealth to end all poverty and hunger, if we tirelessly strive to eliminate environmental degradation, abortion, war preparation and every other form of injustice suffered by humanity, we will truly one day become what both Presidents Kennedy and Reagan called that shining city on a hilltop!
A call to unity
“Chilly breezes of human frailty continue to be warmed by the waters of Baptism.”
It was a theme that permeated Bishop Edwin F. Gulick’s presentation at the Tidewater Regional LARCUM Conference at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Virginia Beach. Bishop Gulick, Assistant Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, was guest speaker at the annual event which took place on June 25.
In celebration of the unity that already exists between the Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic and United Methodist Churches, those who gathered prayed for the unity that is yet to be, the unity that Jesus prayed for during His final discourse.
For me personally, the event is a sign of hope. It is a testimony to the reality that we are in process and it gives credence to the reality that the Holy Spirit, whom St. Augustine referred to as the soul of the Mystical Body, continues to enlighten and guide its members.
Bishop Gulick pointed out that whenever dialogue between leaders of the Christian churches is threatened, something miraculous happens and the work continues.
“Frankly, we are stuck with each other because of God’s action through holy Baptism, said the Bishop. “We are in solidarity with each other through a Baptism, not of our choosing and so the Mystical union cannot be dissolved.”
I find it comforting to know that some things are beyond our control. No matter how great the obstacles may seem, we need not lose heart because of God’s solidarity with all his people. As members of the Body of Christ, we cannot feign indifference towards ecumenism. Rather than appealing to only a few, it should be of universal interest to all who call themselves Christian.
Many modern Catholics associate ecumenism with the Second Vatican Council, because of the Catholic Church’s renewed effort regarding dialogue. However, long before the 20th century, even before the Protestant Reformation, matters of ecumenism were addressed by early Church fathers. We even see traces of it in the New Testament.
In his second letter to the Corinthians St. Paul wrote, “The punishment (at Paul’s recommendation) already inflicted by the majority is enough; you should now relent and support him so that he may not be crushed by too great a weight of sorrow. I therefore beg you to reaffirm your love for him.” (2Cor. 2; 6-7)
Scripture scholars believe that the person alluded to here rejected Paul’s authority, scandalizing many in the community. In response to Paul’s recommendation, the community took action against the man, but later the apostle recommended the punishment be terminated.
Paul’s softening of his original hard line seems to be reflected in Catholic theology and pastoral practice following the Second Vatican Council when the conventional pre-Vatican II claim: “that there was no salvation outside of the Catholic Church” took a new turn. The Council acknowledged, “[T]hose who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” (Decrees on Ecumenism, n. 3)
For those who did not grow up in the pre-Vatican era, this may seem insignificant. But for those who were unable to attend a wedding or funeral of a family member or friend if it was held in a Protestant church, this was a major breakthrough.
For those whose spouses or parents had been baptized in another Christian denomination and attended Protestant churches, a tremendous sense of relief came when they heard the Church proclaim that which in their heart they always believed to be true — that they would see their loved ones in heaven.
Surprisingly, this Church teaching was neither new nor radical. As early as 258 AD, Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, who wrote extensively about the Incarnation, the Trinity, Ecclesiology and Ecumenism admitted, “Those who share a common Baptism are within the Church.”
In writing about Baptism, St. Augustine compared the Church to a lily surrounded by brambles and then went on to say, “But in the ineffable foreknowledge of God, many who seem to be outside are within; many who seem to be within are outside.”
When we are talking about divine Mystery, the door to unknowing needs to be left open, for to do otherwise would be a sin of presumption. From its earliest days the Church has been evolving under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and will continue to do so, because we as a people continue to evolve.
I remember a conversation I had with the late Bishop Joseph Vath from the Diocese of Birmingham, Alabama. He had been present at the deliberations during the Second Vatican Council and said, “I know the Holy Spirit was guiding us because I know many of the men who were there and believe me, we could not have come up with such insights on our own.”
Yes, our God is a God of surprises who continues to surprise and delight us more than we will ever know. Let us continue to pray that the waters of Baptism continue to warm the chilly breezes that prevent us from realizing God’s dream, that we all be one in Him.
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