Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deacon Doug McManaman
What today’s gospel reading reveals is that we are a missionary Church. The word missionary, like the word “mass”, comes from the Latin word “missa”, which means sent (mitto: I send). At the end of Mass, the deacon says: “Go forth…” We come here to worship, to praise God, to listen to His word addressed to us, and to consume his body and blood, but there is a purpose to all of this, and that is “to be sent out into the world”, to walk in the power of the cross, and to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, that the kingdom is at hand, that is, within reach.
But what does it mean to be sent out into the world to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand? The way some people behave, it would appear they take it to mean being “preachy” and having all the answers to all religious questions; they are audacious, which to others usually comes across as obnoxious and pushy. Of course, that’s not what it means to proclaim the kingdom. The key to this question is in the Second Reading. Paul says: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.”
It’s this last line: “but only a new creation” that I would like to focus on. In baptism, we have become a “new creation”; we entered into his death, symbolized by immersion into the waters of baptism, and we rose from that tomb with the life of grace infused into our souls, symbolized by the lifting up out of the water. Everyone who is baptized is a different person leaving the Church than when he or she first arrived at the Church. He or she is a new creation, an adopted son or daughter of God, deified, filled with the life of divine grace. This is significant, for we are not born in a state of grace; we are born in need of a savior. In baptism, we become Christ, so to speak; for we are anointed with sacred chrism, and the Greek word for “anointed one” is Christos. We become “little Christs”. That is why St. Paul says: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”.
Immediately after baptism, we enjoy a baptismal innocence; we are completely and utterly innocent, free of sin. But we still carry the wounds of Original Sin, so it does not take long to tarnish that innocence–if it is adult baptisms that we are talking about. And our battle, for the rest of our lives, is to overcome the effects of Original Sin, in particular concupiscence (our tendency to sin and self-seeking). And we do that, of course, by allowing ourselves to become Christ more fully. As John the Baptist says: “He must increase, I must decrease”. It’s about becoming Christ increasingly, daily¾not about becoming a preachy and obnoxious religious bugaboo. It’s about carrying in our bodies the death of Christ so that the life of Christ may be made manifest to others (2 Cor 4, 10).
What this means is that to the degree we achieve this, those who come in contact with us will come in contact with Christ, without their knowing it. If the atheist, or the Muslim, or the Sikh knows you, and loves what he sees in you, then he loves Christ without necessarily knowing it explicitly. If he is influenced by your charity and humility and even begins to emulate you, then he is following Christ without necessarily knowing it explicitly; and such people will find themselves with the sheep on the right side of Christ on the day of judgment, asking the Lord: When did we see you hungry, naked, thirsty, etc.
The kingdom of God is the redemptive presence of God in the world, through the power of the reconciling Spirit. Christ himself said the kingdom of God is within you (Lk 17, 21). That divine presence is within us, especially after receiving him in holy communion.
We have tremendous power when we are transformed into Christ. The spirit is far more powerful than matter, far more powerful than sounds and sights. When I was in the hospital back in 2003 to have a cancer tumor removed, lying in bed like a fileted fish, I noticed that I had an increased intuitive sense. When a nurse walked into the room, I knew immediately what kind of person she was, whether she cared, didn’t care, whether she was smart or incompetent, kind or indifferent, etc. It was a very interesting experience. When people are in a weakened and vulnerable state, something in them compensates, like we see with those who are blind; their sense of touch and hearing compensates and becomes far more acute. Something similar happens on the level of spirit. Some people know almost immediately what kind of person you are; they know it through their spirit, because your spirit radiates who and what you are, and they have the capacity to pick up on it. So, the more you and I die to ourselves and allow Christ to increase within us, by growing in charity and humility, by growing in faith, hope, and a very devoted prayer life, the more we influence others quietly but effectively. That’s what it means to proclaim the coming of the kingdom, and that’s how we move this world forward towards the fullness of the kingdom. In doing so, we are curing the sick and driving out demons. So much of human illness is psychosomatic. It begins in the soul and manifests in the body. But if the sick–and this includes the emotionally sick, those who are not well psychologically, as well as physically–, are in your presence and you have become Christ to a significant degree, you will bring healing to their souls, their emotional lives, and that can heal the body as well. And if you are full of light, you will drive out the darkness, because light chases the darkness, not the other way around. And so those who live in darkness, whose lives are entangled in the diabolical, will feel the difference in your presence, and they will either reject you in favor of darkness, or they will begin to escape the clutches of the evil that oppresses them. You become an exorcist without even knowing it.
You have that power. Christ said it in this gospel: Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.” The disciples he sent out discovered they had that power. However, they began to delight in it: “The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” That delight can be dangerous, which is why Jesus said: “…do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
This is the reason why for the most part we are unaware of the good we accomplish in this life as a result of our insertion in the person of Christ. If we knew, we’d likely take pleasure in it, and then we would stop decreasing, and if we stop decreasing, he no longer increases in us. And so we have to trust in the power of the cross. Our task is to reform ourselves first and foremost, to work for the increase of the kingdom of God within our own selves; if we do that, the Lord will provide everything else.