Is 66:10-14c; Gal 6:14-18, Lk 10: 1-12, 17-20
Dear friends! “On her first Sunday in a Spanish speaking mission, a sister missionary was asked to give her testimony to the people in the congregational church. She approached the podium and, trying to convey how embarrassed she was she told the audience “estoy muy embarasada”. She then pointed to the bishop and jokingly said in Spanish, “and it’s all his fault”. On hearing this bishop’s wife stood up and stormed out of the chapel. After the testimony, the sister’s companion told her that “estoy muy embarasada” doesn’t mean I’m very embarrassed, it means I’m very pregnant!
In today’s gospel, Jesus sends 72 disciples on a mission to preach the gospel in towns and villages in preparation for his visit, the fulfillment of the prophetic promise made by Isaiah. He gives them “travel tips” for their missionary journey. They must be walking witnesses of God’s providence by relying on the hospitality of others, living very simple lives, preaching the good news and healing the sick. Today’s gospel reminds us that the 2.1 billion Christians in the world today have the same mission to preach the gospel of Christ to the other 5.9 billion non-Christians.
Today I wish to share with you an inspiring story of St. Philip Neri, who earned the title “Apostle of Rome” in the 16th century. He is an example of the missionary zeal demanded by today’s gospel. Philip came down to Rome in the early 1500s as an immigrant from Florence and a layman. When he arrived, he was horrified by the physical and moral devastation of the city. Rome had been sacked in 1527 by the Germans who had left much of the city in ruins. The Gospel wasn’t being preached, and many priests and cardinals were living in open defiance of Christ’s moral teachings. Philip prayed to God to learn what he might do. He read the letters that St. Francis Xavier had sent back to Europe from India, where he had been converting tens of thousands. Philip thought that God was calling him to follow the great Basque missionary to India, to give his life in proclaiming the Gospel. When he went to his spiritual director and told him what he thought God was asking of him, the wise old priest affirmed his desire to serve and bear witness to Christ. However, he told Philip to focus his attention on re-evangelizing those around him, declaring, “Rome is to be your India!”
This was quite a task for one man. But Philip, relying on God’s help, started — first as a layman, then as a priest — to convert Rome, one person at a time. He would cheerfully go to street corners and say, “Friends, when are we going to start to do good?” He developed various entertaining social and religious activities to give the people, especially the young people, better alternatives for their hearts and time than those offered by the debauched culture around them. His impact was enormous, and when he died in 1595, much of Rome had been reconverted. The same God who spoke to Philip almost five hundred years ago challenges each one of us this morning through the Scriptures, “Your parish and your family, your workplace and your parish are your mission field!”
Just as Jesus, in today’s gospel, gave instructions to the seventy-two missionaries, he also gives each one of us a mission to carry out. As faithful Christians, we should attract others to our faith by leading exemplary lives, just as a rose attracts people by its beauty and fragrance. This is our job and our responsibility. We must not miss the current opportunities to be apostles by our words and deeds in everyday life.
We need to avoid giving the counter-witness of practicing the “supermarket Catholicism” of our politicians who publicly proclaim their “Catholicism” and yet support abortion, gay marriage, human cloning and experimentation with human embryos. Nor should we be “armchair Catholics,” “cafeteria Catholics” or “Sunday Catholics” who bear counter-witness to Christ through our lives.
Let us start preaching the gospel in our families by leading exemplary Christian lives, in which spouses love and respect each other, raise their children in the spirit of obedience and service, discipline them with forgiving love and teach them by persistent example to pray, love and help others by sharing their blessings.