Monday, April 22, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Easter Cycle C April 21, 2013

          Why are you a Christian?  What is the purpose of the gift of faith you have been given?  To answer this question I need to do some set up.

          In our first reading we see Sts Paul and Barnabas preaching.  They go to a Synagogue in a place called Antioch in Pisidia, which is now just a bunch of ruins in central Turkey. But their fellow Jews in the Synagogue reject them and so Paul and Barnabas turn to the non-Jews, the Gentiles in this town, who do accept their message gladly. 
          Paul and Barnabas then quote a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, ch 49 verse 6:
For so the Lord has commanded us,
“I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
that you may be an instrument of salvation
to the ends of the earth.”   (Isaiah 49:6)
          Now in Latin, the phrase Light to the Gentiles is “Lumen Gentium”   I hope that sounds vaguely familiar to some of you.  It is the title of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, one of the four major constitutions of Vatican Council II, some 50 years ago. 
          That Council taught that the Church is to be a light to the nations, and an instrument of salvation for all.
          In Lumen Gentium we read: “So it is that that messianic people, although it does not actually include all people (men), and at times may look like a small flock, is nonetheless a lasting and sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race.  Established by Christ as a communion of life, charity and truth, [the church] is also used by Him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth.” LG #9  
          “An instrument for the redemption of all.”  That was a change from the previous common understanding of most Catholics that the purpose of their being a Catholic was to insure their own personal salvation, or more simply put, to get to heaven.  The common idea was that you stayed in the church, obeyed the rules, passed through the stormy seas and tribulations of this miserable life on earth, and finally reached the shores of heaven where you would be happy forever, Amen.
          All that changed with Vatican Council II.  Now our responsibility got a lot greater.  Not only were we working on our own personal salvation, we got stuck with working for the “salvation of the whole human race”! 
          This means that how we live our lives is not only important for our own individual self, but also for the salvation of the whole world!  What a lot of responsibility!
          A theologian named Paul Lakeland who has written on this topic states:  “Because it is part of God’s design for salvation, the Church’s meaning is always to be found in relation to the divine will for the salvation of all people.  The Church does not exist for the sake of its members, so much as for those who are not its members.”  P37
          Our mission, our reason for being Catholic therefore, is not just for our own sake, but in a very real sense, for the sake of EVERYONE. Just like the bread and wine we use at this Mass are a sacrament, a sign of the real presence of Jesus with us, that effectively makes Jesus present, so you in your life are a sacrament, a sign, of God’s Will to redeem and save ALL people.  What you do and what you fail to do is critically important not only for you, but for the whole darn world!
          Clearly, this gives your life of faith much greater dignity, significance and importance.
          It also affects the way we look at Church.  Because for the church to carry out its mission, for it to be a light to the nations, for it to be an effective instrument of salvation for the whole world, that mission cannot be carried out inside of churches.  The mission must be worked out in the world, which is its goal. 
          To quote again the theologian Paul Lakeland:  “the Church that bears the name of Christ exists not for its own sake but for the sake of the world to which it is sent.” p58 
          So, if the primary mission of the church is out to the world – not inside the churches – then guess on whom falls the primary responsibility of carrying out the mission of the church?  YOU!  The laity.  The people out in the world. 
          As Lakeland states:  “Relative to the other-directed mission of the Church, [the clergy] are all – in the best possible sense of the phrase – support staff.  …the heart of the Church’s mission’ is ‘primarily carried out by laypeople, since it is the laity who shoulder by far the greater part of the task of being the loving presence of God in the world.” p58
          The church’s mission, to be an instrument of salvation for the whole world, is primarily carried out by you, the laity.  By what you do in your daily life, by how you live in integrity, by how you practice compassion, and by how you love. 
          Fr René and Fr Bob and myself, Bishop Joe Vasquez and even Pope Francis, are just “support staff”, to help you carry out the real mission of the Church, to be a light to the nations, to truly be Lumen Gentium
          That is why you are called to be a Catholic.  This gives your efforts to live a Catholic Christian life great importance and transcendent dignity.  We have a great mission as Catholics.  We are privileged and blest to be called by Jesus to be part of His flock; and we are entrusted by Him with a part to play in a most important mission, which indeed is His mission: the salvation of the world. 
          Be that Light to the Nations, be Lumen Gentium!

Paul Lakeland:  “Church  Living Communion”   Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN  2009

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