01 October 2009

Are we contagious?

26th Week OT (Th): Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Holy Rosary Priory, Houston

As a tip sheet on how to survive as a disciple-lamb among the wolves, today's gospel does an excellent job of laying out the basics. Travel light. Announce Christ's peace wherever you go. Stay in one place in each town. Eat and drink what you are given by your hosts. Cure the sick. Proclaim the Kingdom. Let God handle those who reject His good news. We could even trim this down a little more: God is doing the work; we're just the tools. Any carpenter will tell you that good tools need to be efficiently designed; made of strong materials; easy to use; and ready to work. Good tools also need to be close at hand and wholly devoted to doing the job they were designed and made to do. So, as God's tools, what is the work that we were created and re-created to do? Jesus says, “Go on your way. . .and say to them, 'The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.'” But is it enough that we function efficiently as preaching tools? We are also lambs among wolves. How do we survive given our design and function? The Psalmist sings, “The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart!” Ahhh, efficient, strong, readily available, and devoted to our purpose, we must also be joyful. That's the difficult but oh-so-essential part of bringing the gospel blueprint to abundant life.

Even for those of us who know and accept that the Kingdom of God is at hand; even for those of us who have vowed ourselves to the work of preaching and teaching the Gospel, building a rejoicing heart as a lamb among wolves is no simple project. When you live as food-prey among predators you have to learn the skills of a survivor. Camouflage. Speed. Thick skin. As human lambs among human wolves, we can certainly learn to blend-in; run and hide when we need to; and develop a thick skin by enduring patient trial. Certainly, all of these will help us evolve as we play the spiritual edition of the Survival of the Fittest. And this would be just dandy if the idea were merely to survive. Thanks be to God that we are designed and made to do more than survive as prey among predators. We are to flourish, thrive, multiply, and prosper extravagantly in His grace! Our best witness is infectious joy, contagious delight in the love of Christ.

Joy is not easy. Never has been. Now, right now, we are crucified in Sudan; beheaded in Saudi Arabia and Iran; butchered and immolated in India; arrested and jailed in Canada and China; pushed out of the public square in the U.S. and the U.K.; dismissed or just plain ignored as irrelevant in the E.U. Where's the joy? Not in numbers of converts, or donations to charity, or public displays of piety. We won't find joy in legislative or judicial victories. Putting savvy lambs among the political wolves is part of the job, but joy isn't found in winning elections. Are we joyful that it turns out that abortion does indeed destroy women's lives—as we knew it would? Or that sexual promiscuity breeds incurable disease—as we knew it would? Or that divorce and single-parenthood undermines the family? There's no joy to be found here either, especially when we know that even among the lambs, abortion, sexual promiscuity, and divorce are all-too-common means of achieving the ends of convenient living.

So, where do you find joy? We don't. Joy finds us. If we are well-designed, well-made tools for doing the Lord's work of announcing the arrival of his Kingdom, then joy is given to us, graced to us as the animating spirit that our raw material lives need to survive and thrive. We live daily lives among the wolves not above them. Jesus is painfully clear: we go to the wolves to live with them. Not away from or above them to live apart or float overhead. Joy is not about being content, nor is it about being giddy in self-righteousness. Joy “enlightens the eye” so that we might see in awe and wonder that the Lord has given us lives to be lived according to His will for us, a will that is “more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold; Sweeter also than syrup, or honey from the comb.” When we live among the wolves as lambs designed, made, and re-made to be the tools of His Kingdom, then we know joy and give joy. We survive and we thrive, rejoicing in our hearts that we being and doing exactly what are graced to be and do. Gentle and joyful as lambs, we must become efficiently, extravagantly contagious.

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