7th Week of Easter (T)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Coming to Christ in baptism and following after him throughout our lives sets us apart from the world and at the same time puts us right in the middle of it. We are at once observers and participants, watching from the sidelines and digging in with everyone else. If there is a paradox, a contradiction that causes the Church more difficulty than this one, I'm not sure what it is. How do we manage to live in the world and yet not be of the world? Buddhists and Muslims have much simpler solutions to this problems. Buddhists see the world as an illusion, a deceptive projection of the suffering self. They withdraw from the illusion and seek out the selfless freedom of no-mindedness. Muslims see the world as Allah's kingdom, large portions of which are occupied by the devil's minions. When the whole of the world is conquered for Allah, his divine law will be enforced as the only law. For us, there is Christ and Caesar, the Church and the State. There is the world we must live in; the same world we cannot belong to. How do we manage this without illusion or violence? Praying for us, Jesus says to his Father: “They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” We belonged to the Father and the Father gave us to Christ. So long as we keep his word, we belong to him and not this world.
Paul reveals how he kept Christ's word. He reports to the Church at Ephesus: “I served the Lord with all humility. . .I did not at all shrink from telling you what was for your benefit, or from teaching you in public. . .I earnestly bore witness for both Jews and Greeks. . .Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course. . .” Paul kept Christ's word by teaching, by bearing witness, by serving the Father's family. To what end? To proclaim the “entire plan of God.” The entire plan of God includes the whole of creation. Not just the Church but the world as well. Not just the Jews but the Greeks too. Male and female, slave and free. The world we must live in; the same world we cannot belong to.
What are we then? What are we in the world? We are seeds spread and nurtured to grow where we land. We are invading viruses, replicating Christ in the blood and bone of the world, infecting our sick host with the grace we ourselves have been freely given. We are tourists, visiting for a time, scattering the wealth of the gospel—the culture of eternal life—in a foreign land. We are salesmen, marketplace hawkers, and beggars, always displaying our wares and enticing those who need what we have to give. We are physicians who heal. Tailors who clothe. Chefs who feed. Saints who live in heaven while walking on earth. Sinners who see through the lies but have not yet received perfect grace. We are all of these in the world, but who we are from our rebirth to our eternal end belongs to Christ. And we cannot rest until the course is finished.
The Church cannot serve the world by abandoning it to evil. Nor can we serve the world by conquering it with violence. The Father gave us to Christ. And Christ sent us out to follow him. As we make our way back to him, along the way, we can frighten those we meet, or we can alienate them, or we can condemn them. If we want to finish this course, however, we will entice them, convince them, show them God's mercy in us. Even against violent resistance and withering ridicule, we will be ambassadors for the one who sent us, envoys to a world waiting to belong to Christ.
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