04 January 2012

How to become an apostle (Audio Added)

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, New Orleans

Listen Here (8.30am Mass)

If we needed a shorthand way of referring to this morning's gospel, we might call it “The Hand Off.” John “hands off” two of his disciples to Jesus. We could also call it “The Hand Off Plus One” b/c not only does John hand off two of his students to Jesus but one of those students invites his own brother to join the class. We now have the kernel of apostles—three guys sitting at the feet of Jesus ready to hear the Word and obey. We might wonder why this seemingly insignificant scene deserves its own day in the lectionary: why do we spend time mulling over how two of John's disciples and Simon come to meet Jesus? Why is it important that we know something about how Jesus came to collect his first three disciples? What's striking about this scene is its ordinariness, its everydayness. No angels, no bolts of lightning, no burning plant life booming out a celestial voice. Just one teacher introducing his students to another teacher. The extraordinary part of this scene is how John introduces Jesus. Jesus walks by and John proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Without further explanation or discussion, John's disciples veer off and follow Christ. Simon joins when he is invited by Andrew. The kernel of apostles is formed by a prophetic proclamation and a charitable invitation. This is how the Church is founded, thus this is how the Church grows and thrives.

John's proclamation should be very familiar. After the host is broken at Mass, it is raised above the chalice and John's proclamation is repeated, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Christ, truly present on the altar, is broken for us, and his broken presence, once announced, is answered, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. . .” Acknowledging our own brokenness, we say, “. . .only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” When we take his Body and Blood into our own bodies, we are healed. He has spoken the Word of healing that both restores our spiritual health and binds us one to another as one Body. In the same way that the first disciples meet the Christ at John's proclamation, so we too meet the Christ at the altar, receive our salvation, and give him thanks for bringing us into the Holy Family. What's left for us to do? What did the men who met Jesus on the street do? They invited another.

God's goodness and beauty are diffusive; that is, by His very nature, all that God is is distributed, spread out, freely given away. When we use the word “grace,” we mean “gift,” a freely given good. God's grace is the gift of Himself through Christ Jesus. So, when we receive Christ's Body and Blood in the Eucharist, we receive God Himself. We become more like Christ, more Christ-like. Being Christ-like means living sacrificially, giving away and giving up for the sake of another so as to grow in holiness. Andrew, for example, did not squirrel away his knowledge that Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Christ. He and the other disciple did not form a secret society and hoard Jesus' teachings. Simon is invited into the classroom and Jesus names him “Cephas,” Peter. Because they distributed the Good News, spread it out, Peter becomes the Rock upon which the Church on earth is built. 

The seemingly minor scene in the Gospel this morning shows us how to build the Church. Proclaim Jesus as Lord. Hear his Word and obey—listen and act. Distribute his healing news far and wide. Invite others to become students, saying “We have found the Messiah.” This is how you become an apostle, how you become “one sent out.”

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