Friday, November 03, 2017

Evangelizing: loving and listening

Notes for my homily November 4-5, 2017, Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Tome, Cycle A
Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10
1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13
Matthew 23: 1-12

Clare washing the feet of her sisters
How often have we heard complaints against the church? We may have even made some ourselves. Some church leaders react very defensively, even if the complaints have some merits. I wonder how they would react if they took today’s readings seriously.

The readings, especially from Malachi and Matthew, are pointed critiques of religious leaders. Malachi castigates the priests for not promoting the glory of God and for being partial in their judgments. Aren’t we all equal before God, he notes, with the same Father?

Jesus condemns the religious leaders of his day for their heavy-handedness and their seeking power and prestige. They say one thing but do the opposite. In addition, they like to be called teachers and masters. Don’t be like them, he urges. Don’t call them masters; you are not their slaves; we are all brothers and sisters.

Paul, however, gives us an image of a true religious leader. “We were gentle among you, as a nursing woman broods over her children.”

 “With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well.” We religious leaders must be willing to give of ourselves, even giving up our lives.

To be great we must, as Jesus notes, “be the servant.”

But these admonitions are not just for religious leaders; they are for all of us. Pope Francis insists that all of us, by our baptism, are “missionary-disciples.” We are evangelizers, each in our own way – some as ordained ministers, others exercising other ministries in the church. But all of us in our daily lives are all called to be signs of the Good News of Jesus in the world.

I have seen this in the parish I serve in Honduras of Dulce Nombre de María, the Sweet Name of Mary, your sister parish in Honduras.

There is Marco Tulio, an extraordinary minister of Communion, who takes the Eucharist each week to a village for a Holy Hour, walks an hour each way, no matter the weather or hour.

There are the youth groups and others that regularly visit the sick in their communities and bring food to poor families. One catechist told me how the catechists have taken the young children to visit the sick – about 40 kids between 4 and 7. Both the sick and the children profit by this work of mercy.

Since October of 2016 our parish has sent missionaries out to the villages of the parish. These are not professional missionaries but members of the parish. They go out, two by two, to villages other than their own, without cell-phone, without money, dependent on the people they visit. They are missionaries of mercy, helping us discover the presence of the God of mercy in our lives, our families, our villages. They are more missionaries in the Gospel sense than I have been.

They do not preach. They are called to listen, to be the “ears of God,” as they visit homes in a village, especially the homes of the poorest, the ill, and the aged. They are servants of mercy, not teachers of doctrine.

We are beginning to see the fruits of these missionaries. The life of faith has been renewed in some villages.

But my favorite story comes from Plan Grande, where I live. During Holy Week the two women missionaries visited a couple who wanted to get married in the church. The couple was prepared and they were married outside their home in the company of many people who brought tamales and other food for the celebration, together with the couple’s children and grandchildren. They are both in their eighties and wanted to be right with God before they die.

Evangelizing is not standing on a street-corner haranguing people, though a public witness that shows the mercy of the God of justice has its place. Much evangelizing takes place merely by being there, accompanying people in times of sorrow and in times of celebration. We evangelize by who we are – children of a loving God.·

This evangelization offers the encouragement of a Christian hope – evangelizing not as masters or know-it-alls, but as nursing mothers serving others with love and tenderness.

In many ways, by your solidarity with our parish, Dulce Nombre de María, you are evangelizing.

As our pastor, Padre German writes in a letter to you, “thank you for your solidarity; with your generous help we are a parish which promotes the mission of evangelization and of charity with those most in need. You are Good News and from a humble silence you make present the Reign of God in our midst. And more: the manner you have of sharing and serving arouse in many of our parishioners the desire to give themselves. The tenderness of God is flourishing, as from their poverty they give part of their lives to assist the sick, the elderly, and the widows. Thank you, sisters and brothers, for evangelizing us through your charity.”

“You are missionaries,” Padre German continues. Noting my presence in the parish as deacon. “St. Thomas as a parish gets out to the farthest crossroads of the parish. There [our parish] is embraced and animated by the face of God; it is supported with the healing and liberating embrace of mercy; there the tears of those who are mourning are wiped away, helping them to contemplate the heaven of the resurrection in their passage as pilgrims from death to life, from violence to the ways of peace, from the walls of squalor and egoism to the bridge of fraternity where we celebrate together and share the table, with the tablecloth of solidarity and the providence of God. You are here with us, singing in our choirs, going with our missionaries of mercy, with our catechists and the children who share with us their desire to grow. Thanks for your part in our family.”

St. Thomas has helped subsidizing the costs of our parish where formation of volunteer pastoral workers is central to our evangelization. You have helped also with our Solidarity Fund which subsidizes the costs of serious medical and other needs. Buying El Zapote coffee helps an association of small coffee farmers. And in other ways you have been helping the Church be a servant of the poor. There is much more, but Fr. Jon wants me to limit this homily to ten minutes.

Our pastor, Padre German, welcomes your accompaniment of our parish of Dulce Nombre de María. Indeed, in his letter, he wants you to know you are welcome to come visit. You can count on a heartfelt welcome, “receiving, from the hands of the people, hot tortillas, refried beans, and the fraternal coffee of sharing and celebration…. Let us continue walking together, evangelizing, passing through the mire of pain, sorrow, and darkness, leaving on every face the divine spark which brings new life…. God counts on you and us.”*

In all this, we continue to pray for you and we ask you to continue to pray for us.

We continue to move forward in our mission of being servants of God’s people, not lording it over others, not laying heavy burdens on them, not failing to serve them because they are impoverished and without power.

All of us are called to be servant-missionaries, servant disciples, wherever we are. We are called to give of ourselves to others, especially those most in need – in whatever way we can. We are called to live as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Let this be our way of serving God, of being Good News, of evangelizing – here in Ames and with us in Honduras.

· We evangelize by being holy. But, as Thomas Merton wrote, “the saint preaches sermons by the way he walks and talks, by the way [she] picks up things and holds them in [her] hands.

* “The parish, from its commitment and hope, awaits us.  We can count on the shelter of friendship, with hearts beating in many homes with a rhythm in harmony with the heartbeat of our Creator; we can count on the hands of the worker who offer you hot tortillas and ground beans as well as the fraternal coffee of sharing and celebration…. Let us continue walking together, evangelizing, passing through the mire of pain, sorrow, and darkness, leaving on every face the divine spark which regenerates – which God alone can do. God counts on you and us.”

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