Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at Pro-Cathedral, Dublin
Jesus sends out the twelve. Generally in the Gospel we find the disciples gathered around Jesus. He is the centre of their attention. The role of the apostles and the other disciples is precisely that of being disciples, those who learn from observation and begin to assimilate into their own lives the message and teaching of their Master.
Now Jesus sends out the apostles. This is a foretaste of the mission of the Church. While the Church’s mission began only after Jesus’ death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, already in the Gospel account of this first sending-out we can gather some idea of how the early Church understood its mission and what that says for the nature and the mission of the Church today.
The first thing that we have to notice is about the choice of the disciples. How did one become an apostle? How does one become a disciple today? There are no examinations or open competitions, no forms to fill out. There is no collection of character references or particular qualifications. The call to discipleship is mystery. It is the direct and autonomous choice of Jesus himself. Jesus speaks to us and calls us directly. There is no contract. We do not sign up and negotiate our own terms. Jesus calls us and he calls us just as unexpectedly as he called his first disciples. The call is always surprise and requires that we respond without compromise.
The response of the believer to the call of Jesus is total. The believer in Jesus is called to focus totally on Jesus. He or she has no need of anything beyond the basic essentials that are needed for decent living. We see that in the instructions given to the apostles for their first missionary journey. The life of the Christian because of his or her belief in Jesus Christ must by its nature renounce the superfluous and be lived with evangelical simplicity.
Next we see that when Jesus calls us he also forms those who he has called into a community. He forms the twelve. You cannot be a Christian in isolation. Belief in Jesus Christ is not an ideology or a simple teaching. It involves community, but a special form of community which is the fruit of our communion with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The title of our recent Eucharistic Congress set out the bond that exists between our Communion with Christ and [our] communion with one another.
Christianity can never be individualistic. Yes, Christianity certainly stresses the inalienable dignity of each human person created in the image of God. Each individual person maintains that dignity at every moment of their life’s journey, from conception until natural death, no matter what condition or situation in which that person finds himself or herself.
Stressing the dignity of each individual person is not, however, the same thing as individualism. Jesus sends his disciples out two by two. This is not for simple companionship. It is to remind them in their preaching that they are not preaching themselves or their own doctrine, as many of the wandering preachers at the time of Jesus would have done. The preaching of the Gospel takes place within a community context. Being a disciple of Jesus is not about reading a book and being impressed by it while sitting in our own living room. Jesus is present where two or three are gathered in his name. Christians are called to form communion.
That communion is never a closed communion. Christian belief is also missionary. “Going out” is an essential part of being a believer. It is an essential part of being a Christian particularly today, when the life of many Christians and of indeed the Church community has in many ways become fearful and timid regarding faith. Today we often encounter a kind of “political correctness” which would seem to say that we should not interfere with what others believe. There is a sense in which many Christians have fallen into the temptation to think that once people are good then they will be saved, so why attempt to impose belief on them. Just as there are men and women who have been baptised and who live good lives and who today ask: “why do I need a Church to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?”
Can I believe in Jesus Christ and at the same time say that I have no time for the Church? It is not for me to judge the personal situation of men and women who may have been wounded or hurt within the Church community or who have not experienced in the Church the love of God which should be the driving force of the Christian life.
On the other hand, we cannot overlook the concrete fact that men and women who over time drift away from regular contact with the Gospel and from a community which attempts to live the Gospel, will inevitably end up by making their own definition not just of what it is to be a Christian but their own definition of who Jesus is. When that happens we end up losing that element of surprise and challenge which a true response to the encounter with Jesus demands.
It is Jesus who calls us, not us who determine our own model of dealing with Jesus Christ. The encounter with Jesus always surprises us and shakes us out of complacency. When we allow Jesus to fascinate us and when we find communion with Jesus, there is no way we can then fail to want to share this experience of Jesus with others. We do not do this in a polemical or a proselytising way. No one is converted simply by signing a form. You are converted in the measure in which you allow Jesus to fascinate you and when you enter into a relationship with him. The mark of true conversion is how we welcome Jesus, just as welcoming the twelve was the indication of how the message of Jesus was being assimilated.
Like the apostles, the Christian in our time is one who is sent out to bring the good news. But the apostles were also sent out “with authority over unclean spirits”. What does that mean today? The Church must not only be the community of those who believe in the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ but the Christian must spread that message of Jesus in such a way that it enables individuals and the community to be freed from those things in our culture which entrap and burden them. Christianity is a faith that frees rather than entraps. The Christian must be a free man or a free women, free not to do whatever we want, but free through living a life of goodness. It is goodness and love and truth which challenge the forces of evil or any form of personal narrowness or introversion. Love frees, while introversion eventually leads to narcissism of self-centredness.
The Church inherits that Christ-given authority and mission to address the “demons” of any age. This means also that the Church as a faith community should be active and present in society, drawing attention to suffering and repression of any kind and being alongside those who suffer. The Church in Ireland today has perhaps again become too timid in bringing its liberating voice to the “demons” of Irish society. Scandals within the Church and perhaps a lack of real faith have made us all too timid in bringing the voice of Jesus and his Church to the basic issues of Irish society. We are tempted to succumb to the widespread opinion that Christianity is really something private and personal for our own devotion and inspiration and not something that has its relevance in the public square.
Christian belief has and will always have its contribution to bring to the formation of society. It is not that Christians want to impose their views on others. It is more a challenging question for believers to find ways of presenting and witnessing to the Christian vision in terms which can win over and be respected by those alongside whom we work. We do this above all by authentic witness. Each of us is called to ensure that our being a Christian somehow brings an added quality to the way we live and to the contribution we bring to society, through how we live our Christian lives in family, in community and in society and indeed into the complex world of science and economics, of politics and communication.
This manner of the presence in society of the Christian faith and of the Christian community will in many ways be different to that we have seen and practiced in the past. We must have no doubt however about the fact that the message of Jesus Christ has relevance in our society today. Just think of those instructions which Jesus gave to his apostles about what they need for their missionary journey. They recall all of us, for example, to reflect on what is essential for fulfilment in life. The vision they present is the very opposite to a consumerist driven rushing for the non-essential and the almost divinisation of the superfluous and the transient in life, which in the long term leads to emptiness.
The peaceful yet purposeful journey of the apostles contrasts with any culture of violence and of the emptiness of a culture of drink which has left its mark on society in Dublin in these days, hurting the weak and the vulnerable.
The style of life of the one who announces and witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus is in fact not extraneous to the message itself. The Christian life is not imposed; it is transmitted through the witness of those who demonstrate in their own life what being captured and fascinated by Jesus means in the search for true fullness of life. The Church community should be a model of authentic human living of the good and a signpost to lead our society away from the demons of our own day.