Msgr. Joseph Prior

Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jan. 15)

The sea coast was vast and long. This particular stretch was quite dangerous and there were many shipwrecks. On the coast, not too far from the water, was a hut with a boat. A group of locals would take turns taking the boat out to look for those lost at sea. When they would find people they would take them onto the boat and back to the hut until they could get them home. Many were saved due to their charity.

As time went on, some members of the group decided that the hut was too small. “It should be larger and more welcoming for those who are saved,” they thought. These members persuaded the group and they began to collect funds to enlarge the hut. They found great support because their cause was good. They enlarged the building.

Not too long after this, another group of members argued that the building should be enlarged again so that the members of the group could conduct their affairs and meetings as well as having social affairs in the building. As it happened they had much support for this effort. And again, the building was expanded.

With time the members began to focus more on the life of the group than in the life-saving efforts. Soon, what was once a “life-saving station” was now a “club.” The members would gather, and docks were set up so they could dock their boats and the club continued to expand.

Sadly with time the original mission of the group, that of saving lives, was forgotten. Over time the sea continued to roar. Ships were wrecked and many people drowned because there was no one to help them.

John the Baptist tells us: “A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me. I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” Just before this explanation of his mission, Jesus comes to John. When John sees him approaching, he says to his disciples: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” He points to Christ. He makes him known.

The mission of John, in a particular way, reminds us of the mission of the Church and her members. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ last words to his disciples, just before he ascends to his Father, are: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).

The words give the church her mission of evangelization. Every member of the church is called to participate in Jesus’ mission of salvation. In John’s Gospel, we are told: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn. 3:17-18).

St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, considers the mission of evangelization when he writes: “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring [the] good news!’” (Rom. 10:13-15). Christ’s mission is to save lives; so too the mission of his church.

The mission of Christ and his church have roots in the life of Israel. The prophet Isaiah hears the Lord say: “You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory … I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.”

This mission is fulfilled in Christ and carried on by his church in the lives and activities of her members. Each one of us has a role and a responsibility to share the great gift of life that we receive through Christ Jesus. Naturally we might ask ourselves: How do I preach the Gospel? How do I evangelize? How do I spread the “Good News?”

The words attributed to St. Francis might help in this regard: “Preach always and sometimes use words.” Perhaps the second reading for Sunday’s liturgy can help in this regard. St. Paul is writing to the Corinthians. The passage comes from the greeting, the opening of the letter. He addresses the letter to “… the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy….”

In this short passage Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are indeed “holy” or “sanctified” but at the same time are called to become holy. They are holy because they have been baptized and made one with Christ. At the same time they are called to transform their lives and their conduct so that they will “become holy.”

Perhaps a word about holiness would be appropriate here. In a basic sense something that is holy is something that is “set aside” for God or “dedicated” to God. Living our lives according to the Gospel is the way in which we become holy. This is the most basic form of discipleship, and at the same time witness.

We evangelize through our witness to Christ Jesus and our faith — that he has saved us and given us life. He is the one who provides meaning and direction in our lives. The more we live, act, think and interact in this vein, the more the Gospel is spread.

The story mentioned above saw a once-vibrant “life-saving” station turn into a yacht club. The members over time lost sight of their mission. Today the liturgy encourages us to keep the mission in focus. Like John the Baptist, we have the mission of pointing to Jesus, the source of all life.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.