Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 15.)

The Crown, a popular series on Netflix, follows the life of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. In one episode, the young queen is traveling around the world visiting the nations of the commonwealth. While she is away from Britain, her sister Princess Margaret represents her for minor royal engagements.

Margaret is unhappy with her sister’s “lack of flair” and wants to “bring color and personality to the monarchy.” She speaks her mind, tells jokes and belittles other dignitaries while performing her duties.

Winston Churchill, then Prime Minister, relieves Margaret of her duties, explaining that she was not appointed to represent herself. “Your Royal Highness, when you appear in public, performing official duties, you are not you,” he says. “You are the Crown.”

In the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy, Jesus summons the Twelve and sends them out on mission. There is an immediacy and import to their work. They are to take “no food, no sack, no money in their belts.” They should not be encumbered by these things, but rather leave immediately and focus on their mission. Jesus does tell them they may bring a walking staff and sandals, for these would be important in helping them get to their destination. He gives them a share in his authority.

Jesus sends them to represent him and they do. They go out and preach repentance, drive out demons and anoint the sick for healing. They will soon come back to Jesus and continue to be with him until his passion, death and resurrection.

In a sense, this sending forth is a prelude to the post-resurrection mission to the world. After Jesus ascends into heaven, the Twelve take up the mission of preaching, teaching and healing in the name of Jesus. All their work, their authority, their responsibilities, their mission flow from and point back to Jesus. The apostles come from different backgrounds, with no obvious training for the mission save that they were all chosen by Jesus, prepared by Jesus and sent by Jesus.

Similar calls occur in the Old Testament. Some of the great figures have no particular background that would prepare them for the work of the Lord. Abraham, Moses and David are some examples, as is the prophet Amos. In the first reading for today’s liturgy we hear him say, “I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” He was not a professional prophet (that is, a member of the prophetic guilds of his time), nor a seer but a shepherd. He becomes a great prophet because the Lord chose him and he spoke for the Lord. It was not his mission, but the mission of the Most High.

All of us who are baptized are disciples of the Lord. In our many vocations, we each have a share in the mission of Christ Jesus. St. Paul refers to this in the Letter to the Ephesians. He reminds the Ephesians and us that we have been chosen by the Father before the world began: “In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.”

We are chosen in Christ Jesus, who is the center of our lives. St. Paul continues: “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.” Paul’s life, mission and proclamation center on Jesus, and we share the same call and responsibility.

Princess Margaret stood in for the Queen, but forgot or did not appreciate the fact that she represented her. We are reminded today that we have all been chosen by God. Each one of us has a special role to represent the Lord in this world. Most of us do this in our homes as husbands or wives, as mothers or fathers, as sisters and brothers. We do it in the shop, in the office, in the classroom, in the hospital, in the lab, on the beat, in the station, in the classroom, in the playground, at the swimming pool, on the basketball court.

We have been chosen by God to bring his word, his mercy, his compassion and his love into the world we inhabit. No matter what our background or abilities, God is the one who calls, commissions and sends. It is his mission, it is he whom we represent.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.