15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – July 15, 2018
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Amos 7:12-15; Psalm 85:9-14; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13
In my few short years of ministry, the question I get asked most often is definitely, “Wait, how old are you?” And that’s fair! But coming in a close second is definitely a variation on the “priest question,” that is, “Why did you want to be a priest? How did you decide to be a priest? What made you want to be a priest?” And that question is difficult for me to answer because there are so many different factors, so many different reasons, events, and people which contributed to me becoming a priest. I would like to say that there was a moment when God appeared to me in a vision and said, “Michael, I want you to be a priest.” That would have been nice! But that’s not what happened.
Right before my freshman year of high school, I attended a summer camp called Totus Tuus. And as part of that camp there is an evening for adoration and confession. Now, I had not been to confession in a long time—like, a long time—and so I was pretty nervous. There I was, sitting in adoration, and just loathing the idea of going to confession. But I went; I got up and went. And as I turned toward the chapel, turned toward adoration, turned toward our Lord through confession—as I turned back I felt a strange but overwhelming sense of peace, and then an overwhelming feeling in my heart which told me, “Michael, I want you to be a priest.”
Of course, the first thing I said was, “No. No way. Not for me.”
But over and over again, this feeling would come back. It came back when I was in mass and received the eucharist, when I was just sitting alone with my thoughts, when I was in adoration, when I would go to confession. Over and over and over again. And it got to the point that I didn’t want to pray or go to mass or to adoration or confession because every time I did I would feel this call, I would have this sense of Jesus wanting to send me out into the world as a priest.
Think back to our Gospel for today. In the Gospel, Jesus sends out the twelve. He sends them out into the world, two by two, gives them authority over unclean spirits, and has them preach a message of repentance. But look closer! What does he do first? Before everything, before sending them, before giving them this authority, before sending them out to places where they will be rejected—before all of this, he summons them, he calls them to himself.
The prerequisite for being sent by Jesus (c.f., Mk. 6:7) is being called by Jesus and being with him (c.f., Mk. 3:14)! Earlier in Mark’s Gospel, we are told that the number one reason Jesus “appointed twelve” was “to be with him” (Mk. 3:14)! And it is only after they have been with him, after they have listened to his preaching and seen his work among the people, only after they have become familiar with Christ, true companions of him, that they are then sent out by him. The prerequisite for being sent by Jesus is being called by Jesus and being with him!
Now, I am not saying that everyone is called to be a priest! But I am saying that we are all called to be his disciples. We are all called to become a companion of Jesus Christ, to become more and more familiar with him each and every day. So why is that so difficult?
Well, in my own experience, it was difficult because of the great fear that existed. I was afraid of what being a priest would be like, afraid of whether or not I could do it, whether or not I would be any good at it. I was afraid to be sent out, to preach the Gospel to people, to tell people that I had given up everything else in life to be a priest. I was afraid of what my family and friends would think about me. It was difficult because I was focused on the mission before I was focused on Christ. I was completely focused on being sent by Jesus, and I had missed the fact that he had first called me to himself.
And this is the key! This is so important! We can easily focus only on what the Lord is asking us to do, focus only on what we are sent to do! And we forget that before any of that, before we are called to do anything, our Lord first calls us to himself. The prerequisite for being sent by Jesusis being called by Jesus, becoming a companion, a disciple—becoming familiar with Jesus Christ. This is what I had missed! That day at Totus Tuus and for so long afterward, I focused on what Jesus was asking me to do, and had missed that the first step was drawing close to him. I had gone to confession, been in adoration, received the Eucharist; I had started to become a companion of Jesus Christ. I forgot that this came first, that this companionship came first.
This is what the Apostles went out to proclaim! Our Gospel tells us that “they went off and preached repentance” (Mk. 6:12). They preached that people should repent. Literally, they preached that people should turn around, that they should should turn toward something, or rather, Someone. They told people, “Stop wasting your time with this or that! Look, follow us, come with us! The one we have been waiting for is here (c.f., Eph. 1:3-10)! Come and see this man, Jesus of Nazareth! We have never seen anyone like him before” (1).
The prerequisite for being sent by Jesus is being called by Jesus, being with him! Each one of us here has been called by Jesus—without a doubt! But being called is not enough. We have to show up, we have to get to know him, we have to become familiar with him. This is one reason why Sunday mass is so important! Think about it: the very first thing we do for mass is gather. And then what do we do? We repent! We say, “I confess…” We turn toward the Lord. And then we listen to him in his Word, through Sacred Scripture. And then we are united with him, in the most intimate way possible: we receive him in the Eucharist. It is only then, only after all of this—only after we have been called, turned toward him, and been united with him—only then that we are sent, and we are sent in peace.
I was terrified to be a priest, to be sent out by Jesus in this way. But I overcame that fear only by becoming more familiar with Christ, by first allowing him to call me to himself. In each of our lives, we need to take the time to listen to this call, to allow ourselves to be drawn into a deeper companionship with him. And the mass each and every Sunday is the perfect place to begin! Because in the mass Jesus Christ gathers us to himself, speaks to us, and gives himself to us.
1) “The heart’s metanoia / on the other hand, turns / without regret, turns not / so much away, as toward / as if the slow pilgrim / has been surprised to find / that sin is not so bad / as it is a waste of time” (Scott Cairns, “Metanoia,” in Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems).