Encounter, Relationship, Mission: How Jesus Chooses to Work

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – July 11, 2021

St. Paul – Lyons, KS

Amos 7:12-15; Psalm 85:9-14; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13

What Happened Before I Was Sent?

In my few short years of ministry as a priest, and before that as a deacon, and even when I was just a seminarian dressed like a priest working in a hospital or in parishes—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 a little difficult for me to answer, mostly because there are so many different factors, so many different reasons, events, and people which contributed to me becoming a priest.

One big one, though, happened right before my freshman year of high school. I attended Totus Tuus camp, right there down the street at Camp WaJaTo. 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. And after, as I turned back and went to the chapel, I felt a strange but overwhelming sense of peace, and then an overwhelming feeling in my heart which said, “Michael, I want you to be a priest.” And 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 in Adoration, when I would go to Confession. Over and over and over again. At one point I didn’t want to pray or go to Mass or 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. And I just wasn’t ready for that.

What Happened Before Jesus Sent the Twelve?

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 the good news of the Kingdom of God, how God’s kingdom is arriving on earth as it is in heaven.

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—only then are they sent out by him. The prerequisite for being sent by Jesus is being called by Jesus and being with him!

Relationship Before Mission

Why was I able to accept this call? How is it possible that I would lay everything else aside and follow this call? Again, I don’t know if you noticed, my initial response to this call was, “No.” I would like to tell you how pious and devout and holy I was, how in that moment I gave everything to Lord. But that was not the case. 

So how did I? How was I able to accept this call? Well, through developing a relationship with the Lord.

Friendships, relationships change you. All of a sudden, you find yourself doing things you never did before, listening to music you never listened to, exercising, not exercising, healthy habits, bad habits. Your friendships and relationships form you and shape you, they change you. Your closest relationships more than any! The people you spend the most time with, that you talk to the most, the person you’re married to—we can all tell stories about how these relationships have changed us, for better and for worse. Some of the weirdest habits you have, the most unique things you do—you probably do them because your parents did them, because your best friend does them. Unique and distinctive things you do and say—you probably do them because of people you know. You’ll notice this about me, but one thing I say a lot is, “Classic!” I picked that up from spending two years with Fr. Ned Blick and then a year with Fr. Joe Eckberg—they say that all the time.

Relationships change you, they form you and shape you, they are decisive in making you into the person that you are today.

Encounter, Relationship, Mission

When the Twelve met this Jesus guy from Nazareth, they did just that: they met him, they ran into him on the street, they encountered him. And from there, a relationship developed. They stayed with him, they talked with him, they shared their life with him, they listened to what he had to say, they told him about their life and eagerly awaited what he would say in response. They were his friends, his companions. They were changed by him. Their relationship with him changed them. They started to think like him, to speak like him. And in the strangest case, they started to be filled with the same power as him: they could drive out demons, heal the sick. Wherever they went, in some weird and mysterious way, people began to encounter Jesus in them, in and through them.

Our faith doesn’t begin with things we have to vote for. Our faith doesn’t begin with rules we have to follow. Our faith doesn’t even begin with things we have to believe. Our faith begins, it must begin, it can only begin—a truly Christian life exists because that life was awoken by an encounter, and you remained loyal to that encounter through a relationship.

When I felt that call, the reason I said “no” right away was because I didn’t have any real relationship with Jesus at that point. How could I have said “yes”? It wasn’t until years later that there was enough of a relationship to say “maybe,” and to go to seminary and seriously discern this call. And it wasn’t until several more years, after being immersed in a Christian community at seminary, after praying each and every day, after going to Mass each and every day, after learning about him, becoming his companion, his friend—only then could I say “yes.”

The Mass: An encounter that deepens the relationship and prepares us for mission

There are so many different ways that each one of us encounter the Lord, that we deepen that relationship. Adoration and confession, those are huge. But the most important is the Mass. We come here, we are gathered by him, and we encounter him here. This is a time where that relationship is deepened, where we are drawn into deeper communion with him. We hear from him, we hear his words, we speak in ways that he has taught us, we become more and more like him. And then—then and only then—we are sent out. He sends us just like he sent the Twelve. At the end of Mass, we are dismissed: “Go in peace. Go in peace glorifying the Lord by your life. Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”

Each and every Sunday (each and every day actually), we have this opportunity to come to the Lord, to encounter him, to allow him to encounter us, to meet us wherever we are at in our life, whatever is going on in our life—and to allow our relationship with him to change us, to transform us. And then, when we are sent out, when people encounter us, just like the Twelve when they were sent out, in some weird and mysterious way, people will begin to encounter this same Jesus in us, in and through us.

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