Bishop Varghese, a former member of the Congregation’s Curia, offered the following homily at the beginning of a day of recollection prior to the election of the Superior General and Assistants.
XIV Sunday in Ordinary Time: Lk. 10:1-12, 17-20:
The Missionary mandate of all Christians.
St. Thomas the Apostle: one of the first missionaries as a model.
In the gospel today, we have the story of the sending out of seventy- two disciples. This is unique. All the Gospels mention the twelve disciples and their subsequent commissioning by Jesus to go out and continue his mission. However, it is only Luke who makes a reference to sending out seventy- two disciples, and there must be a reason for this. Jesus says that the harvest is great and there are not enough people to do the necessary work. Likewise, Luke wants to tell us that the mission of Jesus is not only carried forward by so-called experts (such as priests and religious) but that evangelization is the responsibility of every believer in Jesus. This belief is very much in tune with what Vatican II taught us. When speaking of the laity the Council Fathers noted that it is the right and duty of every baptized person to preach the gospel.
The fulfillment of this mission is done by each person in varied ways. Even in the time of Christ, and later in the apostolic era, we find all types of people participating in different ways in the mission of Christ. There were people who brought disciples to Christ. There were people who carried the sick to Jesus so he could touch and heal them (Lk. 5:18). There is the boy who brought the five bread and two fish (Jn. 6:9). There were women who cared for Jesus and even those who financially assisted him (Lk. 8:2-3). Yet, despite their varied roles, all shared in the mission of Jesus. Here we should remember the insight of St. Paul: we are different parts of the same body with different functions (1Cor. 12:12f.)
The reason for sending the seventy-two is mentioned by Luke as a lack of sufficient workers (v.2). More than ever, we experience this reality today. There is lack of sufficient priests and missionaries entering and being ordained to the ministerial priesthood. So those who can and want to exercise more fully their Christian vocation by putting themselves at the service of the kingdom should be encouraged. We are perhaps in a time where more emphasis should be given to this dimension, and we need to encourage more Christian faithful to participate in the call to proclaim the gospel. Thus, empowering the laity is very relevant today. As Vincentians, we are called to intensify our efforts of collaboration with different branches of the Vincentian Family – including the laity- so that evangelization is carried out effectively.
In today’s Gospel, the instructions on requirements and the mission of the disciples is quite explicit. Since we are called to be missionaries, let us have a look at them. They are being sent on as lambs among wolves (v.3): What does it mean? It calls for the virtues of gentleness, mildness, meekness and humility so necessary in a missionary. The missionary does not go as a conqueror, but as a humble servant. So the attitude of a servant is expected from a missionary. This is very much in tune with the mind of St. Vincent.
Simple life-style (v. 4): This is another important missionary virtue, enabling one to place all trust and security in the Lord alone. St. Vincent looked upon this as depending on the Providence of God, by which the missionary puts all his trust in the Lord, holding on to Him as his only security. Once this is practiced, the missioner is totally free to proclaim the Gospel.
They are to be bearers of peace (vv.5-6): A missionary is one who has received and experienced the peace of the Risen Lord and transmits it to everyone he meets. A personal experience and possession of the peace of the Lord should be reflected in the missionary by his presence, words, and actions. He should bring peace to the people whom he meets. A disturbed person, one who is in internal turmoil, cannot preach the Gospel effectively. St. Vincent insisted that we cannot give what we do not have. So we are reminded that we are to be bearers of peace.
Contentment is another virtue required of a disciple (v.7): to be content with the given condition and convenience, including food and accommodation, is a virtue essential to being a missionary and keeping the missionary spirit alive in community life. Those not content, but look for greater comforts which impede them from concentrating fully on the mission, focus more on themselves than on proclaiming the Gospel, thus giving counter witness to the poor.
The disciples are asked to Show concern for the needy and proclaim the Kingdom (vv.8-9): A missionary has to be concerned with the poor and the needy as Jesus showed His preferential option for the poor. The proclamation of the Gospel also means working for justice and peace. The Gospel message becomes tangible to the poor through Justice, Peace and Mercy which are the virtues of the Kingdom. In this extraordinary jubilee year of Mercy, we are encouraged by Pope Francis to be apostles of Mercy, which St. Vincent also has given us as a legacy. So the proclamation of the gospel and works of justice and mercy has to go hand in hand.
Even if rejected, they are to continue the proclamation (vv. 10-11): Rejection and denial are part of the life of a missionary. A disciple is not greater than the master. Hence, rejection and denial should not discourage and disappoint a missionary, for his reward is God alone. Like St. Paul, he should consider himself as privileged to suffer for the Lord and continue the mission.
They are not to be overenthusiastic with success, for the only thing that is of importance is being members of the Kingdom (vv17-20): Over-enthusiasm in success and dejection in failure is not fitting for a missionary. A true missionary should look for doing God’s will, and leave success and failure to the Lord. What is important is that he works for the Lord. The Lord brings fruits from it in his own time.
Today, the 3rd of July, we are celebrating the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle one of the first missionaries of the Church sent by Jesus himself. As St. Thomas is considered the Apostle of India, his feast is celebrated as a solemnity in my native land. There are many who depict St. Thomas the Apostle as a person of feeble faith due to his insistence to see the Risen Lord. A closer look at the events makes us understand that it was the ardent desire of Thomas to experience the Risen Lord. “My faith in the Risen Lord should not be based on what others say but I too want to personally experience him.” This desire he put in his own style of adamant words, “I will not believe unless I put my finger into his nail prints.” Jesus understood this clearly; that is why he heeded to his obstinacy and appeared again and fulfilled his desire.
Thomas was to be a missionary who went out to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Gospel. I must acknowledge that I stand here today to proclaim the Gospel due to the missionary efforts of St. Thomas in India. The basic quality for a missionary should be his personal encounter and experience of the Risen Lord. It is not enough for a missionary to know about the Lord through books, but he should know him through his personal, encounter and intimacy with the Lord. This is the lesson St. Thomas teaches us. Do we have that earnest desire to encounter and experience the Lord in our personal life? We cannot give what we do not have. We cannot teach what we do not know. We cannot preach what we are not convinced of on a personal and interior level.
We also find the apostolic zeal of a missionary in St. Thomas: “Let us go and die with him!” Thomas expressed an earnest determination to follow Jesus even unto death! Indeed, Thomas did die for Christ. This is the resolve and determination a missionary should possess. It is a virtue St. Vincent recommended for the Congregation of the Mission, as it calls confreres to be totally loving and self giving without counting the cost. St. Vincent said that, “if charity is a fire, zeal is its flame. If love is the sun, zeal is its ray.” Let us pray, my dear confreres, that the members of this General Assembly are filled with charity and zeal to inflame the whole Congregation. Amen.