Webster’s Dictionary defines to preach as “to give moral or religious advice, especially in a tiresome manner.” In his marvelous new book Why Go to Church? Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP quotes Anthony Trollope as saying:
There is perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on mankind in civilized and free countries than the necessity of listening to sermons. No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent and be tormented…He is the bore of the age, the old man whom we Sindbads cannot shake off, the nightmare that disturbs our Sunday rest, the incubus that overloads our religion and makes God’s service distasteful.
I shall resist a number of temptations to retrace our journey from “gathered to sent” and spend these few moments, hopefully not boring, concentrating on what the Word of God says to us this afternoon. To provide a framework, allow me the liberty to use the four letters of the word “sent” and attempt to apply them to our lives.
When at the end of the Eucharist we are dismissed from the assembly or “sent” we are invited to take the Christ whom we have received into our particular worlds. We are as has been said so often in these last three years “to become who we receive.” Since Jesus defined His mission among us as coming as “One to serve and not to be served”, the “S” in sent might stand for serving our brothers and sisters – in our community, in our workplace, in our school, in our neighborhoods, in our book clubs and men’s clubs. In my busy world, you have every right to ask, how can I find the time to serve others? My response would be that there are many ways available right here in our local areas: preparing and serving a meal at Pinellas Hope as 170 of you did last Christmas morning, shaping the political priorities of our elected representatives through involvement in community organizing efforts like FAST and HOPE, devoting whatever discretionary time you might have to the ministries of mercy like life issues, shelter ministries, visitation ministry – to the lonely elderly, the homebound, the imprisoned. The early Church grew despite overwhelming risk and obstacles precisely because they cared for one another, they prayed together and celebrated Eucharist together and they SHARED with one another, as we heard in the first reading from ACTS.
The “E” in “sent” means we are dismissed from the assembly to evangelize, to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to win the hearts and minds of others not of our faith but also to deepen our own Catholic faith. Again from the first reading from Acts, simply living in happiness and joy, being sincere and praising God will win the favor of others and the number of believers will increase. In a world of increasing polarization, the Church must be on guard to preach the truth with love but not to alienate with public punishment. The early Church thrived after the Council of Jerusalem in 64 AD because it was inclusive – all were welcome then, all are welcome now in this place. The new evangelization means helping others as well as ourselves find Christ who was forgiving, loving, welcoming. risk-taking, and all-embracing. He saved his strongest words for those primary teachers of the faith who found it easy to stand in judgment of the failures of others, held laws and religious prescript above love and who attempted to define a religious elitism based on their own private interpretation of commandments and laws.
Sadly there is a tendency in our Church today towards drawing lines in the sand, defining those who “get it” from those who don’t. Evangelization means that we return to the practice of the early Church, draw our strength and our unity from “the breaking of the bread” and then share it with Christ-like openness to others who come to a sense of awe at the gift we share.
The “N” was the hardest of our four letters for me. Serving and evangelizing were relatively easy as was the “T” which I will get to in a moment. It was the Gospel of the Third Sunday of Easter that finally opened my eyes to something I have often overlooked. You know the story. Jesus appears after the Resurrection to the disciples along the Sea of Tiberias. He invites them to breakfast. They catch so many fish that their nets practically fall apart. It dawned on me then that as people sent, we still are invited to cast our nets into the sea of our lives and bring to the table the many. “N” then, at least for this moment, stands for “netting.” We also must learn to cast our nets more broadly.
Net fishing, as anyone who has ever watched The Deadliest Catch knows often brings up surprises – the unwanted, the scary, and the scavenger. Casting a net is an act of faith. There will be those times when nothing surfaces in the net and there will be those moments when the net seems full to the breaking point. Being sent means that we are willing to fish wherever the Lord directs us. We must be prepared for the mixed bag, or better yet, “mixed net” which sometimes brings disappointment but also can bring joy. When we feel sent to cast our nets, we know that not every cast will land a great catch. We place our lives, our ministry, and our service in the hands of the Lord Himself. We fish for others and at the end of the day, we gather to share as St. Paul says to the Corinthians the one bread, the one body, the one loaf. We cast our nets for the unity of the world in the one Lord. Our very Eucharistic Initiative, Gathered, Nourished and Sent of these last three years has been an experience of casting our nets to appreciate even more our catch.
Finally, the letter “T”. Since most of you here today are teachers and catechists of our Catholic faith, you and I are sent to teach. I suggest we conclude this reflection with a moment of study of the pedagogy of Jesus with his disciples along the road to Emmaus, our Gospel. You know the story so well that I will only concentrate on the methodology of Jesus. To bring them to a full recognition of who He is, he first unpacks the Scriptures for them. Patiently, plainly, and repeatedly he teaches them the meaning of what they have already heard if not yet learned and interiorized. Through His teaching, they grow in their trust of the stranger; they suspend their suspicions and open their hearts and minds for Him. It is only when they reach their destination and he remains for dinner that they finally connect the dots and come to full realization of who they are talking to.
The Lord sends each of us from his table, this table, into the world to teach by word and example what it means to be a Catholic Christian. It takes time and patience. It takes repetition and repartee which I define as respectful dialogue. It is my hope that after these three years of focusing on the great gift of self which Jesus gave us in the Eucharist, we are better able now to feel called to be sent, sent to serve, sent to evangelize, sent to cast our nets, sent to teach. Sunday Eucharist will cease being an obligation and become more an exciting moment when heaven and earth join as we participate in the body and blood of Christ, recognizing and becoming like Him in the breaking of the bread – this to me is precisely what it means to be SENT.
The text of the homily is available as a PDF document.