A SENSE OF PURPOSE, A SENSE OF MISSION




15th Sunday in Ordinary Time(B)
July 12, 2009

Usually, rejection comes with scorn, with disdain, with a whole lot of sarcasm and biting humor, and – to top it all off – perhaps a subtle accusation to boot. All this appears to be what is behind the experience of Amos, the prophet. The envious Amaziah, probably acting at the behest of the King, told Amos in effect to shut up or ship out. Lumping Amos with the band of rowdy and noisy charlatans – the paid “visionaries” of the time – Amaziah tells him to scram and get lost. He tells Amos to go and get cheaply paid some place else, not anywhere near the King’s “sanctuary and royal temple.”

It is bad enough to be rejected. But it is even worse to be accused, subtly or not so subtly, that he was nothing more than a paid hack, a cheapjack who earned his keeps by prophesying. It was an accusation that merited a straightforward answer from the not-so-easily-discouraged Amos: “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to the company of prophets; 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.”

I would like to think that there is more to Amos than just his being a feisty prophet with a ready answer to real or imagined opposition, just as there was more to Paul the apostle than just his sturdiness and determination in the face of all sorts of trials and difficulties. That something more has little to do with will power. Nor has it to do merely with holding fast and firm to a decision made earlier.

I suggest it has to do with a sense of purpose, a sense of mission that comes, not from oneself, but from above.

This is the sense of purpose and mission that comes out clearly in the Gospel passage of today. We see this in action as Jesus sends his band of twelve two by two. We see this actualized by the disciples who were willing to do as bidden by the Lord not for what they could get in return by way of reward, not for whatever affirmation and adulation they could get from enthusiastic throngs, but simply for the reason that they were sent on a mission by the Lord.

Despite the dour predictions of the three recent surveys on the youth to the effect that the famed religiosity of Filipinos is fast disappearing in these postmodern times, we still do find solace in the incontrovertible fact that, by and large, there are still a lot of Filipinos who consider their Christian faith a valuable treasure, and who still cultivate, in their own simple ways, a lively attachment to God, Jesus Christ our Lord, and His Church on earth. Churches are still filled to capacity each Sunday, and long lines still go to communion (although much is left to be desired in terms of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, both on the part of the faithful and that of the priests who seldom make themselves available for confessions).

Still, there is no room for jubilation and for an attitude of complacency. So many of those who style themselves “good Catholics” really do not go beyond the minimum in terms of religious observance, a type of faith that is much too private and individualistic, an attachment to the Church that does not translate to taking active part in the missionary, apostolic work of the Church. For most Filipino Catholics, a privatized faith is still the closest they can get to being full-pledged members of their respective parishes and dioceses. And the situation is not any better when it comes to covenanted communities and members of so many religious, public or private associations in the Church. A whole lot of self-care and small-group-oriented activities (no doubt laudable in the sense that members get regular formation and shepherding) characterizes these communities and groupings. But the well-meaning concern of these basically very good people does not approximate the level of “mission” awareness and orientation that Amos and the disciples of the Lord, including Paul, seem to be leading us to today.

Far too many of us still remain too centered on our own personal growth. Far too many groups still remain too self-centered. Programs do not go beyond the good of our small “chapter,” or “household,” or “action group,” as the case may be. Such communities and groups may tend to be satisfied with their own gatherings, periodic conventions, formation sessions, and a whole lot and far-too-often “feel-good” retreats and spiritual encounters on a regular basis.

There is, however, precious little awareness of a sense of purpose and a sense of mission in the context of a missionary Church, which ought to be and to remain a “community of disciples.” There, too, is very little sense of urgency to face the daunting task up ahead of trying one’s best to at least slow down the rapid decline of the Philippine society towards a Godless, “post-Christian” mentality abetted by a mass media induced culture of consumerism, materialism and other evils brought about by the forces of soul-less and morally rudderless globalization.

We hear the stirrings today of a renewed call to discipleship in our midst. We hear the echoes of what the late Holy Father, John Paul II, ever since he first assumed the office as Pope, has always been crying for – the need for a New Evangelization in answer to the new challenges posed by these postmodern times.

Let us not make any mistake about it. The call is for everyone … every baptized Christian … every man and woman of faith …clergy and laity alike. That means, in concrete you who read this (or listen to me) right now. Yes you!

Church history is not without a long list of examples of people who obeyed the divine summons to go and teach. Although it sounds a little trite and worn, let me say it all the same … the list of holy women and men who have been raised to the glories of the altar – the saints! But we do not have to go too far. Right here in the Philippines, we have many Christian couples and individuals who have gone abroad to do their share of new evangelization. Literally thousands do quiet work being leavens in their own respective little worlds, in schools, offices, factories, parishes and communities.

A poem I love comes in handy today to remind us of the continuing challenge and call posed to us believers by no less than the Lord Jesus Christ, whom Francis Thompson calls “the hound of heaven.” Thompson compares Jesus to a hound, a hunting dog, out in patient search for us, his “prey,” despite our repeated attempts at eluding “capture,” despite the so many times we have been running away from Him. Perhaps it is time we allowed the Lord to snare us and catch up with us … Perhaps it is time we gave Him the needed space for Him to make of us “disciples-in-mission.” For in the final analysis, as Thompson says, he who betrays the Lord will be betrayed by all; he who contents not the Lord can not expect to be contented by anything; and that, at bottom, it is the Lord really whom we all seek! Here goes the whole lovely poem:


THE HOUND OF HEAVEN

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under the running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And host, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat – and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet –
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

I knew all the swift importings
On the willful face of skies;
I knew how the clouds arise
Spumed of the wild sea-snortings;
All that’s born or dies
Rose and drooped with; made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine;
With them joyed and was bereaven.
I was heavy with the even,
When she lit her glimmering tapers
Round the day’s dead sanctities.
I laughed in the morning’s eyes.

I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
Heaven and I wept together,
And in its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset heart
I laid my own to beat,
And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven’s grey cheek.
For ah! We know not what each other says,
These things and I; in sound I speak –
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
The breasts of her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
My thirsting mouth.
Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
With unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
And past those noised Feet
A Voice comes yet more fleet –
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
And past those noised Feet
A Voice comes yet more fleet –
“Lo! Naught contents thee, who content’st not Me.”

Naked I wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
And smitten to my knee;
I am defenseless utterly.
I sleep methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rush lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years –
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
Ah! Is Thy love indeed
A weed albeit an amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
Ah! Must –
Designer infinite! –
Ah! Must Thou char the wooed ere Thou canst limn with
My freshness spent its wavering shower i’ the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half glimpsed turrets slowly wash again.
But not ere him who summoneth
I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man’s heart or life it be which yields
The harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
Be dunged with rotten death?

Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
“And is thy earth so marred
Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!”
“Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How has thou merited –
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of nay love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All of which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp my hand, and come!”
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly!
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Who thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”

Comments

Angel, SDB said…
Thanks for the inspiration! The HOUND OF HEAVEN reminds me of the prophets, especially JONAH. In our Salesian context, what comes to mind is the story of Bl. Philip Rinaldi. Indeed it also is the story of each one of us called and sent by the Lord. Aside from the exegesis of the readings, the poem can very well serve to trigger emotions, tickle the minds, and move the reader's will to "respond" to the challenge of the Lord.

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