My Dear Young People,
«In your minds you must be the same as Jesus Christ »Sunday 26th (A)
Homily for the 142nd Salesian Missionary Expedition
Ez 18,25-28; Psal 24; Phil 2,1-11; Mt 21,28-32
My Dear Brothers and Sister in the Lord Jesus,
We are gathered round the altar for the Mass, in which we will send on their way the missionaries of the 142nd Salesian missionary expedition. We do so in obedience to the Lord Jesus, who left us a twofold command: to celebrate the mystery of his passion, death and resurrection, from which the Church is born, and to go as his witnesses throughout the word to teach all people baptising them in name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that he has taught, assuring them: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the world” (cf. Mt 28,19-20).
Today we look back to the 11 November 1875, when Don Bosco sent the first Salesian missionary expedition to Argentina. 136 years have passed and the Congregation, the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians and the whole Salesian Family are united, with the grace of God to send year after year confreres, sisters and lay people who put into practice the word and the plan of the Lord Jesus, who make Don Bosco’s dream a reality, which is nothing less than to see the youngsters of the whole world finding their fulfilment, their happiness and their lives in God.
Naturally, the current situation – from the social, political, economic, cultural and religious points of view – is very different from that of 136 years ago, and even more completely different from that of the times of Jesus. Even though what is now to the forefront is the difficult economic and financial crisis with the social and political consequences we are experiencing, nevertheless the expectations and the needs of the world are the same: a worthy human way of life for all the men and women in the world, the meaning of life and the desire for a full and an eternal life. It is a question of the needs which all of us have a responsibility to satisfy, creating a new social order, but one which only God can fully satisfy. “Not by bread alone does man live,” the book of Deuteronomy pointed out to the people of Israel, always tempted to find its happiness in material things, without depending on God and without any commitment to him.
The world situation today could be summed up in four words which also express vital needs: bread, peace, life and liberty. While in some places the bread with which to survive is an urgent need, in others there is an abundance of material goods but a hunger for affection and for transcendence. While in some places the people enjoy peace ensured by a society based on human rights, in others the citizens are sorely tried by the scourge of war, of violence of injustice and the lack of security. While in some countries life is the most precious gift and this can be seen in the many birth of babies and in the populations with a high proportion of young people, in others life in regulated at man’s pleasure and threatened by him from the moment of conception, by abortion policies and practice, until death with the attempt to even ensure assisted death. While in some places there is a lack of freedom in society, in others there are in fact restrictions on religious freedom.
Therefore the whole world needs redemption and salvation, and this is ensured only by Jesus, who redeemed us by his precious blood poured out for us so that we might have life to the full.
The Word of God which a week ago told us that His will was that everyone should be saved through the parable of the owner of the vineyard concerned to employ workers, today offers us points for reflection and encouragement to appreciate better what we are celebrating and to live to the full our vocation as disciples, witnesses of the Risen Lord and missionaries to the young.
The three parables read in the gospel of this and of the next two Sundays have a single theme: the rejection of the Jewish people unwilling to listen to Jesus, and its replacement by the pagans. This is where we find both out own particular situation of being beneficiaries of the gift of faith and of belonging to the new Israel, to the new people of God, and the foundation of our missionary call, which is that of offering to others the same vocation and blessing that we enjoy.
No one is marginalised for God
The parable of the two sons we have just listened to, justifies the line Christ takes towards the «despised», that new category of the poor.
Jesus addresses his parable to the chief priests and the elders of the people, in the same way they he will address others of the same kind to the pharisees (cf. Lk 18,9). With these parables he reaffirms his special love for sinners, for those despised by others who consider themselves just. He even goes so far as to say that these «poor ones» are closer to salvation than those who think well of themselves, and consider themselves just and loved by God because they scrupulously carry out all the details of the Law. And he does not stop with just words: he enters the house of Zaccheus, he allows a prostitute to wash his feet, he frees the woman caught in adultery from being lynched by the «pure». These «poor ones » are close to salvation their lives allow God to show his mercy. The parable is addressed therefore to those who close themselves to the Good News to those who do not want to recognise the identity of God in the name of their own justice and they feel content with their self sufficiency.
The law of getting hands dirty
Fidelity to God and justice are not simply a matter of saying “yes” or of false privileges or merits we believe we have before God, but of facts. This is what opens the gate of the Kingdom of heaven, according to what Jesus himself says at the end of his sermon on the mount: «It is not those who say to me, “Lord, Lord,” who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven » (Mt 7,21).
It is necessary to have the courage to get your hands dirty and put yourself at risk in the search for new values closer to freedom, justice, solidarity, love, to man’s happiness. It is on the basis of the choices made that really belonging to the people of God is judged. Words, ideologies can deceive, they can be an illusion or a cover up. The truth about a man is disclosed in he works. They are inequivocable. Only in this way does a man show what he really is. We can understand then that saying of Jesus which causes scandal in the ears of those, of yesterday and of today, who think well of themselves: «I tell you d solemnly, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you.». Officially and according to the religious categories and external moral criteria of th3e time, they had said «no», but in fact what counts is their profound openness: the will to carry out not in words but in deeds the works of penance. God did not decide at some fixed moment in history to reject Israel and to adopt the pagan nations. It was their attitude regarding the Messiah which cost the “chosen ones” of Israel the role of mediation they filled. They way they were living their «yes» to the Law led them to say «no» to the Gospel.
There is still a widespread idea about the religious affiliation of groups and individuals that is connected with externals and what can be measured, as though it can only be judged according to people’s belonging socially to the Church or by certain religious practices that can be easily ticked off: attendance at Mass, the sacraments, prayer, devotions, giving alms…
Contributing to this misconception are also some socio-religious surveys which provide a scale of religious practice and Church affiliation according classification. If from some points of view this makes us open our eyes to certain painful situations, on the other hand it is a long way from describing the complex nature of the approach to religion by both groups and individuals.
Over and above practice and external and juridical belonging, there is a presence and a clear Christian and evangelical influence in levels of the population apparently on the fringes or detached.
Religion is lived by many Christians on different levels and with different kinds of experiences. It can be lived as a collection of practices, devotions or rituals almost as ends in themselves; or as a way of seeing the world and things in general; or as the basis for judging people, values, events.
It can express itself as a moral code and the norm for behaviour or as the harmonious integration of faith and life, that is as a synthesis on the level of judgement and action, between the message of the Gospel and the demands and commitments in one’s personal and community life.
It is the integration of faith and life which makes the true Christian. The «yes» of his faith thus becomes the «yes» of his life; the word and the confession on his lips become the action and the work of his hands and all he does. In this way the distinction between the «yes» and the «no» is not based on practices and the observance of the law but on life.
And you dear new missionaries, to carry out this mission of evangelisation and the change of heart of people and through that of the world, you cannot have a better model than Jesus as he is presented to us by Paul in his letter to the Philippians. In fact, the Apostle invited us to make our own the sentiments which were in Christ Jesus, in other words to serve our neighbour with great humility. To succeed in overcoming our egoism, which leads us to proclaim the Gospel with a spirit of competition or conceit, there is no other way than the imitation of Christ, who «though his state was divine yet he did not cling to his equality with God but empties himself to assume the condition of a slave and became as men are; and being as all men are he was humbler yet even to accepting death, death on a cross ». This is the model of true inculturation, indispensible for evangelisation and touching the heart of the culture of peoples and transforming them. Going on the «missio ad gentes» means emptying oneself of everything that can separate us from the people to whom we are sent, of our presumptions, our knowhow, our qualifications, our economic means, etc., and to begin in humility like a child to learn their language, to know their culture, to appreciate all that they have that is good, true, beautiful, in a word to love them as Christ has loved them giving himself for them.
This imitation of Christ will be easier and more faithful if you manage to unite commitment to the mission with the Eucharist. This is the path of your sanctification, so that you can live what you celebrate and celebrate what you live. In this way the Eucharist will become the source of your mission and spirituality, and the mission will be an extension of the celebration of the Eucharist, completing in you body what is lacking in the passion of Christ.
In this first year of preparation for the bicentenary of the birth of Don Bosco, I invite you to study him in order to be able to faithfully inculturate his charism in the different places where you will be sent. I entrust each and everyone of you to Mary Help of Christians. May she guide you, protect you, bless you and give fruitfulness to your mission. Amen.
Fr. Pascual Chávez V. Mary Help of Christians. Valdocco – 25 September 2011