15th Sunday B – Power in Vulnerability
In 1953, there appeared walking the highways of America a woman called “Peace Pilgrim”, Mildred Lisette Norman. A spiritual experience in her early forties led her to become a pilgrim for peace. She walked back and forth across America for almost 30 years teaching the importance of peace. “When you find peace within yourself,” she wrote, “you become the kind of person who can live at peace with others.” This conviction kept her walking day after day, year after year until she died in 1981. She would have glimpsed what the Twelve experienced who followed the injunctions of Jesus. Like them, she carried no bread, no money, no haversack. She walked until she was given shelter, fasted until she was given food. She spoke a compelling message of peace in schools and halls along the way, her vulnerability creating the conditions for people to acknowledge their deep desire to hear her message (1).
I remember reading a long time ago a book called “The Spiritual Letters of Dom John Chapman”. It was a collection of short pithy replies to people who had written to him about the ways of prayer. By way of response to a question from a Benedictine nun he wrote this: “Dear Sister, Try to pray out of who you are and not out of who you are not.” Jesus must have had something like that in mind when he sent the Twelve out to evangelize with next to nothing in their pockets. Their dearth of baggage made them vulnerable and transparent to the world where they would preach. That’s a salient lesson for the Church and Christian communities of the 21st century! Pope Francis has been peeling off layer after layer of opaqueness, cloudiness and ambiguity that have encrusted the Roman Church for centuries. More than ever before, people today want transparency, openness and honesty in the Church.
The Twelve, we are told, preached “repentance.” Repentance and the Kingdom of God go together in the gospels. Repentance refers to a new mindset, the mentality of those who live in the kingdom here below. The Spirit brings about repentance, converting people from being “conceited, provocative and envious” to being people of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control” – cf. Galatians 5: 13-25. Donal Dorr reminds us that “Jesus’ whole aim was to evoke in people some degree of the experience he himself had of the benevolent mystery that he called Abba” (2). The injunction Jesus gave the Twelve to travel lightly was so the Spirit could bring healing, hope, new energy, understanding and creativity to God’s people. “So they set off to preach repentance, casting out many devils and anointing many sick people with oil and curing them.”
The late missionary and theologian Joseph G. Donders gave his own ‘take’ on what the Kingdom of God might look like. “Jesus gave his disciples power to cast out unclean spirits and to cure. He asked them to reorganise all of society by chasing from it the evil arising from the gap between the rich and the poor. He wanted a society in which there were no masters and no servants, a society in which all use their talents to the full in view of that society and in which each receives all they need, without having to ask for it. He wanted a society in which the human family is sitting around one table, and there is no second one, and no third one. He asked them first of all to organise things in such a way that the evil spirit of irrational greed would be chased off. And he added he would be with them to the ends of the earth, to the end of the age….” (3).
Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens. —Peace Pilgrim –
Fr. QQ – 07/07/2021
1 – PEACE PILGRIM (Free copy available online at ‘Peace Pilgrim Materials’). A good read.
2 – D. Dorr, A CREED FOR TODAY – 81.
3 – J.G. Donders, PRAYING AND PREACHING THE SUNDAY GOSPELS – 115. (For a description of the Kingdom of God by Elizabeth Johnson cf. her CREATION AND THE CROSS, p 75.)