At some point in life, everyone asks the question, “Why am I here?” An important first step in responding is to acknowledge that we are not here accidentally; God deliberately created us. The next question, often remembered from a popular catechism, is, “Why did God make you?” And the given answer: “God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next.” This brief statement sheds a bright light on a most fundamental question, the very purpose of our existence. God created us to share with him the joy of Heaven.
St. Paul, under the influence of the Holy Spirt, articulates this fundamental truth of our existence in today’s reading from his Letter to the Ephesians. He writes: “In love God destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.” Our Lord Jesus Christ came for this purpose: that we enjoy the glory of God in Heaven.
Knowing that he would not be physically on earth for ever, the Lord instituted the Church to continue his saving mission. The Church, the Body of Christ, continues to proclaim the truth of salvation, calling all people to repentance and serving as the instrument through which people of all nations can attain the glory of God. This is how the Catechism describes the missionary mandate given by Christ to his Church: “Having been divinely sent to the nations that she might be ‘the universal sacrament of salvation,’ the Church, in obedience to the command of her founder and because it is demanded by her own essential universality, strives to preach the Gospel to all men” (CCC 849).
This missionary mandate is anticipated in today’s Gospel in Jesus’ sending out of the Twelve two by two. When the Lord tells them to “take nothing for the journey” – “no food, no sack, no money in their belts” – he is inviting them to live in total dependence on him who is the Lord of the mission. Their missionary success depends not on themselves and what they can carry but on the One who sends them.
With this instruction in mind, the Twelve “went off and preached repentance,” that is, they called people to turn back to God. It is a great message, ultimately leading people to their share in God’s glory. Missionaries want all people to know why God made them and what God has prepared for those who love him. However, sometimes the Gospel message will be rejected. Jesus alerted the Twelve to this possibility. Some people will not welcome the call to repentance or listen to the missionaries. What are they to do? They are to continue the work elsewhere, without letting the dust of such rejections and disappointments cling to them.
Today’s first reading recalls the experience of the prophet Amos, who foreshadowed the missionary and prophetic task of Christ and his Church. Amos was called by God to abandon his work as a shepherd and take up the difficult mission of preaching repentance to the people of Israel. If Amos thought the religious leaders would welcome his mission, he was in for a surprise: Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, insists that Amos must be exiled. Amaziah’s conscience is disturbed, and his jealousy is aroused. His response to the prophetic mission is typical of those who resist the truth: to stop the message he attacks the messenger. Amos, for his part, does not give in. The authority for his mission is not man but God.
Like Amos in the first reading and the Twelve in the Gospel, we too have been chosen and sent forth. By virtue of our Baptism, we too are prophets and missionaries. Pope Francis in this week’s Spiritual Reflection tells us: “It is Baptism that makes us missionaries. A baptized person who does not feel the need to proclaim the Gospel, to proclaim Jesus, is not a good Christian.”
We do not all have the same specific tasks – there are many ways to serve for the glory of God – so we do not need to compare ourselves with others. What must be common to us all is the love that we have for God and the love we have for our brothers and sisters for the sake of God. Whatever our circumstances or state of life, God asks us to serve him in such a way that people may come to know him through our way of life. This fruit will certainly be the result if we continually strive to “know him, love him and serve him in this world,” confident that he wants us, and all people, to be happy with him forever in the next.
As a Christian, do I hear Jesus inviting me to live in total dependence on him as the Apostles did? Is Amos an example for me to continue to speak the truth despite difficulties and resistance? How am I called to be a prophet and missionary in my vocation in life?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.