Jesus sent out the twelve Apostles two by two to share the Good News of Christ among us. He told them to take nothing with them but a walking stick and sandals, no food, no backpack, no money, no extra clothes, no cellphone. I suspect he did this to underscore the immediacy of their ministry – souls were at risk. I also suspect that he did so to challenge them and us on what is most important in our lives – Him or things. It is not that we should not make prudent provision for basic needs. On hot summer days and cold winter nights we need to make appropriate provision for health and safety.
Yet, I know that when I prepare to travel I have a struggle deciding what to take with me. More often than not much of what I pack and carry I do not use or could get along without.
On our spiritual journeys we need to be open to what God asks of us and not place barriers or baggage in the way. Christ is enough and the grace he gifts through the Church he instituted is all we need to be his faithful hands.
During the Korean War a small village came under heavy artillery fire. After the battle a priest sought the help of some American soldiers to place back on its pedestal a fallen statue of Christ. The statue’s hands were broken off. The soldiers suggested molding new ones. The pastor however decided to place a sign on the front of the pedestal which read, “Friend, lend me your hands,” We are called to be the hands of Christ. Our readings offer direction on how we might serve Christ in this way.
Amos in the first reading notes that he was not specially gifted for his role as prophet, but a simple shepherd. “The Lord took me from following the flock and said, go, prophesy to my people.” Amos did, he became God’s hands. The people did not always listen but because Amos responded to what the Lord asked of him he could be at peace.
St. Paul in the 2nd reading declares, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blemish.” He chose us to be holy and without blemish. Most of us are a work in progress, blemishes abound at least in me, but we can keep pursuing that goal to holiness because as St. Paul reminded us, “we are blessed in Christ” whose love and mercy can be ours. As a result of our baptism we are called to become Christ’s hands despite our blemishes.
Jesus sent those he had chosen to bear witness to him, to be his hands by what they preached and how they lived. Imagine how they must have stood out, traveling without provision and preaching repentance and mercy. They were not always received well, but like Amos they responded to what the Lord asked of them and so could live and die at peace. We too will stand out if we bear witness to him without the baggage of worldly material treasures or prideful motivations. We can do that by standing up for the dignity of all life from conception to natural death and by protesting the pressures of government and others to compromise God’s laws.
I have at home a replica of the statue of Our Lady of the Unborn purchased at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Wisconsin. It movingly details a saddened Blessed Mother caressing so tenderly in her lap three unborn children. As I pass it each day it raises in my mind others whose dignity is threatened: Our Lady of the frail elderly, Our Lady of the frightened immigrant, Our Lady of traditional marriage, Our Lady of the forgotten children, Our Lady of the poor, Our Lady of the persecuted and so many more. We will stand out when we defend God’s creative gift of life in its fullness.
We also will stand out when we reach out to others in need. It can be by offering something as simple as a prayer or as personal as our caring presence. Do you know someone who is having a hard time dealing with sickness, with the loss of a loved one, with a fragile family relationship or some other difficult situation? Reach out to them if only by presence which suggests you and our Lord cares. Supporting one another in times of personal challenge is a powerful and rewarding way to answer the call of Christ to be his hands.
Yet if truth be told we can be worn down by the noise, the clutter and the heaviness of the world. The speed by which we now can communicate and travel and process information is truly amazing, a technological gift to be used well. Yet these instruments can also be sources of self-centeredness resulting in isolation from one another, and vehicles for the evil one to lure us away from being Christ’s hands. The scourge of pornography and gambling addictions, bullying and hate talk and lost time on trifles tell us so.
By taking so little with them on their journey, the Apostles offer several insights for us on our journeys to holiness. First, that they could trust that the Lord will provide what is truly essential even with the uncertain future. Second, that one’s identity and security and happiness are not found in possessions or self-protective plans, but in God’s plan, and our openness to Him. Third, that responding to Christ’s call to holiness in our lives we can feel a sense of purpose and peace, even if it is not always well received or understood by others.
A couple went for a walk by a lake. They came upon an elderly couple sitting in rickety lawn chairs fishing. They had a small tackle box, a margarine container filled with night crawlers and two long bamboo fishing polls. “How’s the fishing,” they were asked. “Fantastic” was the response pointing to a bucket filled with fish. They continued on their walk and came upon a man cranking his big boat onto his trailer. He took six or seven fiberglass rods and several multi-drawer tackle boxes out of the boat and put them into his SUV. “No fish in this lake” he snarled when asked how the fishing was.
The Apostles were sent out with the clothes on their back and a walking stick but with the authority of knowing that Christ alone is enough. They were the hands of Christ as fishers of men. It’s amazing the catch they made. We too are sent to be the hands of Christ. What do we carry with us? How awesome is our catch?