This past Friday, July 1, as we celebrated Canada Day, one of the “good news” stories that was reported on the Friday evening news had to do with the number of new Canadians who received their citizenship in different celebrations across Canada. As a priest, I have had the privilege of accompanying both friends and parishioners who have received their citizenship and it is always a very happy experience that usually comes at the end of a difficult and challenging adventure. For many, a new life in Canada has come at the end of a journey that entailed much hardship. Often, those who come to Canada have left family and loved ones at home. There can be many sacrifices in coming to a new country. Yet, despite the difficulties, those who do seek a new life in a new country often do so because they believe in the better future that lies ahead of them; either for themselves or for their children. The dream of a better future makes the sacrifices of the difficult journey worthwhile. Often, it is only the hope of that better life, and the security that it offers, that gives those who come to Canada the strength to persevere through the different and various challenges and tribulations.
The readings this Sunday are intended to remind us that as Christians we are also on a journey, that at times will involve trials and tribulations, to our true homeland that awaits us in Heaven.
In the first reading, from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we are told of the joy that is to be found for the people of Israel at the news that they might return to Jerusalem. In the Holy City, all of their longings will be satisfied and the sadness that had captured their hearts during their very lengthy captivity and exile will come to an end. In Jerusalem, they will know the joy of living once again in the presence of the God who will care for them and satisfy all the longings of their hearts. For those who are not able to return to Jerusalem immediately, the news that they will one day be back in Jerusalem is intended to sustain their hearts until the day that they are once again able to be within the walls of Jerusalem. The Psalmist invites the people of Israel to sing of God’s goodness at allowing them to return to the Holy City. In fact, so great are God’s works, that the person who is aware of them is invited to make a joyful noise to all the earth. In the words of the Psalmist, God is to be thanked not only for his wonderful works of creation, but also for saving the people of Israel after He had created them. The Psalmist sings for joy that even after he had created the people of Israel, God also saved them from the slavery of the Egyptians and brought them to the Promised Land where they would live in His presence and know His blessings. For the people of Israel, the troubles of their time in exile, and the difficulties of the journey, were worth it, in light of the joy and fulfillment they were to know in their new homeland in God’s presence. Every year, the Jewish people would recall the marvelous works that God had done to save them by celebrating the Passover as a memorial of God’s saving works in their midst.
In the second reading, from the Letter of Paul to the Galatians, St. Paul speaks of his own desire to boast of nothing other than the Cross of Christ. By speaking of the Cross of Christ, Paul is referring to what is the source of our Christian passing over from death to life. By His life, death and resurrection, Jesus has fulfilled the work that God began in calling the people of Israel, and subsequently all people, to be saved by the power of His Cross and Resurrection. Like St. Paul, we have all shared in the power of the victory that Christ won by His Cross through baptism. By our own baptisms, we have all shared in the death and resurrection of Christ. Plunged under the water, we shared in Christ’s death. As we emerged from the water of baptism, we became a new creation in Christ. It is for this reason that Paul announces that circumcision or uncircumcision is no longer an issue for those who follow Christ. Whereas circumcision once defined who was and was not a member of God’s people, it is now those who have become a new creation through baptism who are members of God’s Holy People. Those who have shared in Christ’s death and resurrection through baptism are a new creation and called to be citizens of the New Jerusalem, where they will share in the eternal life which Christ has won for all of them. Baptism is the new identity that had marked Paul, made him a co-heir to eternal life, and gave him the strength and peace to bear all things for Christ. Certain that Christ had won a new home for him in heaven, Paul bears the trials of this life, this pilgrimage, in the peaceful knowledge that all the trials of this life will pail in the face of the glory of Heaven. This knowledge that he has been saved, and a place has been prepared for him in Heaven, gives Paul the peace that he speaks of as he states: “From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.” It is worth noting that this is why you and I as Catholics mark ourselves with the sign of the Cross when we pray. We seek to remind ourselves that we have already been saved, and that as we were marked with the sign of the Cross at baptism, we are already, but not yet, citizens of the new Jerusalem. Baptism has made us already citizens of the New Jerusalem. The peace of this knowledge ought to carry and sustain us through the trails and uncertainties of this life.
It is the announcement of this Good News that Paul proclaims that we hear the seventy-two disciples also being sent to proclaim on their mission. These disciples, who are sent out two by two, are sent on a journey throughout the different towns and cities, to announce that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Confident in the victory that Christ has won, they are to go on this mission with nothing other than their hope in Christ to sustain them. Jesus warns them of the difficulties that lie ahead of them. He tells them that not everyone will accept the faith that they preach or receive them warmly. However, this is not to trouble them. Like St. Paul, they are to rest secure in the peace that their true homeland is in Heaven and that the troubles of this world are but passing. Jesus invites them to witness, offer the peace of His Good News, but not to let their hearts be troubled when this Good News is not accepted. The disciples are to be strengthened by the certainty that in the end, Christ will triumph over evil and that their names are written in Heaven. The mission that is entrusted to the seventy-two is a reminder to all of us that we too are called to be witnesses to our faith and that we ought not to be timid about witnessing. We are not required to convince everyone. This is ultimately the work of God and the Holy Spirit. The Christian is invited to simply spread the seed of the Good News in the hopes that it might ultimately take root in the hearts of those who receive it.
An interesting detail about the manner in which Christ sends the disciples is the fact that they are always sent two by two. This points to the reality that often because of the resistance which the world presents to the Good News, those who witness need to be strengthened and encouraged by other members of the faith. Without the support and encouragement of other believers, those who interact with the challenges of the world can lose faith and become discouraged. The support of other Christians helps us to remain hopeful and focused on the truth of the Good News. It is for this reason, that we often need good Christian friendships and the support of community to keep us focused on Christ and see the challenges of life in their proper perspective. Even those who were sent out two by two return to the Lord, and the larger group, to reflect on the progress they have made and are strengthened by the larger community. This is somewhat like the fact that we are sent out each Sunday from our celebration of the Eucharist. We need to gather each Sunday to be strengthened as we face the challenges of the world each week. I mentioned the “good news” story of those who became Canadian citizens on Canada Day at the beginning of this homily. Sadly, the news that we hear is not often good. As we come out of a pandemic, see the prospect of war, experience the uncertainty of the economy, and witness much world turmoil as debate flares over so many moral issues, it can be very difficult to maintain the peace which Christ asks us to bring to the world. This is why we need to gather to celebrate the Eucharist and hear God’s word proclaimed each Sunday. When we come to Mass, we celebrate Christ’s victory over death and are reminded that our true homeland is in Heaven. The peace that we share as Christ is present in our midst on the altar, reminds us of the reason we are to carry on joyfully in our journey without despair and sadness.
This Sunday’s readings also point out another particular need of the Christian community. Luke speaks of a group of seventy-two who are sent. While at the end of Mass, we are all sent to speak of the Good News, and all of the laity, the baptized, are called to be witnesses to the faith in the world, Jesus foresaw the needs of the community and knew that they would require a group of disciples who would commit themselves to the proclamation of the Kingdom. These witnesses would be required in order to strengthen the other members of the community who were engaged in the day to day affairs of the world. Today the Church continues to call men and women to vocations to the religious life, single life, dedicated married lives in service to the Church, and to the diaconate and priesthood in order to strengthen the other members of the community. It is important that as a Christian community we pray for and encourage these vocations for the good of the Church and for the good of those who have been called to them. Today, it can be very difficult for a young person to respond to a vocation to serve the Lord. There can be so many voices calling them in the opposite direction. Friends, family and the world will tell those who are discerning a vocation that serving the Lord will be a waste of their lives in such difficult and uncertain times. Certainty that Christ alone is the meaning of all life is necessary to give such individuals the courage to follow as St. Paul and other dedicated servants of the Lord have over so many generations. Please, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, to which we are all called, pray for and encourage dedicated Christian vocations to the single life, married life, religious, diaconate and priesthood.
There is a song by Rory Cooney that I think summarizes well this Sunday’s readings. It proclaims, “I have set my eyes on your hills, Jerusalem my destiny.” Its words speak of the uncertainty and trials of life, but also the hope and peace found in keeping one’s eyes fixed on the true homeland that Christ has won for us. The words of the song proclaim that none of us walk alone, as the journey makes us one. Our pasts are left behind, all thirsts are satisfied, the sadness of the world gives way to the light of a new homeland, and those who went to tombs to mourn, awake to an unexpected dawn. This is the New Jerusalem that you and I are invited to keep our eyes fixed upon amidst the uncertainty of this journey that we are on. As immigrants will make many sacrifices to enter the new countries they have travelled to for a better life, Christians are reminded that they have been redeemed through baptism and are to keep their eyes fixed on the Kingdom of Heaven. The certainty of Christ’s presence with us on the journey, and of the destiny that awaits us, is to be the reason for our peace, joy and confidence on the journey.
As we make this journey as a community of faith, please pray for and encourage the vocations that are necessary to sustain our community along the way.
I have fixed my eyes on your hills, Jerusalem my destiny!!
Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor, St. Peter’s Parish—Toronto
This reflection is based upon the readings for the Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C: Isaiah 66: 10-14; Psalm 66; Galatians 6: 14-18; and Luke 10: 1-12; 17-20.