Sept. 27, 2015: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time B
Cross and Mission
by Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis)
Let us reflect today on the profound solitude of the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:4). He had just completed an important mission by gaining victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:20-40); but, despite his great success, he felt completely alone and was longing to die. In reality, his mission was still not finished, for he was being invited into an intimate encounter with the living God (1 Kings 19:9-14), an encounter that would make him apostolically fruitful (1 Kings 19:19-21). This was an extraordinary event, but it was one marked by an experience of abandonment and the cross.
We might also be helped by meditating on the figure of Jonah, recalling the time when he went off selfishly by himself and desired to die because his human plans did not coincide with those of God (Jonah 4:1-11). These two great prophets had a bitter experience of abandonment and loneliness in the midst of the missions they were given. In different ways they resisted their calling, but they were gently impelled by God to keep moving forward. Let us ask for the grace to accept the dimension of the cross that is involved in every mission.
A special relation exists between the Lord and the person he sends on a mission--recall here what we said in the meditation on our vocation. We cited the example of Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Joseph--all of them felt themselves to be incompetent for the mission the Lord asked of them: "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt" (Exod 3:11); "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips (Isa 6:5); "Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak for I am only a youth" (Jer 1:6); "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" (Matt 3:14); even Joseph made plans "to dismiss Mary quietly" (Matt 1:19). Such is the initial confusion and resistance, the inability to comprehend the magnitude of the call, the fear of the mission. This is a sign from the good spirit, especially if it does not remain there but allows the Lord's strength to be expressed through our weakness so that we are given consistency and a firm foundation: "I will be with you, and this shall be a sign that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain" (Exod 3:12); "He touched my mouth and said: 'Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven" (Isa 6:7); "Do not say, 'I am only a youth'; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you" (Jer 1:7-8); "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness" (Matt 3:15); "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit" (Matt 1:20).
These experiences of our ancestors in the faith should encourage us greatly. When we realize we are chosen, we feel that the weight on us is too great, and we experience fear--in some cases panic. That is the beginning of the cross. At the same time, we feel deeply drawn by the Lord who by his very summons seduces us to follow him with a fire burning in our hearts (cf. Jer 20:7-18). These two feelings are joined together because since the days of the patriarchs they have prefigured the abandonment that Christ felt on the cross as he fulfilled the Father's will to the very end. The mission places us perforce upon the wood of the cross, for the cross is the sign that the mission has been received by the Spirit of God and not according to the flesh. In the solitude of the person sent on a mission, there is an initial divestment--"leaving all, they followed him" (Luke 5:27-28)--a divestment that will be consolidated through all of life, right up to old age: "When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go" (John 21:18). When we accept a mission, there is a way in which we abandon everything; it is much like the experience of a dying person. Only when we enter into this experience of being "near death" will we understand the full extent of what is being asked of us, and only then will we discover the right road. "I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies"--and this happens only when it is totally alone--"it bears much fruit" (John 12:24).
-by Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis)
Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus
Translated by V. Owns, SJ