Mission Sunday Homily from Deacon Bill Batstone

(Bill Batstone is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Seattle)

When was the last time you had a deeply intimate and personal experience of Christ in your life; where you had an experience of Christ so intimate that you felt you and Christ were sharing the same experience of God; so intimate, where, just for a moment, you felt like you were standing in Christ’s sandals and seeing the world through Christ’s holy eyes and experiencing the world through Christ’s compassionate heart.

I have had such an experience of deep intimacy with Christ twice in my life. The first time was several years ago, when JT and I went on a pilgrimage to Israel. As we stood in the Garden of Gethsemane, I looked across the Kidron Valley to the Temple Mount and reflected on what Jesus must have experienced as he asked his Father “to take this cup of suffering and death away from him.” To love God and his people so much that you are willing to be tortured and die for them. It made me cry.

The second time I touched on this experience of intimacy with Christ was in January of this year when I went on a pilgrimage to Central America with the Maryknoll Priests and Brothers to visit the sites of the Catholic Martyrs in El Salvador and Guatemala.

My initial reason for making this all clergy pilgrimage was essentially to better understand the culture of Central America, which many of our immigrants migrated from, and to improve my Spanish; visiting the sites of the Catholic Martyrs seemed like a good way to do this.

I should have realized that this pilgrimage was going to be a little more involved when the Maryknolls sent me a “Risk Awareness and Travel Agreement” that they required I sign before leaving on the pilgrimage. This 3 page document said, in part:

“I understand fully and appreciate that there are dangers, hazards and perhaps some risks directly or indirectly involved in Maryknoll Society sponsored trips to another country that I wish to engage including, but not limited to, death or injury by accident, disease, war, terrorist acts, weather conditions, inadequate or nonexistent medical services and supplies, criminal activity and random acts of violence.”

As is often the case when we set out to do something involving God, what we leave with from the experience is not what we thought we were going to get from the experience. This is true of service and ministry in general; whether it is serving in our jails and prisons, serving the homeless or those who come to Saint’s Pantry, our community kitchens, or clothing banks, or serving those who are homebound, on hospice, in our hospitals and care facilities, or wherever God’s people are gathered. We soon learn, if we are there for the right reasons, that service and ministry is not just a matter of “doing things” for people, but is first of all a matter of “being with” people, of listening to their stories and sharing ourselves with them.

It is in this “being with and listening to others” that we experience an intimacy with Christ that can lead to a conversion of heart, and to a fundamental change in the way we view our own life – what I do, what I have, who I count as my friends, what questions I ask myself, what issues I pay attention to, who and what I support and give my allegiance to. This openness to conversion begins when we say to Jesus, “I am willing to drink from the chalice you drank from when you surrendered yourself to the will of your Father at Gethsemane and became my savior and the savior of the world.” To be willing to drink from this chalice is a confession that, “we understand fully and appreciate” what this means in the way we will live our life from this point forward… with all its inherent dangers, risks, and hazards, fully recognizing and trusting that the cup Jesus asks us to drink from is not only the cup of surrender, but the cup of salvation.

Today’s readings echo the truth of the relationship between the surrender of our self and salvation of our soul. From the first reading in Isaiah we read, “If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.” Surrender to God’s will is the first step to salvation. The Responsorial Psalm affirms that God’s mercy will be with those who place their trust in him – who surrender to his will and drink from the chalice of salvation.

In the second reading from Hebrews, we are told that because Christ in his humanity understands our weakness and was similarly tested, but did not surrender to sin but this the will of his Father, we can confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find the grace that we need to take and drink fully from the chalice of Christ.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus answers James’ and John’s request to be with him in his glory, by in turn asking them, “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Jesus asks each of us this question and how we respond to it will determine how intimately we will experience Jesus presence in our life, for surrender is the first step toward intimacy and ultimately, salvation.
Most of us will not be asked to be a martyr for Christ, but all of us are called to witness our faith, which Pope Benedict XVI has reaffirmed in proclaiming this year to be A Year of Faith and Evangelization of the Word of God. One way we can do this is to support the churches missionary presence in the world both financially and with prayer. The funds we give are used to support over 9,000 clinics caring for the sick and dying, 10,000 orphanages, 1,200 schools, and 9,000 religious sisters and brothers in formation programs, all of which are operating in 1,150 mission dioceses in the world.

When I was on my pilgrimage in Central America with the Maryknolls, I was given a Mission Rosary which I prayed as we traveled to the various sites of the Martyrs. The Mission Rosary was inaugurated in 1951, by Archbishop Fulton J Sheen. The purpose of the Mission Rosary is to pray for world peace and conversion. The five different colors of the Rosary represent the 5 contents for which we pray.

• The first mystery: Visitation of the Magi. The YELLOW beads symbolize a new day dawning in Asia, calling for a dialogue among religions.
Scripture Meditation: Matthew 2:1, “Behold, wise men came from the east to Jerusalem.”
• The second mystery: Jesus sends out his disciples. The BLUE beads symbolize the blue oceans that surround the island nations, where Christians witness to God’s love by word and action.
Scripture Meditation: Luke 9:6, “They set out and went from village to village proclaiming the good news.”
• The third mystery: Jesus cures the centurion’s servant. Wearing his WHITE zucchetto, the pope calls for a new evangelization in Europe and solidarity with oppressed people.
Scripture Meditation: Luke 7:9, “I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”
• The fourth mystery: Jesus talks with the Samaritan women. The RED beads symbolize the blood of the martyrs that consecrated the Americas and remind us of the true meaning of worship.
Scripture Mediation: John 4:23, “True worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”
• The fifth mystery: The conversion of Paul. GREEN is the color of hope, the life-sustaining virtue missioners keep alive for devastated people in Africa.
Scripture Meditation: Act 9:20, “Immediately he began to preach that Jesus is the Son of God.”

I began my homily by asking, “When was the last time you had a deeply intimate and personal experience of Christ in your life?” Then Jesus asked you, “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.” Now you must ask yourself, “Am I willing to surrender myself, and drink even more deeply from Jesus’ cup to experience God’s grace and love more fully working in my life and become a missioner for Christ?”

May the heart and love of being a missioner for Christ, enrich your faith and help you to experience an even more intimate relationship of Jesus’ presence guiding in your life.