Sunday, July 15, 2012

Take Nothing for the Journey

He instructed them to take nothing for the journey … no food, no sack, no money in their belts [Mark 6:8].

Moving is inevitably a stressful, unpleasant experience under the best of circumstances. But, at least once in my priestly career, this Gospel has come up just as I was packing up to move from one assignment to another, and I remember feeling even more stress as I preached about this Gospel while preparing to move all my possessions with me to my new post. Every time I’ve moved I’ve gotten rid of lots of things, but I still end up with a lot – books especially – and certainly a lot more than Jesus apparently intended his apostles to take. Even in “ordinary” years when I am not moving anywhere, this Gospel always comes as a kind of proverbial “shot across the bow” about things.

Of course, even Jesus let his apostles have some things. He allowed them a walking stick and sandals. I suppose those were considered essentials when going on a journey. On the other hand, the command to take nothing else seems to stress the special nature of the journey – its urgency and importance, allowing no time for distractions and requiring complete commitment, as well as a whole lot of trust in who was sending them. Jesus seemed to be leading the 12 into a kind of guided insecurity, sending them out as missionaries, without most of the props they would have been familiar with and normally might have depended on.

Now, no one ever wants to start out on a trip with insufficient supplies. Whenever I go anywhere – even the rather short, easy flight from Knoxville to New York - I always worry about leaving something behind that I’m going to need. And often that exactly what happens! But, in the meantime, my worrying has caused me to carry a whole lot of extra stuff as well! And, of course, as anyone who has ever travelled anywhere knows all too well, the amount of baggage we bring actually tends to increase along the way. Not only do I usually start with too much; I frequently finish with even more.

But this was no ordinary move, let alone some sort of vacation trip, that the apostles were being sent on. What it was actually was a kind of practice run for the apostles’ future job as full-time missionaries. Unlike my vacation this week or any other shorter or longer trip any of us may have taken, the mission of the Church, which was what the apostles were being prepped for, is never finished (at least not in this life). Hence the command to travel light, lest the constantly accumulating baggage weigh down the kingdom of God and get in the kingdom’s way as it moves out into our world.

The point, of course, is not the things themselves. If we get focused exclusively on how many things we need to shed, then the things are still driving the discussion as surely as if we were carrying them all around with us. The primary point, therefore, is to unburden ourselves of anything – external things and internal attitudes – to whatever extent that they diminish our freedom to become the people God is calling us to be – not the person I want to be, or the person the surrounding secular culture may be enticing me to be, but the person God is calling me to be.

As Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia eloquently expressed it, in his July 4 homily at the conclusion of the Fortnight for Freedom: “We’re free only to the extent that we unburden ourselves of our own willfulness and practice the art of living according to God’s plan. When we do this, when we choose to live according to God’s intention for us, we are then – and only then – truly free.”

Homily for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Saint Paul the Apostle Church, NY, NY, July 15, 2012.

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