Sunday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time – A – Ex 19:2-6a, Ps 100:1-2, 3, 5, Rm 5:6-11, Mt 9:36—10:8
As many or perhaps all of you know, I am a priest in a missionary religious order. One of the most interesting things about being in a missionary order, at least in my mind, is that we’re in more or less constant contact with our missionaries around the world, missionaries who, as today’s Gospel recounts, are sowing the seed of the word in places where the Good News about Christ and His Church has never been heard before.
Well, the point of those stories isn’t to make you think that you have to go across an ocean and speak a foreign language in order to be a missionary. Some of you might be called to do that, but it’s not necessary. No, in fact, “the . . . Church is missionary by her very nature,” and so each and every one of us who is a Catholic is called to be a missionary, to spread the seed of the Word, right where we are. It might be at the hospital, in the bank, at school, or at home. Wherever we are in life, we are called to be missionaries. When we see the culture of death around us, when we hear of injustice, or violence, or persecution, we might start to wonder, “Why doesn’t God give some sort of solution? Why doesn’t He answer?” Well, He has a solution, and He’s given an answer: His solution, His answer, was first Jesus Christ, and now, it’s you and me, as Christ’s missionaries. This is precisely what we heard in the Gospel: “At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.’”
Today’s Gospel, then, gives us some beautiful insights into the missionary adventure. I just want to mention two: first, no missionary work can bear fruit without God, and, secondly, God wants to make use of us, each and every one of us, to spread the Gospel. No missionary work can bear fruit without God, and yet God wants to make use of us to spread the Gospel.
At first, it might seem sort of silly to say that missionary work needs God; I mean, after all, isn’t He the whole reason for doing missionary work in the first place? Well, yes, but even Jesus Himself during the Last Supper, at His very last gathering with His apostles before His suffering and death, reminded them: “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). “Without me you can do nothing.” The work of evangelization needs God: He is the heart, center, and source of it. If someone’s soul is choked with the weeds of sins and anxiety, how can we change it? Well, simply put, we can’t. Conversion, faith, and spiritual growth are all graces: they’re gifts from God, and we can only ask for them. We can’t make them happen: a conversion, a return to the life of grace, is a miracle. In fact, Saint Augustine says that it’s a greater miracle than the creation of the universe! We certainly can’t create the universe; how much less can we, through our own power, put a soul into the state of grace! Yet, this truth is also a source of strength; even though someone might seem beyond hope, they are never too far-gone for God’s grace, a grace that goes forth and restores everything.
Sure, if we forget that Christ is the one who works miracles, we might be able to fake things for a while in our efforts; we might have projects that look good, but, if they aren’t rooted in Christ, firmly planted in prayer, fasting, and sacrifice, they won’t amount to anything.
The Church knows very well that the strength for her missionaries comes from prayer and sacrifice: this is how we ask God for graces. With this in mind, it’s not as surprising to learn that the co-patroness of missionaries is Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a Carmelite who never left France, or, for that matter, the walls of her Carmelite monastery. Yet, the Church places her on par with the great Saint Francis Xavier, who baptized at least 30,000 people, all because she fed the missions with her prayers. Our works, then, will be effective weapons against the culture of death only inasmuch as they are united to Christ’s power through prayer.
After emphasizing that God is the foundation of missionary work, we might wonder why He even bothers with us at all. Well, that’s a great mystery of His mercy: He calls us to help Him redeem the world, to participate in His redemption. The word redeem comes from two Latin words, re, meaning again, and emere, meaning to buy, and so redeem literally means to buy back. Nothing comes free in this world, and nothing comes free in the spiritual world either. Someone has to pay the price for souls. Of course, Christ did that on the cross, but, with our prayers, our fasting, and our sacrifices, we “fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ,” (Col 1:24) as Saint Paul says. We become real participants in Christ’s work of redemption.
Our work, though, isn’t limited simply to prayer and fasting. No, as Catholics we are called to actively witness to the truth of our faith in our daily lives, to help dispose souls to receive grace. This will be done differently by each one of us, since each of us lives, works, and studies in different places, with different people, in different ways. Perhaps another Carmelite nun, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, gave the best description of a missionary witness: she said that she wanted “to be like another Incarnation of the Word.” To be like another Incarnation, to be like Christ in Flesh for this present age!
How can we do this? To be like Christ means:
- to be patient, since God is love (1 Jn 4:8), and love is patient (1 Cor 13:4).
- It means to be joyful, since “the joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”
- It means to be loving, since Christians are known by their love (cf. Jn 13:35).
- It means to stand firm in the truth, since what is right is right, whether it be in season or out of season (cf. 2 Tim 4:2)
- It means to be compassionate, since it was compassion that moved Christ to send His laborers out (cf. Mt 9:35).
These might seem like little things, yes, but there are so many opportunities to practice these little virtues. These little opportunities at work, school, or home, if taken, turn us into “other Christs.” As yet another Carmelite prayed, “May those who see me,” Lord, “see You.” May those who see us, see Christ.
Let us ask God, through the intercession of Mary, Star of Evangelization, for the grace to remember that He is the source of all of our missionary strength, and that we might use the strength that comes from prayer to be missionaries to the world around us, no matter where that might be.
 Ad Gentes, 1
 Cf. ST, I-II, q. 113, a. 10, corpus.
 Tractates on the Gospel of John, 72, 3. Cited in CCC, 1994. See also ST, I-II, q. 113, a. 9, ad 2: “Bonum universi est maius quam bonum particulare unius, si accipiatur utrumque in eodem genere. Sed bonum gratiae unius maius est quam bonum naturae totius universi.”
 Evangelii Gaudium, 1.