In the past 10 or 12 years we have seen a number of examples of the dedication and selflessness of our first responders, must recently the 19 firefighters who lost their lives fighting the Yarnell Hill blaze out in Arizona. Listening to their stories, it is easy to see them as men on a mission. On one level we could say that the mission they were on was to fight these wildfires. They took pride in their skills and their physical and mental preparedness which let them go into the most difficult situations to contain these destructive fires. They also understood the serious danger that these fires presented to their communities as well as to themselves. But as I listened to their wives and mothers and fathers talk about their lost loved one, it was clear to me that the real mission was much deeper. These 19 men were on a mission to protect their families and friends from these fires. The truth is that human beings rarely put their lives on the line for an idea or something that is inanimate. It is most often love that is at the heart of selflessness and sacrifice. It is their love for their families and friends that drives them to expend themselves, and it is the love of their families and friends that gives them the courage and willingness to serve.
Our readings today speak about both of those aspects of being on a mission. In the Gospel passage we hear Jesus sending out the 72 to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near to those who were willing to listen, and to those who turned them away. Why 72? If you read the book of Genesis you will see the descendants of Noah number 72 so that was taken as the number of nations in the Hebrew Scriptures. By numbering them as 72, Luke highlights that the mission is to all the nations, not just the people of Israel.
Jesus sends them out without any "stuff". There were no support vehicles following them with tents or food or medical facilities. There were no police to rescue them from robbers or unfriendly townspeople. There were no advance reservations in motels along the way. They were completely reliant on two things: the hospitality of the people they met, and on the power that Jesus conferred on them. Their success was not measured by how many people they "converted" or cured of demons or illness because these things were not the point of the mission. Their mission was to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand.
Commentators tell us that the emphasis Luke puts on Jesus sending them out with no provisions or weapons is to make the point that this is Christ's mission. It is not the skill or the power of those sent that will accomplish the mission but the power that Jesus has bestowed on them. And when they come back marveling that even the demons were subject to them, Jesus cautions them to rejoice, not because of their power which is really Christ's power but because their names are written in heaven. Here is where these readings and the story of those heroic firefighters intersect with our lives.
Our names have been written in heaven. Our baptism was not the result of our initiative but a response to our being called by name by God before we were knit in our mother's womb. Adults being initiated into the Church here in the Archdiocese of Boston gather at the Cathedral on the first Sunday of Lent to literally write their names in the Book of the Elect. And by our baptisms, like the 72 sent out by Jesus, or the Hotshot crews sent out to battle wildfires, we are sent on a mission. The "Go the mass is ended" we hear every week is a reminder of that. A more literal translation of that Latin "Ite Missa Est" might be "Go the missioning is complete."
We are sent on this mission because of a threat that is more dangerous and more pervasive than any wildfire. And by "we" I mean each one of us, and all of us as a community. This mission to proclaim God's kingdom of love and forgiveness is not just for the clergy or religious, or limited to those who go on mission trips as so many of our St. Isidore and St. Elizabeth of Hungary young people have done and are doing. It is why we are here at Mass each week, why we were baptized. So why are so few who are baptized actively involved on this mission? Can you imagine if only 15-20% of a Hotshot crew showed up to fight a wildfire? I would suggest it is a combination of two things: many do not see the danger that our culture poses, especially to our children, and many do not experience the love that Christ has for us. As we celebrate July 4th it is important that we remember that freedom means being free to do what is right. And this freedom is being threatened on several fronts yet many of us do not seem all that concerned. As for experiencing Christ's love, from the conversations that I have with people, I get the impression that many who are practicing Catholics are acting out of a sense of obligation rather than out of a response to a deeply felt love.
So what does this mean for us? Well part of our carrying out our baptismal mission is to be the incarnation of God's love here in Stow, to be the body of Christ, literally. Making St. Isidore a vibrant, welcoming, forgiving community is the primary way that we can do this. This requires that we all get involved in the life of this parish. As with any mission whether it be our families or a hotshot crew, it starts with the dozens of small things that it takes to run any organization or community. For the parish it means getting involved as an usher or extraordinary minister of communion or helping with the upkeep of the church and grounds, or as lector or altar server, or Generations of Faith volunteer, or PPC member, or ... You get the picture. Beyond the obvious effect of helping the parish to run more smoothly, this kind of involvement starts to give you a sense of belonging and ownership which then leads to an experience of the love of Christ.
We bear the marks of Jesus on our body, which is the Body of Christ. We have been given power over demons. Our names have been written in heaven. Now let's rejoice in this and let God's kingdom of love and forgiveness be known to all, starting right here in where we live.