25 May, Tuesday — Chosen and Sent

May 25 – Memorial for St. Bede the Venerable, Priest and Worker; Memorial for St. Gregory VII, Pope; Memorial for St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, Virgin

St. Bede (672-735) was born around the time England was finally, completely Christianized. He was raised from age seven in the abbey of Sts. Peter and Paul at Wearmouth-Jarrow, and lived there the rest of his life. He was a Benedictine monk, and the spiritual student of the founder, St. Benedict Biscop. He was ordained in 702 by St. John of Beverley. He was a teacher and author; he wrote about history, rhetoric, mathematics, music, astronomy, poetry, grammar, philosophy, hagiography, homiletics, and Bible commentary.

He was known as the most learned man of his day, and his writings started the idea of dating this era from the incarnation of Christ. The central theme of Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica is of the Church using the power of its spiritual, doctrinal, and cultural unity to stamp out violence and barbarism. Our knowledge of England before the 8th century is mainly the result of Bede’s writing. He was declared a Doctor of the Church on 13 November 1899 by Pope Leo XIII.

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St. Gregory (1020-1085) was educated in Rome, Italy. He was a Benedictine monk, and chaplain to Pope Gregory VI. He was in charge of the Patrimony of St. Peter. He was a reformer and an excellent administrator. He was chosen the 152nd pope, but he declined the crown. He was chief counsellor to Pope Victor II, Pope Stephen IX, Pope Benedict X, and Pope Nicholas II. He eventually became the 157th pope.

At the time of his ascension, simony and a corrupt clergy threatened to destroy faith in the Church. Gregory took the throne as a reformer, and Emperor Henry IV promised to support him. Gregory suspended all clerics who had purchased their position, and ordered the return of all purchased church property.

The corrupt clergy rebelled; Henry IV broke his promise, and promoted the rebels. Gregory responded by excommunicating anyone involved in lay investiture. He summoned Henry to Rome, but the emperor’s supporters drove Gregory into exile. Henry installed the anti-pope Guibert of Ravenna, who was driven from Rome by Normans who supported Gregory; the Normans were, themselves, so out of control that the people of Rome drove them out. Gregory then retreated to Salerno, Italy, where he spent the remainder of his papacy.

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St. Catherine (1566-1607) had a religious upbringing. She was initially sent to a convent at the age of 14, but was taken back home by her family, who opposed her religious vocation and wanted her to marry well. They eventually gave in, and Catherine became a Carmelite of the Ancient Observance at 16, taking the name Sister Mary Magdalene. She as a mystic, and led a hidden life of prayer and self-denial, praying particularly for the renewal of the Church and encouraging the sisters in holiness. Her life was marked by many extraordinary graces.

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Ecc 35:1-12
Mk 10:28-31

…since the Lord is a judge who is no respecter of personages.    

All of us who participate in active ministry in the Church have one thing in common – we are all volunteers. To the best of our abilities, we try to give of our best effort, time, energy and talents in the service of God and His people. And whilst there are countless numbers of such volunteers, how many of us can truly say that we are chosen and sent by God? How does one, in fact, ‘know’ that he/she has been chosen and sent by God, on a specific mission to fulfil a specific purpose? Very few, I suspect.

Several years ago, in response to an appeal by a parish priest, I decided to step up to his call and to volunteer to help this new parish set itself up in readiness for its dedication. One of the things I got involved in was a recruitment drive to fill the many ‘vacancies’ in all the ministries of the parish. After several weekends of active recruitment, almost 400 people signed up to be in the choirs. This was amazing, but short-lived. Within a matter of 6 months, more than two-thirds dropped out. I suspect that most of these were volunteers and not ‘missionaries’ – i.e. those called and chosen by God. The difference between a volunteer compared to someone chosen and sent by God is this – the former tends to think that it is they who decided to come forward to serve, and that it is up to them when they decide to withdraw that service. Whereas, those chosen and sent by God know that their work for God is done when God says so. For them, there is no such thing as giving up or quitting when they encounter obstacles, disappointments, frustrations, betrayals, ingratitude, tedium, unkindness, misunderstanding, injustice. A volunteer prefers not to have to encounter all these challenges and when they do, more often than not, they choose to simply walk away. Their own ‘mission’ comes before God’s.

Jesus, Mary, Joseph, post-Resurrection Apostles, Paul, Barnabas, and countless early Christian martyrs in various periods of persecution, knew they were not merely volunteers but were specially called and chosen by God to do His Will. For these, doing the work of God did not come cheap. Rather, it cost them dearly. Very dearly. Betrayal by disciples, injustice by the rich and the powerful, agony in a garden, being nailed to a cross, the humiliating, unappreciated, unjust and excruciating death of a child. Torture, stoning, disembowelment, beheading, becoming fodder for wild carnivorous beasts… this was the lot of the martyrs who chose to do the will of God. Who knew they were chosen and sent to fulfil that will.  There was no turning back or turning away.

A disciple, chosen and sent by God, is in a relationship with his Creator that is defined by one word – authenticity. He/She does not have his/her own agenda. There is no hypocrisy, there is no self-righteousness, no self-aggrandization, no self-interest. He/She does not make deals with God. He/She does not bargain, cajole, threaten, extort, barter nor trade-off with God. There is no compromise, no cowardice, no rationalization nor justification for failure and sin. He/She does not give with expectations of reward or privilege. A disciple chosen and sent has only one thing on their mind – doing the will of God. No matter what it takes, no matter the price.

The readings of today bring to mind the words of Prophet Amos. In chapter 5, verses 11 to 15:

Therefore, because you trample on the poor and exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins – you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate. Therefore, he who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time. Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so, the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnants of Joseph.

There are many volunteers. But very few disciples.

Which one are you?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo) 

Prayer: Father, help us. We are often caught up in ourselves and our fears, our sins, our impatience and our lack of trust in You, and it stops us from allowing Your will to be fulfilled in us and through us. We fail to be your instruments of mercy and compassion for so many who so desperately need it. Your Church fails whenever I fail to be your disciple.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for your divine mercy, which saves us from your Divine Justice.

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