Opening the Word: Finding the joy of the 72 disciples


In his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis describes one of the temptations of Christians today. Rather than experience the joy of the Risen Christ, the gift of divine love that dwells among the human family, we may focus exclusively on the difficulties. We become those perpetually stuck in Lent, with sour faces and sad demeanors. We’re sorrowful sourpusses who emphasize the bitterness of life.

Since the writing of this document, the Church in the United States seemingly has been stuck in Lent. We learned about Theodore McCarrick. We learned about Bishop Michael Bransfield in West Virginia — his abuse of power, of sexuality, and his squandering of the Church’s treasury. It’s hard not to think to oneself: “You know what? The Church is entirely corrupt. Burn the whole thing to the ground! What’s the point?”

We, of course, are right to mourn over such moments. To be sorrowful that so many clerics, leaders and folks in the Church have failed. We can and should do better.

But we also must acknowledge the Good News that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. That this Church — sometimes really bad at living out the Gospel — also has transfigured creation. This is why it’s salutary for us in America to hear from Our Lord about the successes of evangelization and the proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the world.

Our Lord sends his disciples out on a perilous journey (cf. Lk 10). They’re sent with little. They expect little success, only trouble. But the 72 disciples come back proclaiming the Good News of joy, success and divine glory. Through the name of Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit given by the Father, the demons have given up their project. Divine love has won.

Even in the midst of scandal, we should remain hopeful in this fact. God does not abandon us. God never forgot Jerusalem, but always promised to call her back, to enter again and again into union with her. God hoped in Israel. God hopes in the Church. God hopes in us.

Of course, Jesus reminds us that the success of evangelization is not that the demons respond to us! This would, after all, be hubris. The success of evangelization is that our names are inscribed in heaven. We return to the original vocation that God intended for us: to become those made for praise. We become ciphers of love unto the end.

Thus the Church — even in the midst of our scandal caused by clerical malfeasance — needs to rejoice. We need to rejoice that so many religious women and men have brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the ends of the earth. They have preached the Good News of justice and divine friendship to the poorest of the poor. They have lived with the poor, transforming their lives. We need to rejoice that there are so many baptized, lay Catholics who have raised holy families. They have preached the Gospel in their neighborhoods, in their parishes, in their workplaces. They have created a culture where divine love has become incarnate in space and time.

We need to rejoice that there remain holy priests, holy bishops, holy deacons who have lived out their vocation of love in hidden ways. We need to rejoice, not because the Church is remarkable or worthy of such praise. Rather, we need to rejoice because such success is, in fact, evidence that God is the source of power — not us. Definitely not us.

What a merciful God to include us in this work of evangelization.

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time – July 7, 2019
IS 66:10-14C
PS 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
GAL 6:14-18
LK 10: 1-12, 17-20

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