This day here in the United States of America is known as “The Fourth”. It is our Independence Day and it is amazing how many other countries have days of freedom from their being dominated by other nations. I am not totally convinced that all our citizens know the reason for our celebrating with parades, picnics and fireworks. It was a long time ago and freedom is such a comfortable word on the tongue, that we assume everybody has it or we are working to get it for them.
Freedom is what Jesus came to offer us, worked hard to bring about for us. We have so many delightful and attractive dependencies that seem to offer freedom for us. Addictions seem to offer us relief and freedom from other things bothering us, at least we are liberated from those. As we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s freeing us, we might check to see if there are any dominating fears, memories, expectations, regrets or grudges which are addictively imprisoning our spirits. He came that we might have life and for Jesus, life is freedom for as well as freedom from. We might pray as well for the more wealthy and powerful countries to bring about the blessings of peace with Justice for All.
There is almost a Third-Sunday of Advent spirit about today’s First Reading, It begins with a shout to rejoice over the city of Jerusalem. The holy temple has been rebuilt and she is a city now for comfort. Earlier in the same chapter there begins the theme of motherly images of God’s creating or giving new birth to Jerusalem. Now her sons can find comfort and nourishment in her intimate presence.
There had been mourning at the destruction of the holy in Jerusalem and the idolatrous practices performed there. Now her children can return and reverence once more the glorious city of peace which its name bespeaks. Her children will be comforted and prepared for service and revelation of that same glorious God. Nursing children do not stay forever in their mother’s arms nor do they rest comfortably on their mother’s laps. The prophecy is meant to announce that God is back in town and all are meant to return, remember and respond to being so loved.
We will be listening to verses from this chapter in Luke’s Gospel for the next three weekends. I would call this the “Attitude” section of Luke’s Gospel. Just to exaggerate a little bit, if the disciples are the first priests then the “seventy-two” who are sent out at the beginning of this reading are the lay people who are likewise sent. They are given power without the tools of power. They are invited to live a strange way of trusting without possessing anything except trust in the Sender. They receive instructions, but the basic call is to extend the Kingdom of God to others by being a blessing from God.
Somehow I feel something akin to what Jesus was feeling as His lay-associates returned. Our Christian Church began with people receiving a Spirit, an identity and a mission. Structures were formed of course which is natural and distinctions were made. Slowly the laity were given the image of being led like sheep or something. The Vatican Council II began the slow shift of attitude among the shepherds and the sheep. We were invited to be the People of God on a pilgrimage of faith and together. As I wrote last week, I entered the Jesuits fifty years ago, three years before the Council. What changes have occurred since then! What changes haven’t as well as of yet.
In most churches there are commissioned men and women who actually distribute Holy Communion, imagine that fifty years ago. A married deacon witnessed recently a wedding during a Eucharistic liturgy I celebrated, imagine that fifty years ago. Conferences of Catholic bishops consult lay people who are theologians and not just male types either and just imagine that fifty years ago. The Church rejoices mostly, with how the Spirit is forming, rebuilding the “New” Seventy-Two, the new people to be blessed and distributed. I can imagine that some of those early Seventy-Two had some attitude adjustments taking place. They were asked just to get going, taking not much, not feeling much about themselves and had some hard confronting and risking to do. They might even have had to insult the religious leaders and experience rejection, imagine that. Fifty years is not a long time for changing senses of identities when those initial identities had been formed for over a thousand years. They were a brave and trusting lot. Like their Teacher, they were going out like lambs among wolves. Imagine that!
The Church’s daughters and sons are seeking her comfort and care as they re-find their places in her lap. As with the children returning to Jerusalem, who are nourished for service, so our lay sisters and brothers need the nourishment for the activities to which the Council and the Spirit are calling them. Consolations and comforts are wonderful. We have all been given gifts and the grace to rely on the Giver and Sender. Our names are all written in heaven alongside the martyrs and saints who have gone and done before us. Rejoice! Rejoice, because we could not have imagined what has happened in these past fifty years nor can we imagine what the Spirit will be up to in the next fifty. Bring it on!
“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord; blessed is he who hopes in God.” Ps. 34, 9
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