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March 19: Fr. Antonio Pernia SVD

HOMILY: 2014 Province Chapter
By Fr. Antonio Pernia, SVD

Powerless Servants of Humanity,

Humble Witnesses of the Kingdom


                                                                                Readings:  2 Sam 7:4-5,12-14,16

Feast of St. Joseph                                                                      Rom 4:13,16-18,22

March 19, 2014                                                                            Mt 1:16,18-21,24

Maryridge, Tagaytay City


One thing striking about St. Joseph is that his identity is defined not in reference to himself but in reference to others. He is the “son of David”, “the husband of Mary”, “the father of Jesus”, “the man of God”. Even the one phrase in the gospels which seems to define him in reference to who he is in himself is actually in reference to someone else – “a righteous man”, that is, “an obedient servant of God”.


So, Joseph may very well be the model for the kind of Christians Pope Francis wants – Christians who are not inward-looking, preoccupied only with their own problems and affairs, but outward-looking, concerned with the problems of others and the affairs of the world. Christians who, in the words of the Pope himself, are not infected by the disease of “spiritual narcissism”, too much turned in on themselves that they do not have the slightest regard for the needs and the problems of others.


As we know, Pope Francis has spoken against a “self-referential” Church, a Church preoccupied with its own concerns, worried about its own self-preservation, instead of being truly concerned about the affairs of the world, seeking ways of being of genuine service to humanity, especially the poor and marginalized among them. He says he wants to move the Church from what in Latin America they call the “conservation mode” to a “missionary mode”. Thus, he dreams of a truly missionary Church, more outward-looking rather than inward-looking, more concerned about affairs “ad-extra” rather than about issues “ad-intra”. In his own words, a Church “bruised, dirty and hurting because it has been out on the streets, rather than one which is clean but unhealthy  because confined and clinging to its own security”. Thus, he envisions the Church not as a bureaucratic institution but as a “field hospital”, where the wounds of humanity may be bandaged, cured and healed.


With this dream of Pope Francis, we are at the heart of the Church. As we know, Vatican II reminds us that “the Church – the entire Church – is missionary by its very nature” (AG 2). Just as fire exists by burning, so also the Church exists by mission, or for mission. Mission is not just a dimension added on to the identity of the Church, as if the Church can have an identity apart from its mission. Mission is the very identity of the Church. The Church exists for Mission. Its reason for existence, its “raison d’etre”, is evangelization, is proclamation of the Gospel. Thus, as theologians now sometimes say, it is not so much the Church that has as a mission, as Mission that has a Church. Mission is everything the Church is.


That is why it is very appropriate that Mission has been the main category under which your reflections during your Province Chapter have been undertaken – at least, as I understand it from the theme of your Chapter, “Spirit-fired, We risk with hope for Mission”. Often, in Religious Life, we worry about questions regarding our identity, our relevance, our vocations, our institutions, and not pay enough attention to the question of our mission. But like in the case of the Church, so also in Religious Life, mission is not just a category added on to our identity. No, mission is at the very heart of our consecrated life. We are consecrated for mission. Thus, we need to be first clear about mission in general and about our mission in particular, and then the other things in Religious Life will also become clearer – identity, relevance, vocations, institutions.


Today, when we speak of Mission, we need to immediately consider the “new evangelization”. I believe the fundamental question in the new evangelization is like the question about “how to make a donkey that is not thirsty drink water”? That is, how do we make the people of today who do not feel the need for God believe? No amount of pushing or pulling will make the donkey come to the pool or bucket of water to drink. The only way is to bring in another donkey which is truly thirsty and which drinks water with delight and put it in front of the first donkey. And so, the first donkey, seeing the second one drink water with delight, may begin to ask itself whether he too would benefit if he came to the bucket of water and drank.


What we need today, in the new evangelization, are not nice homilies and great sermons, not theories and theologies, not words and books. Rather, what we need are men and women who are not afraid to show their thirst for God and are not ashamed to drink with delight from the living water of the Gospel. People in our society today, seeing these men and women drink water with delight, may begin to ask themselves whether they too would not benefit if they drank from the life-giving water of the Gospel.


What we need today are good shepherds – shepherds who are good because they carry the smell of the sheep. What we need today are spirit-fired religious ready to risk everything for the sake of mission. Let us pray in this Eucharistic celebration that St. Joseph may guide us on the path of the new evangelization. Let us pray that we may have a share of St. Joseph’s profound humility, so that we may share the Good News never from a position of power and superiority, but always from a position of humility and powerlessness. For, as religious missionaries, we are called to be powerless servants of humanity and humble witnesses of God’s Kingdom.