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Posted May 23, 2006

Book: The Challenge of the Gospel: Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, Cycle C
Author: Joseph A. Slattery
Alba House. New York. 2006. Pp.150

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Once again, in this the third and final volume of his thoughtful reflections on the Sunday Gospels, Father Slattery shows how St. Luke - whose writings so dominate the readings for Cycle C - manifests the compassion and love of Jesus for the poor, the downtrodden and the outcasts of this world. As in his other two volumes, Fr. Slattery challenges us to deny ourselves, take up our cross each day and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. By pointing out the ways in which the Gospel message can and must be lived if it is to bear fruit in our lives and in the world in which we live, he once again afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted in challenging us to take that message to heart and to put it into practice every day. All who consult this volume will find their lives and liturgical worship meaningfully enhanced by a careful consideration and application of the thoughts and sentiments expressed herein. Priests and deacons will likewise find much that will be helpful in their homily preparation.

Ascension of the Lord (Seventh Sunday of Easter)

Is my Christian service more an expression of my own needs than a matter of principle?

All three accounts of the Lord's Ascension in Matthew, Mark and Luke tell of his charge to the disciples to preach the Good News to all nations. The Ascension narrative therefore is not simply about the ending of Jesus' time on earth - it's also about a decisive thrust forward in the lives of his disciples as they receive the charge to continue his work. A window on the world is being opened before them. In Luke's account that we just heart, the disciples are reminded that they are to be witnesses to the Lord's suffering, death and resurrection before all the nations. An essential part of the message of this feast therefore is the directive to Jesus' disciples to be witnesses in all the world. That witness has been proclaimed for the past two thousand years. How successful it has been is something the Lord alone can judge. The official Church directory numbers over one billion Catholics in the world today. But we are aware that what is in people's hearts is a much more reliable criterion of faith and faithfulness than just a head count - and tha is known only to the Lord. However, each one of us can make a judgment in our own case about our personal witness to Jesus, and our own efforts to bring in the Kingdom of God.

Many people are involved in Church ministry today, and people seem also to be growing in awareness that the primary task of the laity is to give witness to the Gospel in the market place of day-to-day life - in other words, to transform the society of which we are a part. Is ther any criterion available for evaluating what we do, whether in the area of Church ministry or as witnesses in society at large? No doubt three are a number available, especially having to do with evaluating effectiveness. Here is a different kind of criterion for our reflection today - one having to do, not with the effectiveness of our witness, but with our motivation. We need to purify our motives for ministry, as Jesus himself was called to do when he went out into the desert for forty days, and was tempted to use his position as Son of God for his own benefit.

Let's ask ourselves the question: Is my Christian witness in the world, or my ministry coming from a principle, or is it coming from my own needs? The background to this queston has to do with the fact that many people in ministry, both clergy and laity, have been found to be ministering primarily out of their own needs. The fact is, we're all wounded people. All adults, and many young people, have experienced in one way or another the painful blows and losses that life can offer. Many of these wounds remain unhealed as people go through life. Unhealed wounds create needs in us - for affirmation, for attention, for feeling important, for control, for friends, for support, for people to need us, for ways to fight back against what has wounded us. Many people bring such needs with them into their work of Christian discipleship.

We might be tempted to say, "So what?" Suppose I am ministering to youth, for example, because I myself had a lonely or difficult childhood, and I find myself still struggling with those issues. I want to help young people who might be having similar problems. I may be able to do this, but the danger is that I will look to young people for healing and support that I myself need. That is an unrealistic expectation, and may lead to unfair demands on young people. The fact is, we can be blind to the needs that we ourselves bring to our Christian service, and that can cause problems for ourselves and for others.

Here's another example. It has been observed that some people who work with justice issues bring a lot of anger to their ministry. I may become filled with righteous anger because of perceived injustices to the poor, but maybe there is also another reason for my anger. Perhaps the truth is that what I experience scratches my own unhealed wound, and that makes my anger much more personal. Perhaps I myself was treated unjustly in the past, and the pain of that unhealed wound is a source of energy now for me in my work for justice. This may cause problems. For example, I may be very judgmental of those who don't share my anger over a certain issue. But the biggest problem will be that my concern about injustice will tend to be limited to the area of my own woundedness. I will see clearly only those things that parallel what I have experienced in my own past. That is why some people work with justice issues, and put great energy and enthusiasm into their work, can be very unjust in their own personal lives. They simply don't see that side of injustice. It may be because their own needs are getting in the way.

When all is said and done, it's up to each one of us to do a little self-examination on this issue. Is my Christian service more an expression of my own needs, rather than a matter of principle, a matter of disinterested service of the Lord? Certainly, none of us is perfect. We all bring our needs with us wherever we go. It's only when our own needs are the primary motivation in our Christian service that there will be problems, because we will be looking to that service to satisfy those needs. If we purify our intentions, we will give much more of ourselves, and we will have much more to give. We will also learn more of the truth about ourselves, and that truth will make us free.

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Sundays from Advent to Christ the King