Amaziah said to Amos, "O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom." Then Amos answered Amaziah, "I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'
(or shorter The Ephesians 1:3-10)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
When people ask a priest to pray for them, sometimes it is for their peace of mind and heart in coping with an illness or with tensions in the family, but sometimes it's hoping that some awkward conflict may disappear from their lives! Certainly, peace of mind is a wonderful thing, but it often requires some kind of reconciliation which is rooted in conversion. This is the foundation of the Christian healing of life and relationships. We are all sealed with the Spirit, we are all called by God to live according to His plan, but in practice this means understanding that my healing is as much a question of changed attitudes as it is of anything else. Healing takes place in a variety of ways, in a variety of forms, physical, emotional, spiritual, but Christian healing always involves the whole person in the reality of time and place and so involves attitudes and life style as much as aches and pains and trauma.
This is something we can all contribute to, each in our own way. Each of us can learn to use a little oil, a little gesture, a bit of thought, a smile, a hand. We are limited only by our lack of concern, by our fear, by our forgetting that the Spirit is alive in our midst and that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. There is vast untapped potential for good in all of us. It is worth remembering that peace is not just the absence of trouble. It is above all a force, like joy and love, that endows us with the ability to handle life's difficulties and threats. It's origins are in God Himself who is named in the Old Testament as Yahweh-Shalom, God of Peace. But here, peace means wholeness, completeness, health, a presence, a reality that God wants all of us to share with one another.
So: prayer with and for each other, bless each other, support each other, forgive each other, touch each other with love and compassion. These are the things that carry healing at their core and they are within everyone's reach. Of course, healing is a process; like growth itself it takes time, but who is to say what the effect of even a simple gesture or touch may be. I know many stories and so do you. May we all trust God to complete in loving grace what we begin in grace-seeking love.
Periodically, our newspapers publish a list of wills. The name and occupation of the deceased is followed by a figure denoting the value of his or her estate. In Ireland, an editor may highlight any priest who figures in the upper bracket, to headline the piece. Scarcely the epitaph Christ would have wished for one of his disciples! For more than a century, priests had a dominant - even domineering - position in Irish society. As a result, they have come in for a fair share of criticism in literature and the media. In this, James Joyce had predecessors as well as followers. But traditionally, the people were more indulgent towards the short-comings of their pastors. Those who fell victim to the demon drink were more pitied than censored. Those who succumbed to the charms of the fairer sex were more gossiped about than condemned. The harshest criticism was reserved for the money-grasping priest. In this, the ordinary gut-reaction of the people, their sensus fidelium, mirrors accurately the Gospel priorities.
Poverty is endemic in our selfish world. We are bombarded almost daily by the media with harrowing accounts of grinding poverty in the Third World. The developed world too has its poverty stories, with statistics showing the growing numbers living below the poverty line in the "rich man's club." No great city in the Western world would be complete without its poverty belt where people in the low- or no-income sector are confined within their poverty trap. The resulting plague of crime and drugs has obliged governments, in fluctuating bouts of enthusiasm, to declare war on poverty. Poverty, like disease, must be eradicated.
Small wonder if the concept of a virtue of poverty seems totally outmoded. In the popular mind, the virtue stands indicted like its demographic namesake. This can have disastrous consequences. The reality of poverty will continue to ravage the have-nots, as long as the First World fails to practise the virtue of frugality. In certain cases the situation is even worse. Recently, the story broke of a European shipping company dumping its cargo of dangerous toxic waste in an underdeveloped African state. Having plundered that continent for centuries to raise our standard of living, we now have the gall to fill its empty belly with our waste.
If the Christian West wishes to continue to preach the gospel in Africa and elsewhere, it needs to give a more authentic witness to it. If we wish to live by the Gospel, remember that Christ began with the words: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." When he called his disciples, they were to leave everything to follow him. The only one who refused his call, the rich young man, did so because "he had many possessions." As he was sending them out to preach, Jesus told them: "Take nothing with you." So any priest who leaves behind as the fruit of his labours a tidy nest egg, has miserably ignored his Master's direction on this point.
July and August are traditionally the months when people take holidays. For most of us, a holiday involves a going, a journey of some kind. An important part of a holiday is leaving the familiar, the place where we usually live and work, and heading off to a different kind of place. There is always something exciting about setting out on such a journey. There are other journeys in life that are not of our choosing in quite that way. These are journeys we make because, at some level, we feel we must make them. Something within us moves us to certain path, to head out in a certain direction. Even though we sense the journey may be difficult, and we may have all kinds of hesitations and reservations about it, nonetheless, we know we have to set out on this path, if we are to be true to ourselves. Yes, we choose to make such a journey, but it is a choice in response to what seems like a call from beyond ourselves or from deep within ourselves.
Such a journey is put before us in today's first reading. Amos, according to himself, was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore trees in the southern kingdom of Judah. Yet, at a certain moment in his life, he felt under compulsion to make a difficult journey into the Northern kingdom of Israel in order to preach the word of God there. It was a most unlikely journey for the likes of Amos to make, and Amos was well aware that it would be no holiday. Yet, he also knew that this was a journey he simply had to make. He spoke of this compulsion in terms of God's call: 'The Lord… took me from herding the flock and… said "Go".' Amos went because he had a strong sense that he was being sent. In a similar way, in the gospel, the disciples set out on a journey because they are sent on that journey by Jesus. They set out freely, but in response to a call, a sending.
The experience of Amos and the disciples can be our experience too, setting out on a journey not completely of our choosing. The second reading suggests the mystery of God's purpose for our lives. It says that God wants us to live in a certain way, to live our life's journey as Jesus did. Although we often make all kinds of journeys of our own choosing, whether holidays or business or other trips, there is sense in which we try to allow our God to guide us to take certain paths and to avoid others, moving us in one direction rather than another. Although God has chosen this journey for us – 'before the world was made', according to St Paul – God wants us to also choose this journey for ourselves, and waits for us to do so. This is not a choice we make once and for all; it is one we are constantly remaking. All our lives we can keep on choosing to surrender to God's purpose for us; we keep setting out on the journey God is calling us to take; we keep inviting God to have his way in our lives, saying with Mary, 'Let it be to me according to your word.'
If we keep choosing the journey that God has chosen for us in Christ, responding to God's call, this will impact on the many smaller journeys we take in life. It will influence our holidays for example. We will choose to holiday in ways that are genuinely recreational, that help re-create the image of God's Son in us. We will relax in ways that are life-giving for ourselves and for others, in ways that help us to become more fully the person God wants us to be.