Fr. Mikael Schink S.J.
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, 2023-06-25
St. Eugenia Catholic Church
+ Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The context of today’s Gospel passage is “mission”: The beginning of chapter ten of Matthews Gospel forms the preamble to the text we just heard, where Jesus sends out his the twelve Apostles to ‘proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand’ (Mt. 10:5,7). This text pertains in a special way to the bishops, who are the successors of the Apostles, but in a general way, it pertains also to us, insofar as we have been incorporated into Christ by grace and share in his mission.
But the mission of Christ does not primarily refer to his preaching of the Gospel but rather to the incarnation itself. When the second person of the Holy Trinity becomes man, he is sent into the world, that is, the second divine person becomes present in the world in a completely new way. This is what we mean when we say that the Son is sent into the world.
But Christ also becomes present in our hearts. This is referred to as the invisible mission of the Son. When we receive sanctifying grace, we are not only elevated to a supernatural level of existence, but the Son of God and the Holy Spirit are sent into our hearts and take their dwelling place there.
It is this mission that we are called to participate in: to make Christ present in the world, first in ourselves and then also in others. In a certain way, Christ therefore calls us to “missionize” ourselves. Here, there is ample room for an examination of conscience. We may look back on the last month, the last week, or simply on the day that has almost passed. We may ask ourselves, as Saint Ignatius of Loyola recommends: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What should I do for Christ?” Through grace, God indwells our hearts, but we know that we often neglect his presence, something which is unavoidable when one lives a busy life with many responsibilities, but then, it is even more important that we reserve some time during the day for God, so that we may foster the relationship with him.
As Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel, there are many impediments to the divine missions. But we should not be afraid of them. The chief impediments to the spiritual life have in the Catholic tradition been summarized under the headings “the devil, the world and the flesh”. As in the creation narrative, the devil temps us not to subject ourselves to God and his rule. He induces thoughts as: “There is no God”, “God does not care about me and my well-being”, “God is standing in the way of my freedom and self-fulfillment”. Perhaps more commonly, these thoughts are aimed not at God himself, but at the instrument of salvation, the Catholic Church. Thus, the devil tempts us to think: “I can make up my own mind about God, I don’t need the Church”, “The Church is old fashioned and needs to change, especially those teachings that happen to be controversial today need to change, the teaching on abortion, sex, marriage and women-priests”.
These kinds of temptations are very common, and we must therefore resist them as soon as they appear. But we should not only resist them but also fight them before they appear in our mind. It is therefore good to educate oneself in the faith. There are many good books both in Swedish and English available in the Catholic bookshop, and today, there are so many good articles, podcasts and videos on the internet, where virtually all objections to the Catholic faith are answered. In this way, we should fight off the devil, before he can make his attack on us. This has in the spiritual tradition been called “spiritual warfare”.
But it is not only the devil who impedes our spiritual growth, also the world temps us to conform to its own standards. These temptations can be summarized under the label of “immanentism”: the world is closed in on itself, on the material, the practical, the useful, that which can be perceived by the senses. These things are not only necessary but good, but they need to be ordered to a further end, to the service of God. The world tells us to enjoy ourselves, to make money, to be successful, to have a good life here on earth, ultimately at the expense of the eternal life. Hence, Christ tells us in today’s Gospel: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell”.
Although the devil may tell us that there is no hell, both the Lord himself, the Catholic tradition and the testimony of many saints assure us of its existence. We must therefore resist the world and fight against its lures and temptations. The perhaps best way of fighting the world is to go to Holy Mass. For the Sacrifice of the Mass reminds us that everything in our lives should be ordered to God and not closed in on itself. When we participate in the Sacrifice of the Mass, we are united with Christ’s sacrifice, who on the cross gave up everything he had, his whole life, for God. And so, we are reminded that we our goal is not of this world but rather lies in the kingdom of heaven.
Finally, there are the temptations of the flesh. These do not only refer to sexual temptations, but to the desire for pleasure and gratification in general. As Saint Paul writes in his epistle to the Galatians: “Walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other […] Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like.” (Gal 5:16–21)
The devil will tell us that God wants us to indulge and enjoy ourselves. Sometimes even famous theologians will come up with rationalizations, saying that the Church used to be hostile to the body, as is clear from the lives of the saints, but in reality, it is the will of God that we should indulge more. We must therefore also here resist the temptations of the devil by fighting the flesh.
All of this is part of the spiritual life and should be done so as to prepare ourselves for the increase of the indwelling of God in our hearts. Let us therefore turn to Christ and ask him for the grace to resist the temptations of the devil, the world and the flesh, and as Saint Paul writes, “walk in the Spirit” so that we may also attain our final destination, which lies beyond this world, indeed, not only beyond this world but beyond all created reality itself, namely in the vision and fruition of God as he is in himself. Let us therefore pray for the grace to be victorious in the struggle against the devil and so one day be united with Christ and the saints in the kingdom of heaven. +Amen