Becoming a Missionary Disciple Week 4: Take up your Burden

(February 4, 2018)

Bottom line: To become a missionary disciple means to take your burden, to spend yourself for Jesus.

In our first reading Job asks, "Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?" Throughout history most people in most places led lives of drudgery. Consider the thousands who worked on the pyramids of Egypt or the stone structures of Peru. Until quite recently the majority struggled to scratch a subsistence living from the soil.

We live in a time when a majority enjoy increasing abundance. Yet we also experience weariness. Our young people are more anxious and sad than even a generation ago. We can ask the same question as Job, "Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?"

For sure, but what's the solution? More entertainment, more gadgets, more material possessions? No, the answer is to discover one's purpose.

I picture a young man walking a lonely road. Ear buds connected, unsure where he's headed, all of a sudden he sees something strange: right in his path, a backpack. He lifts it up. It's heavy but he tries it on. It fits snugly like it was designed just for him. Not sure what's inside, he suspects it's something important. With the backpack in place he feels a peace, even joy. He hasn't felt this happy in a long time.

The backpack, however, is heavy and he starts to ask himself why he's carrying it. He's tempted to toss it aside, maybe it was meant for someone else yet it fits so exactly. He plods ahead and eventually meets someone else also carrying a backpack similar to his.

That's the situation of the disciples in today's Gospel. Leaving their nets to follow Jesus, they become fishers of men. It's exhilarating because they sense they have discovered their life purpose. So many need them - the ill, the broken, those possessed by demons. At first Jesus shows them how to do it, then sends them out.

To follow Jesus means to pick up one's cross, that burden - that backpack designed specifically for you. For some it involves accepting the unmarried state like St. Paul talked about last Sunday. Become a priest, a religious, a dedicated single in the world. When Archbishop Sartain gave his report on the state of the archdiocese he mentioned that since 2011 we have ordained 17 new priests. These young men have caused the average age of assigned priests to drop by one year!*

St. Paul presents two basic options: the devoted single life or marriage - founding a family. We live in a world where young people have a wide range of possibilities and have to make many adaptations. Still they face a fundamental question: What am I going to do with the gift of masculinity or femininity? Is God calling me to the devoted single life or the sacrament of matrimony?

In living that call God places before each one a burden - a kind of backpack.** It contains what you need to follow Jesus and serve others. Jesus challenges the young person to pick up that burden - and he also tells older people not to lay it down. God still has a mission for you. Maybe it's like Sister Barbara offering her smile, her prayer, joining her suffering to Jesus' cross.

I think of my friend Fr Jim Lee. For a couple of decades he's been pastor of one of our largest parishes - St. Michael's in Olympia. He has called parishioners to amazing Stewardship - which really is another name for discipleship. Last month he was diagnosed with ALS - Lou Gehrig disease. He has asked Archbishop Sartain to allow him to continue as pastor as long as he is able - and then that parishioners care for him in the rectory until his death. When Fr. Jim was a young man in Chicago, he embraced the joyful burden of priesthood. It took him first to Africa, then to our archdiocese, now to a disease that is taking away the control of his muscles.

One personal anecdote about Fr. Jim then I will give the concluding summary and verse. Once I made a retreat where the priests shared a sleeping space. When Fr. Jim's head hit the pillow he went immediately to sleep. Amazed, the next day I asked him how he did it. He said it was normal for him. Well, I realize now that he totally spent himself that day - and apparently does it every day. That's not me but I do plod along.

Now to summarize: To become a missionary disciple means to take your burden, to spend yourself for Jesus. It involves hard work, even drudgery. Not every meeting will be exciting, not every person served will be grateful. Some will turn away, even turn against. Still, as our Psalm says, "The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem." He is rebuilding his Church - by calling young people to take up their cross, shoulder their backpack. As a person hears the call to become a missionary disciple the verse to take home is, "I have become all things to all, to save at least some." Amen.


*And the Archbishop noted that when Fr. Bloom dies the average age will drop by another year. :)

**Back in the fifth century Ambrose of Milan spoke about the "unremitting labor and unbearable sorrow" that marks human existence.

Spanish Version

From Archives (Fifth Ordinary Sunday, Year B):

2015: Jesus' Authority Week 2
2012: I Do So Willingly
2009: Entrusted With a Stewardship
2006: Eros and Agape
2003: What a Lot of Work!

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron

Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)

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MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru