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Archbishop Follo: We are Missionaries Because we are Disciples

With the invitation to be ‘missionaries-disciples’ – Pope Francis

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XV Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – July 15, 2018
Roman Rite
Am 7,12-15; Ps 85; Eph 1,3-14; Mk 6,7-13
Ambrosian Rite
Gen 10.6-15; Ps 20; Rom 8,31b-39; Jn 16.33-17.3
VII Sunday after Pentecost.
1) The Disciples are the called ones.
In today’s Gospel, Saint Mark explains the essential traits of the physiognomy of the disciple who is a chosen, separate, and holy person. In fact, the word «saint» comes from the correspondent Latin word that means «separated». The holy person is from the world and from evil in order to enter the sphere of God. He or she is «set aside» for a special task, that of carrying the announcement of salvation to the whole world.
The disciple is the one who listens, believes and detaches himself or herself from the crowd to stand beside Christ and carry the announcement of his presence that has amazed him. The crowd listens to the words of Christ but then returns home. The disciple, on the other hand, remains with Christ and with him faithfully leads a life of communion and pilgrimage. He or she lives the choice and the separation not as a distance from the others, but as proximity and familiarity with Christ. The life of communion with him becomes a mission.
What then are the essential features of the disciples (those of the time and the ones of today) of Christ? They are: 1. complete abandonment in following, 2. loving trust, 3. being a missionary that carries joy.
In this Sunday’s Gospel passage, Saint Mark speaks of Jesus who sends his disciples on a mission. The disciple is the one who has left everything to follow Christ and become a missionary with such a confidence to use only poor means: a pair of sandals, a dress, and a walking stick.
Therefore, the disciple is one who listens, believes, detaches from what is dear to him and places himself in the wake of Jesus, who has become the dearest to him: Jesus is the precious pearl.
The disciple remains with Christ and leads a common and itinerant life with him, who sends him on a mission. There is also another aspect of the disciple: he is sent on a mission. Indeed, St. Mark tells us that Christ sent his disciples to fulfill the mission of proclaiming to all not only that salvation is near but that the Savior can be encountered through the presence of his disciples of new life.
This is also true today because Christianity lives as an actual fact and communicates itself as a real encounter.
However, it must be kept in mind that the Christian disciple is, first of all, a person called by God who has become an encounter. Properly speaking, a person does not become a Christian by autonomous choice; he or she becomes so by answering a call. In fact, there is a love that precedes our response. This is what Christ taught us when he said: «You did not choose me, but I chose you».  Saint Paul writes «In Christ (the Father) has chosen us before the creation of the world to be holy and immaculate in his presence in charity «(Eph 1: 46). Already the Old Testament, from Abraham onwards, places God at the origin of every call; the initiative to start the history of salvation of the people of Israel is entirely by the Lord. «Abraham, called by God, obeyed» (Heb 11: 8).
Even in the narratives of the prophetic vocations, the primacy of a God that calls is clearly revealed. Exemplary is the story of Amos, which we hear in the first reading of this Sunday’s Mass. This prophet is driven by his vocation to a hard confrontation with the injustices of the political power. Furthermore, he must clash with the cold considerations of the «court chaplain», the priest Amaziak, who exhorts him to prudence. Amos replies to the priest that at the root of his words there is not a personal choice linked to his own perspectives. It is God himself who forced him with a very specific call: «I was not a prophet, nor a son of a prophet; I was a shepherd and a collector of sycamores; the Lord took me from following the cattle, and the Lord said to me, «Go, prophesy among my people Israel» (Am 7: 14-15).
2) Disciples, namely missionaries.
The prophet is called not only to be a missionary. The disciple too is sent on a mission, as the today’s Gospel passage[1] (6: 7-13) makes us meditate. In fact, the evangelist Mark underlines that Jesus «sent them» and this involves at least the awareness of being sent by God and not by one’s own decision. They are sent for a project in which the disciples are involved but of which they are not the owners.
Today, as then, Christians, who as such are disciples of Christ, are sent as Missionaries of Merciful Truth. Today, as then, the disciples invite people to conversion and give relief to suffering.
The message, which in the name of Christ they announce, is an invitation to conversion: «Turn towards the light, because the light is already here. Pure and holy are our hands on the sick with which we announce: God is already here, is close to you with love, and heals life. Turn towards him «.
It is important to understand Jesus’ evangelical insistence on poverty as an indispensable condition for the mission: neither bread nor bag nor money. It is a poverty that is faith, freedom, and lightness. First of all, freedom and lightness: a disciple weighed down by a baggage becomes sedentary, conservative, unable to grasp the novelty of God and very skillful in finding a thousand convenient reasons to judge the house in which he is accommodated and that he no longer wants to leave. Moreover, poverty is also faith: it is the sign of those who do not trust in themselves but rely on God.
There is also another aspect that cannot be forgotten: the «dramatic» atmosphere of the mission. Rejection is foreseen (Mk 7:11): the word of God is effective but in its own way. The disciple must proclaim the message and get completely involved in it, but he must leave the result to God. A task has been assigned to the disciple, but success is not guaranteed.
Moreover, it is important not to forget that the disciple is not only called to be a teacher, but also a witness who engages in the struggle against Evil because he is on the side of truth, freedom, and love,
Finally, we must not forget that to be missionaries, we must first of all be disciples of Christ and listen always again to the invitation to follow him imitating him: «Learn from me, who are meek and humble of heart» (Mt 11,29). A disciple, in fact, is a person who listens to the Word of Jesus (cf. Lk 10:39) recognized as the Master who loved us up to the gift of life. Therefore, for each of us, it is a matter of letting ourselves be molded each day by the Word of God. It will make us friends of the Lord Jesus and able to bring others into this friendship with Him. This fraternal friendship with Christ, the center of our life, allows us to go to the human peripheries to carry to everyone the truth of Christ, Incarnate Love.
A particular way of being «disciples-missionaries» (Pope Francis) is one of the consecrated virgins who, living and working in the world, meet the people who live and work in the existential peripheries. There is a feminine style in living the mission, a way of being disciple-missionary like the Virgin Mary, the Disciple-Missionary par excellence. More than to Mnason of Cyprus, who hosted St. Paul on his journey from Caesarea to Jerusalem, it is to Our Lady that the title of «disciple of the first hour» competes (Acts 21: 16) because she believed in the Son of God the Most High at the very moment in which he was incarnated in her womb by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Mary is the first missionary because she first brought Christ on the roads of the world to go to her cousin Elizabeth. She was a missionary who brought not a speech, but the Gospel incarnated. The consecrated Virgins in a special way imitate Our Lady through vigilance and prayer, that is, through the custody of the heart offered to Christ with the gift of their virginity and docility to the Holy Spirit. Through a discreet life in the world, the consecrated virgins live a personal focus, thanks to which they dedicate themselves to listening to the Word of God. On their example, may our heart and mind keep alive the maternal love that animates all those cooperate in the apostolic mission of the Church for the regeneration of men (cf. Lumen Gentium, 65). Every Christian is called to make Mary’s own attitude in order to motherly animate the evangelical proclamation of Christ, and to exercise the «power» of serving the Lord in the brothers and sisters in humanity, living in one’s own situation the virginal fruitfulness of the Church, as the consecrated Virgins witness.
Patristic reading
Golden Chain
On Mark 6: 7 – 13
Theophylact: The Lord not only preached in the cities, but also in villages, that we may learn not to despise little things, nor always to seek for great cities, but to sow the word of the Lord in abandoned and lowly villages.
Wherefore it is said, «And He went round about the villages, teaching.»
Bede, in Marc., 2, 24: Now our kind and merciful Lord and Master did not grudge His servants and their disciples His own virtues, and as He, Himself had healed every sickness and every infirmity, so also He gave the same power to His disciples.
Wherefore it goes on: «And He called unto Him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits.»
Great is the difference between giving and receiving. Whatsoever He does, is done in His own power, as Lord; if they do anything, they confess their own weakness and the power of the Lord, saying in the name of Jesus, «Arise, and walk.»
Theophylact: Again He sends the Apostles two and two that they might become more active; for, as says the Preacher, «Two are better than one.» (Qo 4,9) But if He had sent more than two, there would not have been a sufficient number to allow of their being (p. 109) sent to many villages.
Greg., Hom. in Evan., 17: Further, the Lord sent the disciples to preach, two and two, because there are two precepts of charity, namely, the love of God, and of our neighbour; and charity cannot be between less than two; by this, therefore, He implies to us, that he who has not charity towards his neighbour, ought in no way to take upon himself the office of preaching.
There follows: «And He commanded them, that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: but be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.»
Bede: For such should be the preacher’s trust in God, that, though he takes no thought for supplying his own wants in this present world, yet he should feel most certain that these will not be left unsatisfied, lest whilst his mind is taken up with temporal things, he should provide less of eternal things to others.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: The Lord also gives them this command, that they might shew by their mode of life, how far removed they were from the desire of riches.
Theophylact: Instructing them also by this means not to be fond of receiving gifts, in order too that those, who saw them proclaim poverty, might be reconciled to it when they saw that the Apostles themselves possessed nothing.
Augustine, de Con. Evan., 2, 30: Or else; according to Matthew, the Lord immediately subjoined, «The workman is worthy of his meat,» (Mt 10,10) which sufficiently proves why He forbade their carrying or possessing such things; not because they were not necessary, but because He sent them in such a way as to shew, that they were due to them from the faithful, to whom they preached the Gospel.
From this it is evident that the Lord did not mean by this precept that the Evangelists ought to live only on the gifts of those to whom they preach the Gospel, else the Apostle transgressed this precept when he procured his livelihood by the labour of his own hands, but He meant that He had given them a power, in virtue of which, they might be assured these things were due to them.
It is also often asked, how it comes that Matthew and Luke have related that the Lord commanded His disciples not to carry even a staff, whilst Mark says, «And He commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only.» Which question is solved, by supposing that the word ‘staff’ has a meaning in (p. 110) Mark, who says that it ought to be carried, different from that which it bears in Matthew and Luke, who affirm the contrary. For in a concise way one might say, Take none of the necessaries of life with you, nay, not a staff, save a staff only; so that the saying, nay not a staff, may mean, nay not the smallest thing; but that which is added, «save a staff only,» may mean that, through the power received by them from the Lord, of which a rod is the ensign, nothing, even of those things which they do not carry, will be wanting to them.
The Lord, therefore, said both, but because one Evangelist has not given both, men suppose, that he who has said that the staff, in one sense, should be taken, is contrary to him who again has declared, that, in another sense, it should be left behind: now however that a reason has been given, let no one think so.
So also when Matthew declares that shoes are not to be worn on the journey, he forbids anxiety about them, for the reason why men are anxious about carrying them, is that they may not be without them. This is also to be understood of the two coats, that no man should be troubled about having only that with which he is clad from anxiety lest he should need another when he could always obtain one from the power given by the Lord.
In like manner Mark, by saying that they are to be shod with sandals or soles, warns us that this mode of protecting the feet has a mystical signification, that the foot should neither be covered above nor be naked on the ground, that is, that the Gospel should neither be hid, nor rest upon earthly comforts; and in that He forbids their possessing or taking with them, or more expressly their wearing, two coats, He bids them walk simply, not with duplicity. But whosoever thinks that the Lord could not in the same discourse say some things figuratively, others in a literal sense, let him look into His other discourses, and he shall see, how rash and ignorant is his judgment.
Bede: Again, by the two tunics He seems to me to mean two sets of clothes; not that in places like Scythia, covered with the ice and snow, a man should be content with only one garment, but by coat, I think a suit of clothing is implied, that being clad with one, we should not keep another through anxiety as to what may happen.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or else, Matthew and Luke neither allow shoes nor (p. 111) staff, which is meant to point out the highest perfection. But Mark bids them take a staff and be shod with sandals, which is spoken by permission. (see 1Co 7,6)
Bede: Again, allegorically; under the figure of a scrip is pointed out the burdens of this world, by bread is meant temporal delights, by money in the purse, the hiding of wisdom; because he who receives the office of a doctor, should neither be weighed down by the burden of worldly affairs, nor be made soft by carnal desires, nor hide the talent of the word committed to him under the case of an inactive body.
It goes on, «And He said unto them, In what place soever ye enter into a house, there abide till ye depart from that place.»
Where He gives a general precept of constancy, that they should look to what is due to the tie of hospitality, adding, that it is inconsistent with the preaching of the kingdom of heaven to run about from house to house.
Theophylact: That is, lest they should be accused of gluttony in passing from one to another. It goes on, «And whoever shall not receive you, &c.» This the Lord commanded them, that they might shew that they had walked a long way for their sakes, and to no purpose. Or, because they received nothing from them, not even dust, which they shake off, that it might be a testimony against them, that is, by way of convicting them.
Pseudo-Chrys.: Or else, that it might be a witness of the toil of the way, which they sustained for them; or as if the dust of the sins of the preachers was turned against themselves.
It goes on: «And they went and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.»
Mark alone mentions their anointing with oil. James however, in his canonical Epistle, says a thing similar. For oil both refreshes our labors, and gives us light and joy; but again, oil signifies the mercy of the unction of God, the healing of infirmity, and the enlightening of the heart, the whole of which is worked by prayer.
Theophylact: It also means, the grace of the Holy Ghost, by which we are eased from our labors, and receive light and spiritual joy.
Bede: Where it is evident from the Apostles themselves, that it (p. 112) is an ancient custom of the holy Church that persons possessed or afflicted with any disease whatever, should be anointed with oil consecrated by priestly blessing.
[1]Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.  He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick— no food, no sack, no money in their belts.  They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.  He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.  Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.”  So they went off and preached repentance.  The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” ( Mk 6,7-13)

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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