The New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles concludes with Saint Paul imprisoned in Rome. Likely the charge is sedition, meaning that he was considered to be a person whose actions threatened the stability of the Roman Empire.
That charge was in fact true. Saint Paul was a threat to the Roman Empire because the way of life that he proclaimed was contrary to the way of life of Rome, which prized above anything else, wealth, power, pleasure, honors and domination. In Roman culture people were things to bought and sold and to be used by the powerful to advance their causes and agendas.
The way of life of St. Paul is the way of a disciple of the Lord Jesus and this way of life prizes above all the love of God in Christ- a love that eschews the worldliness and seeks first and above all, faith, hope and charity. All are made in Christ God’s children and brothers and sisters.
As I mentioned the other day, St. Paul and his companion missionary disciples have been on a covert mission- sent by Christ to deal with the Roman Empire that crucified him and persecuted the early Church.
To the Romans, it seemed that arresting St. Paul and bringing him to Rome as a prisoner would stop this covert mission. But that is not what happened- St. Paul’s arrival in Rome is the beginning of the end of the Roman way of life based on power and domination. God in Christ undermined Rome by using Rome to accomplish his purpose, which was to bring St. Paul to Rome!
The culture of Rome was corrupt, but the Roman people were loved by God in Christ, and in his love he sent St. Paul and the other missionary disciples so that the Romans could be delivered from corruption and become part of a new culture. This new culture is the Church, which is meant by Christ to be the means by which he advances his Kingdom.
St. Paul did not seek the destruction of Roman culture, but its transformation in Christ. So it must be with our own missionary efforts in regards our own culture. The purpose of our missionary efforts is to offer, as St. Paul did, a new way of life, and through this new way of life, imbue the culture with the love of God in Christ. This is the way of a missionary disciple.
Our purpose as missionary disciples is not just to identify what is wrong with the culture, but to show forth in our own lives a wonderful opportunity for a new way of life.
Displaying this new way of life is the purpose of a Catholic parish. A parish is not a faith-based clubhouse or a community center. A parish is a particular example of the Christian way of life. All the endeavors of a parish are meant to be an introduction to Jesus Christ and an invitation to people to know Christ and receive his gifts in the Church. As such, the efforts of a parish are meant to be directed outward, towards the culture, inviting people who live within the culture to see, experience, and understand the unique Christian way of life.
Parishes must do more than just provide faith-based services to their contributing members. If that is all that happens in a parish, then it is nothing more than a private club, rather than a sign of Christ’s Kingdom in the world. The private club model of parish life is precisely what Pope Francis is referring to when he criticizes what he calls “a self-referential Church”.
In his Gospel, Christ the Lord addresses the concern of Peter that he (Christ) seems to have signaled out one of the disciples for a special favor. Christ affirms the truth concerning what Peter perceives, but indicates that his favor is given to advance Christ’s purposes. Peter should not be preoccupied or concerned about it. Why?
Because all will receive particular gifts from the Lord- these gifts will be different for each person and will all contribute in our own way to Christ’s purposes for that person and for his Church.
No one is diminished in the Church because the gifts given to one are not given to another. To think that you are diminished because Christ gives to someone else something you don’t have and want for yourself is an attitude of worldliness.
Striving in envy after gifts that do not belong to us and that Christ gives to another person acts as a spiritual poison in the soul and in the Church.
We all have a role to play in the great drama of God’s salvation in Christ. We are all assigned a place in the story of the Lord Jesus as it continues to unfold in the life of the Church. Finding our place in the story of Christ in his Church is discerned in the challenge of our vocation, but we will not find our place in the story if we allow ourselves to be distracted by envy or resentment over a desire for gifts that Christ does not intend for us to receive.