by Fr. Raymond Suriani
Gospel: Mark 1: 7-11
"We're on a mission from God."
"We're on a mission from God."
John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd made that line famous many years ago in the movie, "The Blues Brothers."
"We're on a mission from God."
With the proper qualifications, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, could have said something very similar on the day he was baptized: "I'm on a mission from the Heavenly Father, and the mission officially begins now—at this moment!"
The Father himself verified this when he said, from heaven: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." His message was, "This is Jesus, my beloved Son; and you must listen to his words and obey his commands, because he's on a mission—he's on a mission from me!"
Now if we are called to be like Jesus (and we are!), then common sense should tell us that we are also to have a mission in this life: not the same one that Jesus had, of course—saving the world from sin and eternal death is way beyond our capabilities!—but we are to have a mission nonetheless.
Do you have a sense of what yours is? Many people today do not—even if they're very successful in the eyes of the world. They achieve certain goals; they do good things; they even help others in wonderful ways—but they lack a real sense of purpose which is rooted in this idea of "mission."
I think this is a clear indication of how secularized our society has become. Let's face it, for many people—even for many Christians—God is not the major player in their decision making process. When it comes to the important decisions of life: choosing a vocation, or a spouse, or even a job, the question for them isn't, "Lord, what is your plan for my life? What do you want me to do? Please show me."; the question normally is, "How do I feel about this? Is this what I feel like doing right now?"
The person who does involve God in the major decisions of his life—in other words, the person who tries his best to discern God's will in all that he does—is much more likely to have a sense of purpose and mission, as opposed to the person who makes decisions based on his feelings or instincts.
To have a sense of mission in your life, you must first of all be convinced that there's someone out there who has a plan, and who's actually sending you forth! That's why God, and not our feelings, must be our reference point for everything. In fact, if you remember nothing else from this homily, please remember that: God must be our reference point for everything! He already knows our mission in life, and he's the only one who can reveal that mission to us over time. Our emotions can't do it; in fact, our emotions will normally lead us astray.
As Cardinal Newman put it concerning his own life:
God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me, which He has not committed to another. . . .I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work. I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place while not intending it—if I do but keep His commandments.
Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirit sink, hide my future from me – still He knows what He is about.
Notice the connection Newman makes there between fulfilling our mission and keeping the commandments. One follows the other. Consequently, if you're lacking a sense of mission in your life at the present time, perhaps the first thing you need to do is make a good examination of conscience and a good confession.
Notice too the implicit warning he gives against living our lives according to our feelings. Newman indicates here that fulfilling our mission might not always make us "feel good;" sometimes it may actually involve unpleasant things like sickness and sorrow. So, obviously, if we make the mistake of living by our emotions, we may miss our mission entirely.
You parents, for example, already know this by your own experience. Part of your mission in this life is to provide for the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of your children. But that's not always a lot of fun, is it? That's not always enjoyable on an emotional level. In fact I dare say that if you equated your mission in life as parents with what made you feel good, most of you would have run away from home a long time ago! Faithfulness to the mission God gave you has required sacrifice and even, at times, sorrow. But, as Cardinal Newman would tell you, that sorrow has actually served God, and enabled you to fulfill a crucial part of your mission here on earth.
Along these lines, I read something interesting the other day about Mother Teresa of Calcutta. An interview was done recently with Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, who is presently involved in the Church's investigation of Mother Teresa's life—an investigation which will probably result in her canonization within the next few years.
Fr. Brian said that since the research into Mother's life began shortly after her death, they've learned some things about her that were not known before (at least by the general public). First of all, it seems that Mother Teresa had a very deep, powerful spiritual experience on September 10, 1946, which led her to found the Missionaries of Charity. God made it clear to her that this was his will. And then—during the rest of 1946 thru 1947—she experienced a real mystical union with Christ in her prayer life. This is something incredible that most people never experience on this side of the grave. But then, when her difficult work in the order began, that sense of union with Christ left her, although she deeply longed for it—as I'm sure we all would. (They know all this, by the way, from letters she wrote to her spiritual directors.)
Fr. Brian was asked, "How long did this period of darkness last [for Mother Teresa]?" He replied, "Till the end. Fifty years."
So here was a woman who was blessed to know her mission in life because it was revealed to her directly by God in a powerful, spiritual experience; but who had to fulfill that mission without any deep, spiritual consolations for 50 years. As Fr. Brian put it, she had to minister to the sick and dying for all that time out of "pure faith and pure love."
Can you imagine if she had made the mistake of living her life by her feelings after 1947?
She obviously never would have fulfilled her mission; in fact, she probably would have given up after only a couple of days!
The Blues Brothers were right: we are all on a mission from God. The challenge for each of us—and for every human person—is first to discover our particular mission, and then to complete it with the faithfulness of a Mother Teresa.
If we do, then we will someday be where we believe she now is.
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