Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

Aug. 13: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

A failed mission

1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a; Ps 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33

“I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart.” What prompted Paul to write these words?

Paul was certainly the most successful missionary of the early church. He traveled across the eastern Mediterranean region, from Judea to Syria to Asia Minor to Greece, leading many people to Christ and founding many Christian communities. He was hoping to go to Spain, but he was executed during Nero’s persecution of Christians.

Despite his great success, Paul felt that he had failed. This was the source of his sorrow and anguish.

Paul followed a set procedure when he came to a new town on his missionary journeys. He first announced the good news of Jesus Christ to the local Jewish community before moving on to the Gentiles. But he found few converts from Judaism, while he enjoyed great success among the gentiles.

The failure of his mission to his fellow Jews distressed Paul. Paul lists their advantages: the adoption, the glory, the covenant, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh is the Christ. Still Paul failed to persuade all but a few Jews to accept Jesus and the Gospel.

We can see how much his failure distressed Paul as we hear his words: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.” Paul was willing to give up his relationship with Christ if that would lead his fellow Jews to accept the Gospel.

The older generation of Catholics could echo Paul’s words of sorrow and disappointment. We are losing our young people. Far too many no longer practice the faith. They no longer worship with the Christian community.

They may identify themselves as Catholics, but they do not live as Catholics though many were raised in a Catholic family and had a Catholic education. Some claim to be spiritual but not religious, and their connection with the church has become weaker as they grow into adulthood.

What can we do to reverse this trend? Our young people need to see us practicing our faith with sincerity and integrity. They need to see that our faith shapes the way we live, our values, our relationships, our priorities. Young people seem to have a special ability to recognize insincerity, phoniness, false fronts. They need to see that our faith is as important to us as we say it is.

Paul was shocked by the failure of his fellow Jews to accept the Gospel. We ought to be shocked by the number of our young people who are drifting away from the practice of the faith.  They need to see from us how our faith — our relationship with God — our participation in the life of the church makes us good people, generous people, loving people, people of faith.

But what of the mission to the Jews? Are we to abandon all efforts to lead Jews to accept the Gospel? The centuries stained by the anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism of so many of the church’s clergy, its theologians and its people caused an all but impenetrable barrier between Jews and the Gospel of Jesus.

The credibility of the church’s proclamation of the Gospel has been dealt a virtually fatal blow by the tragic history of Jewish-Christian relations. The church has repudiated that shameful part of its history and seeks a path to reconciliation.

Still, the future is in God’s hands, not ours. Our duty now is to respect the faith of that people who were the first to hear the Word of God and honor their religious commitments and observances.

Elijah encountered God after the earthquake. The disciples encountered Christ after the storm. We need to wait for God to stop the tremors and calm the storms created by our failure to live authentic Christian lives.

Christ rebukes our failures just as he rebuked the wind and the waves that were threatening the lives of the disciples. We need to accept that rebuke so that we can become credible and effective witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


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