Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Promise of Mission

St Paul is one of a select few saints who have more than one feast in the universal calendar and today we recall his Conversion on the road to Damascus. On 29 June the Church then rejoices in the martyrdom of St Paul and St Peter, that act of final self-giving and sacrifice which crowns and completes their total witness to Christ; the completion of their Mission. But before that, we mark the initial stage of that road to martyrdom: the Call of the 'Apostle to the Gentiles' and his response to this Call of Jesus Christ. In the extract below, Hans Urs von Balthasar distinguishes between the Call of Paul - and indeed this applies to any individual Christian - and his being commissioned and sent out on Mission by the Holy Spirit. As these two events are separated in time, it is fitting too that the Church marks them with two distinct feasts.

This chronological separation is a useful reminder to those who, flush with the zeal of a convert, would rush God and, with little or insufficient discernment and prayer, embark on a Mission that may not actually carry the chrism of the Holy Spirit; this is a mistake all too easy to make and (perhaps all too often) is made. It is not unusual for converts to the Faith, or indeed any cause, to be convinced that God has called them to this or that. Such zeal and passion is admirable and even enviable but - like the hot-headedness of youth - it can be misdirected or misplaced. Rather, as I have learnt and am still trying to learn, God may well call us at a certain moment in time and then He leaves us in that state of Being Called to allow that Call to mature into a Mission, when He will then send us out with the grace of His fructifying and empowering Spirit.

It takes patience, prudence, wisdom and discernment (and sometimes, just the grace of the passage of time) to await that moment of Being Sent and perhaps, sometimes, we are not very good at waiting for the Lord; we rush Him or presume to know His will before it is revealed to us, and consequently we do not bear lasting fruit for Him... So it is with religious and priestly formation - those years spent in the seminary or as a novice are necessary, a kind of 'breathing space' between the Call and Being Sent, for the Spirit to come. Let us learn from St Paul, from the Church's Liturgy and from Von Balthasar:

"On the road to Damascus, Paul encountered the call of God in unmistakable fashion, but the call contained only the promise of his later mission, not the mission itself. Struck by the personal call of the Lord, Paul asked: 'Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?' (Acts 9:6), only to be referred to the Church: 'Arise and go into the city, and it will be told thee what thou must do' (Acts 9:7). Between Paul's "yes" to the call of God and his "yes" to his mission there stretched a long road, marked by his efforts to reflect on what he had experienced, to identify himself with the Church's tradition (Acts 9:26), to gain the Church's approval of his mission (Gal 2:2) - a road of stillness and recollection: '... Without going up to Jerusalem to those who were appointed before me, I retired into Arabia, and again returned to Damascus... [for] three years' (Gal 1:17-18). The hour of mission did not sound for him until, in the church at Antioch where the prophets and teachers 'were ministering to the Lord and fasting', the Holy Spirit spoke, saying: 'Set apart for me Saul and Barnabas unto the work to which I have called them' (Acts 13:1-2). Only then did Paul's mission to the Gentiles become a mission both from God and from the Church. The meeting at Damascus was a meeting with the Son of God, corresponding to the association of the other apostles with the Lord: 'And last of all, as by one born out of due time, he was seen also by me' (1 Cor 15:8). But the mission at Antioch was an investiture by the Holy Spirit, by whom alone all missions are conferred. It should be noted here that even the Lord, whose election to mission and whose "yes" to that mission were from all eternity, was entrusted with his mission only when he designated historical moment of his earthly existence had arrived: not at the age of twelve when he demonstrated that his election was known to him, but at his baptism in the Jordan when the Spirit of the Father descended upon him so that, from then on, he might pursure his mission 'full of the Holy Spirit' (Lk 4:1). Only after his Passion and Resurrection, when the Holy Spirit had begun to go forth from him ('... If I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you' [Jn 16:7]), do the apostles receive their definitive mission: 'As the Father has sent me, I also send you... Receive the Holy Spirit...' (Jn 20:21-22). In the future, every mission, every installation in a particular state or way of life within the Church will be the work of this same Spirit (cf 1 Cor 12:4-11; 2 Tim 1:6-14)."

'The Christian State of Life', pp405-406.

The image above is from a Book of Gospels and Epistle Readings (1864).


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