This homily was given at St. Francis Xavier Parish, Sutherlin, OR on the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 14, 2022. The audio is available here.
A dear friend of mine served the Lord for many years in youth ministry.
Her heart was on fire for those kids, to introduce them to the love of God.
But there was a change in leadership, and she was not asked to continue with the ministry.
As she was telling me the whole story recently, my friend said, “It’s like I don’t know who I am anymore without youth ministry.”
Many of us don’t know who we are.
Instead, we define ourselves by what we do, and an unexpected change in our mission can throw everything into question.
Think of a pastor who gets sent to a new parish.
He feels like he’s starting all over again from square one.
“Can I really do this again, Lord?”
Or a young couple who find themselves moving back home, across the country, and putting everything on hold with a baby on the way.
Or the parents of adult children, who look at one another, as the last of the kids goes off to college, and wonder: “What are we going to do now?”
Change is disruptive.
It can be heart-breaking, especially if we confuse who we are with what we do.
But as she was telling me the story, my friend, the former youth minister, stopped herself and laughed, as she said, “No. I know who I am. I’m a beloved daughter of God. I just don’t know what He wants from me!”
The philosophers have a saying: agere sequitur esse: action follows being.
In other words, our identity comes first, before our mission … and our mission flows from our identity.
Jesus Christ reveals our identity to us.
In Jesus, through the sacrament of Baptism and the grace of divine adoption, we have become sons and daughters of the Most High God.
And that is the most essential fact of who we are.
Nothing we do can ever make God love us less or revoke our status as sons.
Our identity is firm and unshakeable.
Our mission in life flows from that identity.
As God’s son, as God’s daughter, how is He calling me higher to live in His love and share that love with others?
“Lord, what do you want from me?”
The answer to that question will be unique for every one of us.
From all eternity, God has prepared a role for you in his kingdom, some unique work which He wants to entrust to you and no one else.
Most of us will discover that mission only by living into it.
The more we live in the truth of who we are, the more our life’s mission unfolds.
And what may seem at first like a tragedy, a disruption, can be an opportunity, the next step on a path we didn’t know we were on, the opening of a door that we never anticipated.
Think of Jeremiah.
The Lord called him to be a prophet from his youth.
And in the eyes of the world, his mission seemed like a failure.
He was a prophet to a hard-hearted people, who tried to put him to death!
But we do not measure success by worldly standards.
We measure success by our faithfulness as sons and daughters to our Father.
By worldly standards, even the mission of Jesus was a failure, but by the Father’s standards, it is the greatest victory in history.
Jesu gives us the program in today’s Gospel: He comes to bring fire and the sword; not peace, but division; not comfort, but danger and risk.
If we are faithful to our mission as baptized sons and daughters of God, we will cause division simply by being who we are!
We will face opposition, scorn, rejection.
But the reward is commensurate with the risk.
We few, we chosen few, if we are faithful to our life’s mission, we will be happyin this life, even amid persecutions and trials, and we will enjoy the fullness of eternal happiness in the life to come.
Jeremiah’s faithfulness may have converted few, but it merited eternal glory.
In a famous prayer, Cardinal John Henry Newman writes,
“I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. 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. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about.”
As we live into our mission, unfolding day by day, as faithful sons and daughters of our Father, we find that we are filled with Newman’s trust and confidence in Him, who knows what He is about.
And the desire of Jesus, in the words of St. Catherine of Siena, finds its fulfillment in us:
“Be who you are meant to be, and you will set the world on fire.”