Today is the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. We continue in the very early portions of St. Mark’s Gospel, and today we learn in Mark 1:14-20 that John the Baptist has already been imprisoned before Jesus called the Twelve. The chronology suggests that Jesus did not begin his own public ministry until the Baptist had been removed from the scene. Today’s Gospel focuses on the call of the Twelve. Mark’s Gospel has a strong note of urgency; the expectation that the Coming of the Kingdom is imminent. The second reading from St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, has this same note of “drop what you are doing and prepare for the Kingdom, for it will soon be at hand.”
I suspect that there is some misunderstanding about the terms “The Twelve” and “the Apostles.” In the New Testament the terms do not mean precisely the same thing. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus is working with the focus of preparing Israel for its final deliverance at the arrival of the Kingdom of God. Part of this restoration is the reconstitution of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, a number of which had died out by the time of Jesus. Establishing a unique group of Twelve as the leaders of the New Israel, as Jesus did, is a concrete gesture of preparation for the final coming of the Kingdom. The term Apostle is generally applied to those who both walked with the Lord and, in particular, experienced him alive after the Resurrection. St. Paul is nowhere mentioned in the four Gospels; yet later he will claim the title of Apostle on the grounds that the resurrected Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and turned him from Saul to Paul.
In my own parish this weekend my pastor presented us with his annual overview of our church’s life and spirit. Few times in my life have I heard such a unified and cohesive presentation. Beginning with our basic identity as a congregation in the Roman Catholic Communion, he proceeded to our parish’s mission statement and then, new this year, he cited what he called core values. He listed six, evidently the fruits of consultation with his four advisory boards, and while I don’t have them written down in front of me, (we are to receive a mailed booklet this week) I do recall several, including the priority of the celebrations of sacraments, faith formation, and social outreach. He integrated the issues of stewardship and finances into our parish’s life in such a way that writing the weekly envelope check seemed more like a prayer than a spiritual insurance policy.
This move to concrete commitments of pastoral focus and excellence is very good administrative leadership. The perennial adage that “the church is all things to all men” looks good on banners and letterheads, but even divine institutions are limited by space and time, as we see time and time again in the ministry of Jesus. Institutions need focus; living from crisis to crisis or inspiration to inspiration burns out pastors, staff and parishioners faster than anything else and prevent church ministers from enjoying the time they need for prayer, family life, and professional development. The practice of annual evaluation of goals, and staying the course with the same vision is itself an indispensible component of faith formation. Thus, it was highly encouraging to me to see my parish make public its marching plan presented in such pastoral precision.
This Sunday marks the beginning of Catholic Schools Week across the country. In my parish the younger school children, dressed in uniforms, assisted in various ways at our Saturday Vigil Mass and gave us our church bulletin as we left. They will do so today as well. There is an open house at the school today from 9 AM-2 PM, very well publicized at our Mass last night. I was almost tempted to go back this AM for the free food.
Our parish school of 600+ students (preschool-eighth grade) is now 19 years old. My wife was the founding principal and served in that capacity for seventeen years until her retirement in 2013. There is nothing harder than succeeding a founder (ask President John Adams) but the transition had that “seamless garment” quality, and her successor continues the academic and religious excellence alongside a palpably good morale without transitional hiccup. Again, good administration is an invaluable charism or gift from God.
How are things in your parish this weekend?
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