Today’s gospel tells us how Our Lord sent out seventy-two disciples to bring the Good News of his coming to the neighbouring towns and villages. It was a foretaste of what was to come when he would leave the Apostles to continue his work.
If you have brothers or sisters, I’m sure you love them very much. But we also know what a pain and a burden they can sometimes be. My younger brother and I had a fascination for building sites; we grew up in a fairly rural area and during the 1960’s new houses were being built everywhere, many of them on land where we used to play as children and build dens every summer. Our parents told us that building sites were dangerous places to explore, and they warned us to keep away from them; but the attraction to delve into half-finished buildings, let alone clamber over dumper trucks and diggers, was often too great to ignore. On one occasion when I was twelve and my brother was ten we got into a spot of bother on the very last building site we were to visit together. The ground that day was very wet and my brother started to sink into a puddle of soft clay. By the time I got to him he was down to his knees and sinking fast. I struggled to pull him out of the hole and in the process he lost both his shoes and socks which were sucked off his feet by the clinging clay. He couldn’t walk over the rough-ground in his bare feet and so I carried him on my back all the way home. Along the way a neighbour called out: “That’s a heavy load you’re carrying.” I replied, and I was much sharper in those days, “he aint heavy, he’s my brother!” I was no doubt inspired by the popular Hollies song which was in the hit parade at that time (c.1969).
In today’s second reading, St. Paul describes the burden of his sufferings in a similar way, he says: “The only thing I can boast about is the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… the marks on my body are those of Jesus”.
Everywhere he travelled, St. Paul took the burden of persecution upon his shoulders for the sake of the Gospel. But he didn’t consider his sufferings heavy to bear; for in them he believed he carried Christ – his brother and his God.
When he carried Christ, St. Paul also accepted the gift of true peace, which Christ came on earth to bring. Every time we celebrate the Mass, we remember the promise Our Lord made on the night before he died, “I leave you peace, my peace I give you”. And in today’s gospel we hear Our Lord command his disciples to offer peace wherever they go: “Let your first words be, ‘Peace be to this house’.”
But perhaps there are times when we feel that ‘the peace of Christ’ has passed us by; times when we feel completely crushed by the burden of anxieties and worries. Our work, our faith, even our community life and our families, become a millstone around our neck, weighing us down.
And so we seek comfort and reassurance. We search for Christ and the peace that only he can give. But so often we look in the wrong direction and in the wrong places. We may even try to put the world to rights, thinking that Christ’s peace is found in changing the world and other people. But, and as I suggested last Sunday, Christ’s peace is not found in changing the world, rather it is found in changing ourselves. As St. Paul says, “what matters is for us to become an altogether new creature”.
Our Lord tells us that the peace which accompanies the Kingdom of God ‘is not coming with signs to be observed; for it is in the midst of you’. Christ’s peace doesn’t come first into the world; he comes much closer than that, he comes into our hearts.
This means that we must learn the hardest lesson of all: and that lesson is to go on hoping when everything seems lost. Over the years I’ve met a surprising number of parents who have their peace of mind destroyed almost to the point of despair, because their children appear to let them down. As parents, they fulfil their duty and their responsibility to bring up their children as Catholics, to live their lives according to defined values and principles, only to find that later, when the children grow up and leave home, they abandon the Faith that remains so precious to the parents.
I’m sure we all know parents in this unhappy situation and we must do what we can to help them through it especially by our prayer and our example. And in this difficult situation we must again take St. Paul as our model. When speaking of those who fail in their faith he wrote, “When any man is made to fall I am tortured”.
But at no time did St. Paul allow his heart to become so tortured that it prevented the grace and peace of God from entering in, giving hope and encouragement.
If we are burdened with anxieties of this kind the solution is not to be found in feverish attempts to force a person back to the practice of the Faith. Only the grace of God can achieve that. And the grace of God that is within us is the guarantee that our prayer will be answered. God may not answer our prayer in the way we want. But he will answer it in the way he wants.