Loyalty to whom?
Today’s readings: Amos 7, 12-15; Ephesians 1, 3-14; Mark 6, 7-13.
The loyalty of the Christian believer cannot be perceived as on the same level of loyalty to the party in politics or loyalty to the rules of a club. Toeing the line in Church life is radically different from what is expected in any other institution. There are people in the history of Christianity whom the Church canonised and venerates who hardly can be remembered and celebrated for toeing the line.
Our firm belief that the Spirit guides the Church towards the whole truth has been abused of in the past and it continues to be abused of whenever we perceive the Spirit as mere rubber-stamping of whatever those who occupy the top ranks in the Church do and say.
If Amos, as we read in today’s first reading, were to give heed to Amaziah, the official voice of authority at the time, he would not have been the free spirit he was called to be. And a free spirit normally contrasts officialdom.
Amos was a farmer-turned-prophet because he was a critical observer of the way religion flourished in a context where it left no mark on people’s lives and behaviour.
He was accused of being disloyal and was asked to leave the sanctuary in peace. But he did not feel torn between two competing loyalties. He felt in duty bound to uncover the idolatry of state religion where the name of God was only being used.
Catherine of Siena speaks of “the authority of our vocation” because whoever we are, we are all called to become prophets and manifest as free spirits our internal discernment.
God’s power manifests itself in a new creation, not in old wineskins. Faith cannot be separated from its prophetic dimension.
What happened to Amos is not an isolated case. The Church has since its inception always been uncomfortable with prophets, judging them as not prudent, and whatever they say as inopportune.
At times we speak of the evangelisation of people and of culture in terms of a re-Christianisation of society. But this absolutely does not make sense today. In our talk of evangelisation we need to be much more focused to reach out on a personal level rather than just on the social and cultural levels.
Way back in early 20th century, Romano Guardini, a most renowned liturgist and forerunner of liturgical reform and renewal, spoke of a reawakening of the Church in the souls of people.
True evangelisation starts from inside the heart, finding then its manifestation on the outside. But not necessarily the other way round. It is in this sense that Mark today reproduces succinctly the basic instructions Jesus is giving to the Twelve.
The poverty Jesus is suggesting, “taking nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses”, is not to be understood in the literal sense of possessing nothing.
We all acknowledge that the Church needs to be in tune with the culture of the day, even on professional levels, to be able to deliver. But it needs to remain focused on the message and the addressee.
If the Church fails to empower people on a personal level, then it is failing miserably in its task of evangelisation. Empowerment comes through reawakening in people the gift of the Spirit, what Paul calls “the richness of the grace which he has showered on us in all wisdom and insight”.
The Church is not the cultural-religious organisation we have reduced it to. The call to evangelise cannot be reduced to a call to reverse history. We need to fast-forward rather than rewind when it comes to mission.
Experience shows that it is not only on the outside that people who ‘prophesy’ are not welcome. Unfortunately, there are people on the inside of the Church who are made to feel not welcome and unwanted simply for being free spirits and for making the institutional set-up uncomfortable.
The story of Amos repeats itself.