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July 7, 2019
[St. Anthony of Padua Church, Kailua (Renovated Sanctuary Blessing); Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa, Honolulu (Pastor Installation); Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu (Pastor Installation)]
A priest recently told me about taking the children of the parish school on a “tour” of the church. They talked about the altar, the ambo (or pulpit), the presider’s chair, vestments, and many other things. The priest asked if anyone had any questions, and one boy raised his hand and said, “Father, you forgot to mention one of the most important things.” “What is that?” Father asked. The boy eagerly replied, “The Exit signs.” Father said, “Oh, yes, those are important in case there is an emergency and we need to move people out of the church right away.” The boy replied, “I meant they’re important because it’s outside of here that we have to live what we learn inside.” The priest was quite taken aback at this beautiful insight and congratulated the boy for his wisdom.
While it is extremely important that we gather here in church every Sunday, because here, and nowhere else, we can physical encounter the risen Jesus, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist. It is here that we are formed by the Word of God so that we may be strengthened in our times of weakness and challenged when we think we have it all together. So coming in to the church is extremely important. But going out is also essential, since Jesus did not give himself to us simply for our spiritual pleasure and enjoyment, but so that we can become missionaries, like those seventy-two that he sent out, two by two, to preach the Good News. Here we receive and are formed, but on the other side of the exit sign is where the Word wants to take flesh, so that the love of the risen Jesus can reach every corner of the earth and fill it with his peace.
We do not need an airplane ticket or a visa, nor do we need to learn a new language to be missionaries. Of course, some are called to take the Good News of Jesus far and wide, but there is plenty to do right here in our own community. The first place we are called to share the Good News is in our families. We are aware of how important they are to all of us. If our families were more stable, I am sure we would have far fewer teen suicides, less people turning to drugs and alcohol to anesthetize themselves against the difficulties of life, and fewer people with mental health issues. But working on our families with the Gospel of Jesus is not always easy. It is like going as lambs in the midst of wolves, because our family members do not always want to hear what we have to say. Yet if we can teach each other in the safety of our families that no one of us is the center of the universe, yet we are still incredibly loved, then God’s grace can flow more freely, and we will know how to take up our crosses with courage and even to glory in the cross, because the peace of the Lord is in that household because we have taken it there.
How many of our neighbors do not know the love of Jesus Christ and the glory of his life-giving sacrifice on the cross, but only know Jesus as a personage of distant history? Of course, we hope they would come here to encounter him themselves in Word and sacrament, but they probably will never do so unless we take the exit sign of this church seriously and remember that we are sent to “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” Of course, we have to first know the joy of the Lord, as that joy was proclaimed to Jerusalem in our reading from the prophet Isaiah today. Although the cross we are called to bear as disciples of Jesus is not always warm fuzzies and smiley faces, it is always a joy to carry it, and we know we are being faithful if we feel this joy, even in the midst of the hardships the Gospel entails. We may be laughed at and mocked by those to whom we go, and Jesus told his disciples that not everyone would accept them either. But we may be as overjoyed as those first seventy-two missionaries were when they returned to Jesus full of joy because they made Satan fall from the sky like lightning, bringing healing to the sick, and good news to the poor. The Lord does not guarantee immediate success in all our endeavors, but he does want us to pray that we go out past that dangerous exit sign to bring his peace to a community that is so often in chaos.
I must say that we Catholics often think the Lord is calling someone else to go out and share the Gospel with others. But every one of us who enters this church must ultimately pass through those exit signs so that the Word made flesh in us can be made flesh in the world and bless it abundantly with a rich harvest of peace.