I have always thought that since life is a journey, then life must be about arriving at a certain destination. This is very evident in early childhood when we keep on asking “are we there yet?” Later in life, this question evolved into the expression of “having arrived” to mark the different milestones in our lives. It has always been about destination that sometimes we wonder deep inside if we are in the “right place” at this particular time of our lives especially if you are near or past age 50. The problem is not about our chosen vocation or profession or path in life; the issue is, as we fulfill our mission, we continue to discover many other aspects and facets of our life’s calling that sometimes nudge us with the existential question if we have really arrived or are we at the right place already?
Our readings this Sunday offer us with consolation that life, after all, even if it is a journey, is not about destination but more of directions. Or, preferably we shall say “directional” to indicate a deeper meaning of what God wants us to be. This direction we can discover in whatever mission God sends us in this life: Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. (Mk.6:7-9,12-13)
Our first point of reflection that life is more of a directional nature than a destination is the sending of Apostles “two by two.” It is actually an old practice among Jews to send missionaries two by two so that there is always a companion to testify to the preaching of the other. Notice how the evangelists enumerate the names of the Twelve also two by two. This practice continues to this day but in a deeper sense of always having Jesus as our companion. It is always best to have Jesus in this journey of life. This is why we receive Holy Communion on Sundays so that Jesus may accompany us throughout the week. The last sacrament that a dying person receives is not really Anointing of the Sick but Holy Communion for the Sick called “Viaticum” that means “with Jesus along the way” of death to eternal life.
In the second reading we find Paul speaking this companionship with the Lord when he mentioned three times the expression “In him” to emphasize that we do everything in Christ and never on our own. Discipleship and life itself are directional, always in Christ. No one can lay claim for himself or herself being a self-appointed missionary or prophet of God. It is always the initiative of God like in the experience of Amos in our first reading. If last week we heard how difficult it was for Jesus to be accepted in His own town as a prophet, today the story of Amos tells us the more difficult situation when a prophet like Amos from Judea was sent to their rival Northern Kingdom or Israel: Amos answered Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets. I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamore. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’”(Amos 7:14-15)
Like us priests, or any volunteer in the Church, we were doing something else in life when the Lord called and sent us. We cannot lay claim to this mission of shepherding for we never wanted this on our own considering its enormous difficulties. It is not only an impossible job but even foolish if you say so! But we do it because of Jesus who initiated the call to follow Him while we were busy doing something else like building a career, preparing for marriage or just enjoying life in whatever form. We have no regrets in answering His call because we have found in Christ Jesus the person more worthy of our love and life. Life and discipleship are directional because both are a call to a relationship with Jesus which the song “Day by Day” says so well, “Day by day Lord, three things I pray: that I may know you more clearly, so that I may love you more dearly, and follow you more closely, day by day.” We do not really know where the Lord would lead us for there is no precise destination to speak of but only a direction which is to be like Jesus, to stay with Jesus.
Closely linked with this being with Jesus Christ is our task of being holy like Him. Following Jesus Christ is the direction of fighting evil, the very first mission He entrusted the 12 according to Mark in our gospel today. Authority over unclean spirits is the power to cast away the devil, the root of every illness in us and society. That authority can only be claimed in holiness, when we are filled with God. With the present situation we are into, we need to claim that authority more than ever as evil continues to destroy us, causing so much misery with deaths, divisions, and sickness it sows among us. The CBCP have recognized this sad fact in our society with the recent diabolic and blasphemous statements and events going on. The bishops have rightly reminded us that we do not fight evil with evil like vengeance but instead with prayer and fasting that purify us and give us strength to strive for holiness – the direction we all have to follow in whatever mission Jesus sends us to. Even Pope Francis reminds us in his third encyclical “Gaudete et Exultate” that holiness remains as our sacred call in life today.
Discipleship, like life in general is essentially directional. It is not about destination. It is useless to ask like children if “are we there yet?” because in this journey of life, we really do not know the place where we should be. Or we would be. But as we follow Jesus, we realize that what matters most is the inner direction within us He is leading us into to be able to fulfill His mission. And that is being holy like Him, always avoiding and fighting evil and sins. When we are holy like Jesus, then the more we realize that indeed, heaven is more than a place or destination. It is a “Now here”, a presence within us because we abide in God, we are inclined in His direction. A blessed week to you!Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ni San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan 3022
Photo by the author, Sacred Heart Novitiate in Novaliches, 06 July 2018.