There have been a lot of changes in the Church over the past fifty years. For some of us, the changes are happening too fast and are hard to accept. For others, the changes aren't happening fast enough. Either way, we are all searching for new and more effective ways to bring the Good News to a world which is also changing rapidly.
One of the very good changes that has taken place is the increased participation of lay people in the ministry of the Church. Many of us remember a time when anything that went on in a parish was done by a priest or a sister. Today lay people serve as lectors, Eucharistic ministers and catechists. They visit the sick in the hospital, direct retreats and serve on advisory boards in parishes. This increased participation has brought much needed vitality to the mission of the Church.
But there are some dangers in the way we often think about the role of the laity.
Too often we consider it a result of the shortage of priests. We think that if there were more vocations then we would not need lay people to help out. That is absolutely not true. Each of us because of our baptism and confirmation is given the right and the duty to assist the Church in preaching the gospel and in providing help for the needy. Lay people are not just deputies of the pastor but real partners in the mission of Jesus and equally responsible for the life of the parish. As a community of believers we are all working together to make this parish a stronger sign of the presence of the Risen Christ in today's world.
Another danger we run into is thinking that the principal role of lay people is to serve the parish as Eucharistic ministers, lectors and religious education instructors. While these are important ministries, they are not the primary objectives of the baptized in the Church. Rather, the baptized serve the Church primarily by bringing the Good News into their homes, their schools and their places of business. Each of us is called to bring light into the dark places of the world. We are called to be examples of the change that only Jesus can bring to the human heart to those we meet no matter where we meet them. This is the most important vocation of the laity - to bring the Gospel message where priests, deacons and sisters cannot go and to people who would otherwise not come to Church to hear the message of Jesus' love.
In today's gospel, Jesus chooses a group of seventy-two disciples to go out to the surrounding towns. There are three tasks he charges them with: to preach the Good News, to heal the sick and to cast out demons. It must have seemed impossible to those disciples to think that they could ever heal the sick and cast out demons. But they found that they were able to do so in Jesus' name.
Sitting in this church today, it might seem impossible to us that we could preach the gospel, heal the sick and cast out demons. But, like those disciples, we are given the power to do great things in our families, our schools and work places in the power of Jesus' name. Not only can we do it, we must do it.
Let's take a look at how each of these challenges Christ makes of us - to preach the gospel, to heal the sick, and to cast out demons - can be lived out in our daily lives.
First, we are each called to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God. That does not mean that we have to climb up on our desks and preach a sermon or interrupt an office meeting to remind everyone that Jesus loves them. Most of the times it will be our actions not our words that will witness to the presence of the Risen Christ. It will be by sticking up for a classmate who is being picked on or by helping a co-worker who is struggling to get a project done that we will show others that Jesus is alive in our midst. If we strive to live good and holy lives, the people we live, work and study with will take notice and begin to ask us how we came to find such peace and joy. Then the door will be open for us to speak with them about the love of God.
Secondly, we are called to heal the sick. For those who work in the health care industries, this is a calling to heal bodies. But for most of us, the healing we are called to bring is spiritual. It means bringing peace to hearts that are troubled and comfort to those who are sorrowful. It means letting others know that someone cares for them and that they are more valuable than their job title or paycheck. Our work and school environments can be so stressful that we too often overlook the needs of those around us. A simple word or touch on the shoulder can do much to lift another's spirit and lighten one's load.
Thirdly, we are called to expel demons and bind the power of Satan. This is a power we are given in the Spirit that we too often overlook because it sounds too far out. But it is a power we exercise primarily by endeavoring to fight evil with good. By forgiving those who have hurt us, by refusing to participate in gossip, by not seeking revenge against those who talk behind our back, we are breaking the power of the Evil One. Satan feeds on our fear, bitterness and pride and uses them to break up our families, wound our relationships and harden our hearts to the love of God. By refusing to continue the cycle of revenge, we take away his power and expel him from our homes, schools and places of business.
No matter what our state in life - whether we be priests or policemen, sisters or carpenters - the task is the same: to preach the good news, to heal the sick and to cast out the Evil One. Through our baptism and confirmation we are given the power to do all this in Jesus' name. We can do great things in our families, schools and places of work by the Spirit of Christ working within us. Chances are that if we are living a good and holy life, we are already touching the hearts of those we come into contact with. We might just not be aware of it. God has even more in store for us if we will entrust ourselves to him and use the power he has given us to bring light into the dark places of our world.
The one who calls us commands us not to be afraid, because he is with us always.