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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Bishop Barron - Collaborative Apostolate

Bishop Barron - Collaborative Apostolate

Bishop Barron - Collaborative Apostolate

Peace be with you. Friends, I want to preach you today about a kind of obscure passage from the Old Testament from the second Book of Kings. Can I just say, by the way, as I start, for those just beginning with the Bible, 1 and 2 Kings is not a bad place to start. They are full of very interesting characters, kind of adventurous stories. So this one is from 2 Kings, and it has to do with the prophet Elisha. Now, Elisha was the successor to probably the better known prophet Elijah. Remember the famous scene when Elijah is taken up into heaven in the fiery chariot. He leaves his mantle behind; Elisha picks up the mantle. So he's the successor of Elijah. Well, there's a lot of interesting stories associated with Elisha, because he's both a teacher and a miracle worker.

In fact, the very interesting connection is between Elisha and Jesus. Both prophets from the northern part of the Promised Land, from Israel, and Jesus too is teacher and miracle worker. In fact, a lot of his miracles echo those of Elisha. So just keep that in mind as we look at this. He is in some ways an anticipation of Jesus himself. The narrative I'm going to preach on is, on the surface, kind of simple and charming, but I think it speaks a rather profound truth about the Church. And I will explain to you what I mean. The setting, as I mentioned, is the northern part of the Holly Land, Israel. And it's during the ninth century BC. So think, maybe a century and a half or so after the time of King David, a couple of centuries before the Babylonian captivity.

That's where we are in Israelite history. We hear that Elisha the prophet comes to a little town, Shunem. It's near Mount Gilboa. Mount Gilboa you might remember from 1 Samuel. It's the place where King Saul meets his demise, and where David sings that great hymn "O how the mighty of Israel have fallen"!. That was on Mount Gilboa. So we are in that area. And Elisha comes to the home of a wealthy woman who invites him to stay and to dine with her. Well, inspired by her great hospitality, Elisha resolves that he will stay there whenever he passes back and forth through that country. So he stays so often at her home that finally the woman proposes to her husband that they build a little apartment for him. Listen now, from 2 Kings: "She said: 'since he visits us so often let us arrange a little room on the roof, furnish it for him with a bed, table, chair and lamp so that when he comes to stay with us he can stay here".

And then Elisha, it says, arrived, and he would stay in that room overnight. So, touched by her generosity, Elisha sends a message to the woman: Anything I can do for you? He finds out that she's longing to have a son. And so he prophesized. He said, "A year from now, when I return, you will be fondling a baby son". And, of course, so it happens. Now, you say, alright, that's a charming story about the hospitality of this woman and the kindness of the prophet Elisha. But I wonder, if we dig a little bit deeper, we can find a meaning here that has relevance to the Church today. Now, what am I talking about? Well, something I've thought about a lot.

Now, I record these words, I know this will go out on YouTube and I hope be up forever, but I'm recording these words during this weird coronavirus period when things are shut down, including churches, and so priests and people during this time have become kind of alienated from each other. People have lost contact with the Mass and with the sacraments. And, may I say, priests have lost contact with their people. And I found this has been really challenging for both the people and the priests. Obviously the priests bring a lot to the people of God: they bring preaching, they bring the Word, they bring a sense of God's presence, they bring the sacraments. But the people bring a lot to the priests. Priests derive their energy in many ways from the people they serve. They derive a sense of purpose and meaning; the people lift them up. And so this period, where we are kind of cut off from each other, has been bad for both.

Now, might we see in this charming little story of Elisha and the Shunammite woman a kind of icon of the relationship between priest and people, between the minister of the Gospel and the people that he serves? Think now, go back to that time. Travel was pretty perilous. You know, we take for granted that wherever we travel, we get into an air-conditioned car and we stop in a hotel if we have to. We get onto an air-conditioned airplane and we fly somewhere, and then there's a hotel to receive us. Now go back to these ancient times. Someone travelling in the Middle East? I've been in the Middle East. Unless you are at the depth of the winter, it is hot, hot, hot in the Middle East. So you are Elisha the prophet, ninth century BC, and you are travelling, that means by foot, through these dusty, dry places. You are pretty worn out, I imagine, at the end of the day. He relied very much, there were maybe some inns or a simple hostel or something, but people in those days relied much more on the kindness of strangers, as we say.

So it must have meant the world to him that there was this family, this husband and wife, who were willing to take him in. I can only imagine, and I know this from a tough day of work, and maybe you have had several Masses, and you are kind of exhausted, the prospect of having a nice place to stay, having a nice dinner, some company with friends, means the world to you. Well, it meant the world to Elisha. And, I imagine, that his presence to them meant a great deal to this woman and her husband. Here is Elisha the prophet, the great spokesman of God. I'm sure he brought to them a keen sense of the presence of God; he brought a sense of peace; he brought a sense of meaning. How beautiful, here is what I'm driving at, everybody, how beautiful, in this little icon of this family preparing this apartment for Elisha, Elisha staying with them, that the two of them fed each other. The two of them cared for each other; each gave the other life.

That's an icon, I think, of a permanent relationship between, in the Catholic context, priests and the people they serve. Here is something I have thought about a lot. I've been a priest for, what, thirty-four years now. It's a long time. It seems strange even to say it. But for those thirty-four years, I´ve had a roof over my head because of the kindness and generosity of lay people. I mean, that's where the Church gets its money from. The fact that I had a rectory to stay in at Saint Paul of the Cross Parish in Park Ridge, Illinois for three years; the fact that I had a place to stay when I was a student in Paris; the fact that I had a roof over my head at Mundelein Seminary for twenty-some years; the fact that even now in Santa Barbara I've got a place to stay: that's because of the kindness and generosity of lay people who have made that possible. My Word on Fire work: I remember, vividly, when I went for the first time before this community that I was serving in Hubbard Woods, Illinois, and I said: "You know, I've got a chance to get on the radio and do a sermon program".

In fact, what you're hearing right now is the descendant of that program. "And I need fifty thousand dollars to get on at 5:15 on Sunday mornings". After they kind of chuckled at that, they promptly gave me that money. That's how Word on Fire started. I think of the CATHOLICISM series that we did now many years ago. When I first started that, we had no funds. I had to go to kind and generous lay people and say: "Here is this idea I have. I wonder if you could help me make it a reality". So it happened. All the work of the Church finally depends upon the goodness and kindness of people just like this Shunammite woman and her husband; people just like them, who sense in the prophets of the Church, if you want, sense in the servants of the Church, someone that maybe we should help out, we should take care of, provide a place for them to stay. And then, turn the thing around. Yeah, lay people have made my work in almost every sense possible. And, I say it humbly, I hope the work that I've done, over the years, has benefited lay people. That's why I do what I do.

The priesthood simply serves the laity. That's the whole purpose of the priesthood. I mean, my preaching, and my teaching, and my sacramental work, and my liturgy, and all of it, is simply meant to bring grace, a sense of God's presence, a sense of intimacy with the Lord to the holy people of God. That's the Church, everybody: the coming together of the clergy and the laity in this kind of beautiful relationship of mutual support. Now, one of the sadnesses, there have been many sadnesses, of the recent scandals, go back now to the last twenty or twenty-five years, but one of the many sadnesses is a certain falling apart of that relationship; a kind of suspicion, now, on the part of the laity, and I get it, a certain suspicion of priests. Maybe on the part of the clergy, a certain wariness: "I better not get that close to lay people, or to families".

In my judgment, everybody, it's one of the great tragedies of this time. And again, I understand it; I get it. But might we take from this ancient story about Elisha and the Shunammite woman, might we take from this just some indication of what this relationship could and should be like? Not one of antagonism, not one of mutual suspicion, not one of wariness. But of priests and laity, servants of the Lord and the people of God, now in this beautiful sort of symbiosis, each one giving the other life. Concrete suggestion? Now, I'm speaking from the priest standpoint. Priests often get through, let's say a Sunday, tough day, when they are on for two, three, some priests in my region here do four Masses on a Sunday, kind of exhausted, maybe been through a lot. And a lot of the priests, at the end of the day, they come back to an empty house.

Could I encourage the lay people to be like the Shunammite woman? Maybe reach out with special friendship. Reach out with special care to a priest. Do your version of preparing this little apartment for him to stay in. It just means maybe welcoming the priest into the embrace of your family, welcoming the priest for dinner, including him in your family. And then, to priests: may we always be in the position of Elisha that is to say, bringing to the people we serve a blessing. You know, again, the tragedy of these times is some priests bringing not a blessing but a curse to their people. Lay people, receive your priest with joy and generosity. Priests, bring a sense of peace and the presence of God to your people. And see in this beautiful little icon, this simple story, what that relationship ought to be like. And God bless you!
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