Listen to an audio recording of Fr. Jeremy’s homily on July 15, 2018 at Holy Family.
Your boss stops by your desk one morning and asks you to join a special ad hoc committee for the company. They want to hire a new director of communications to handle all the public media interactions on behalf of the company. Later in the week, you meet with your fellow committee members to begin the search process. You have a standard job description in front of you. But as you start discussing the new hire, the committee decides to identify the top credentials or characteristics you will looking for. What do you think comes forth? Smart, intelligent, educated, confident, good public speaker, talented, ability to establish rapport, credibility, integrity, honesty, perhaps even morally upright, believable, technical skills with various media platforms. Certainly, you may want them to be knowledgeable about your company’s services and products – or at least have the ability to become knowledgeable so to speak competently. These are good general credentials for such a position. You wouldn’t just throw anyone in such a position. You’d want the best possible person speaking on your company’s behalf. You want a polished professional.
We live in an age of the professional, where proper credentials, degrees, and specialized training rules the market place. We encourage, guide, and direct our teens and young adults to find the right university to get the job skills they need. Nearly every profession has its professional accreditation body that requires certification exams and on-going continuing education credits. We have come to expect people to be expertly trained for the job they are called to do, so they can do it safely and successfully.
Because of this, we’ve come to believe that if I lack the right credentials, I cannot not do a certain job. Let’s think about your ad hoc committee trying to hire a director of communications. Certainly, you will have certain characteristics and credentials you want and need in that individual. But while the CEO may task the hired director to do their job well, that same CEO knows one thing. It will not all depend upon the director of communications shoulders. Credentials or not, the CEO expects every employees from the junior vice-president to janitor to speak well about the company in their professional and private lives. Especially these days, an ‘unofficial’ source or whistleblower within a company can often carry way more influence in the public than the official party line. Why, the truth matters more than a title. The contents, more than the container. The message, more than the messenger. Whether one has the right set of skills, characteristics, or credentials matters less, than whether the person speaking has a true message to proclaim.
Credentials are raised as a question in our first reading. Amaziah, a priest of Bethel in the northern kingdom of Israel, tells the prophet Amos to leave the kingdom and preach elsewhere. But Amos is quick to point out – I’m not prophet. Amos knew he lacked the proper credentials or characteristics to preach, to prophecy, to proclaim publically any message from God. In fact, in a self-demeaning way, Amos tells the ‘professional priest’ Amaziah that he is a mere shepherd and tender of sycamore fig trees. He has none of the expected skills to be a prophet. By Amos’ own self-evaluation, he is not the right man for the job. In fact, he would likely have been just as happy stayed in Judah with his flocks and figs. Yet, there he was. Why? Because God sent him. Period. It was God’s message of repentance and God’s call to faithfulness Amos delivered. While lacking skill or qualification, Amos had what mattered most – a call from God, a commission to send him forth. He was there to deliver a message. The credentials of the messenger didn’t matter.
Look at the Twelve whom Jesus in the Gospel sent forth to preach repentance and to extend healing Peter, Andrew, James, John, and the crew, they were not professional priests nor religious officials. They were regular, run of the mill guys – fishermen, laborers, tax collectors, tentmakers. They had none of the proper training, experience, or knowhow to go make disciples, to spread the Faith, to proclaim the Gospel, to call for repentance or build God’s kingdom. They didn’t have wealth, influence, or political clout. None. But like Amos, they did had one thing – Jesus’ Commission. It was Jesus who sent them forth. They possessed within themselves both a personal and communal experience of Jesus the Christ. It was Jesus’ message they proclaimed. His way they preached. His work they pursued.
The biggest single hang up for evangelization in the Catholic Church is we tend to focus on ourselves. We feel unqualified. We think we lack ‘credentials’ and needed characteristics. We cite our failures, failings, weaknesses, lack of credentials and perceived characteristics as cover. “That’s father’s job!” Yes, it is my job. Locally, I’m both the CEO and the Director of Communications. But in this ‘company of believers,’ every parishioner from them most senior to the most junior must proclaim the Gospel.
When we think of ourselves, we feel underqualified. I’m no prophet. I’m no apostle. I’m not a catechist or evangelist. I’m no great comforter, preacher, healer, or exorcist. I’m just me… just an ordinary guy or girl. Congratulations, then you are just like Amos and Peter and Paul. They were ordinary people, unqualified, unprepared. But they knew themselves sent forth by Christ. They had His Gospel to share.
How many in here have been baptized? (Let’s see the hands!) How many of you have been Confirmed? Ok, how many of you are fed and nourished by the Eucharist – the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ each week? Those Sacraments fill you with God’s Grace. These are your credentials to be a prophet of God in the world.
“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain” (Jn 15:16). His selection, His election, His choice. His work in us. His commission. Go, preach repentance. Go, proclaim the Gospel. Go, call others to faithfulness. His task that He has placed upon you and I ‘from before the foundation of the world’ (Eph 1:4).