Fr. Bill Carroll – The Third Sunday After Pentecost, June 13, 2021
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“For the greater glory of God.” That’s the motto of the Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic religious order for men, commonly known as the Jesuits. The Jesuits are committed to living as missionary companions of Jesus and sharing his love with other people. They reached Japan by 1549—just ten years after the Society was founded. It is an amazing story of evangelism and mission under very difficult circumstances.
Like other missionaries of that time, the Jesuits had a problematic relationship with colonial powers. (We Anglicans could say the same thing. Most often, our missionary activity followed the British Empire around the globe, just like the Jesuits followed the Spanish, the French, and the Portuguese.) Christians have a lot of blood on our hands. And we have many, many things to repent of.
But the Jesuit missionaries had saints among them, who tried to speak up for better treatment of the people they were sent to evangelize. Often, they sought dialogue with the cultures where they were sent. Even as they shared the Good News of Jesus, they sought to understand other people. They sought to understand them, so that they might love them better. And everywhere they went, they were involved with founding schools and universities, hearing confessions, and teaching the Catechism.
Jesuits have lived their lives wherever they were sent. Sometimes, that meant the corridors of power. But it also meant poor, rural communities and urban slums. One Jesuit friend of mine used to minister with street gangs in Chicago before he became a high school principal. Another was a missionary in Africa. A third was a University administrator, before he led a spirituality center for laypeople. Among other things, they are retreat leaders, educators, and community organizers. They are missionaries on the front lines, wherever the Church needs them.
They are willing to be sent where others will not go. If we want to understand the current pope, Pope Francis, and the difference he’s trying to make in the Roman Catholic Church, it’s worth considering that he’s a Jesuit. That’s good news for the Church he’s called to lead—and for all Christians everywhere. It explains his engagement with the unfinished reforms of the Second Vatican Council, where the Church tried to turn its face to the modern world.
Among other things, the Pope has been willing to give up the trappings of his office. He doesn’t live in a palace. He lives in a small apartment. He spent one Maundy Thursday in a prison, washing the feet of prisoners and telling them to “shun the law of the strong.” Think about what that might mean in prison. “Shun the law of the strong,” he told them, “and help each other instead.”
Without changing any Church teachings, the Pope has sought to apply them more generously—with a less bureaucratic spirit. He’s tried to apply them in the Spirit of Jesus. And that explains his insistence that the cardinals around him spend more time hearing confessions and engaging in other meaningful pastoral work. “A shepherd should smell like sheep,” he said. Christian leaders of all denominations should be more familiar with the struggles of real people as we strive to be faithful in today’s world.
“For the greater glory of God.” This motto conveys restlessness and a lack of attachment to the way things are—the way people tell us they have to be. Jesuits are committed to responding to the work of the Holy Spirit. For God is ever greater than our hearts. And so, we can’t afford to get stuck in our ways. We need to seek the will of God instead, rather than our own wills. We have to be willing to do whatever God tells us to do. And God is always asking more from us. He is asking us to be converted more deeply to Jesus and his ways—to the Kingdom that Jesus preached about.
“For the greater glory of God.” I thought about that motto this week, as I read the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians:
For the love of Christ urges us onward (he says), because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose again for us.
Everywhere Paul went in the ancient world, he proclaimed the death and resurrection of Jesus as the beginning of God’s new world. And, in the end, Paul lay down his life like the Lord he loved. “Because one has died,” he wrote, “all have died. And we who live, must live no longer for ourselves, but for Jesus.
“If anyone is in Christ, there is a New Creation. The old world has passed away.” These words are filled with hope for people like you and me. They tell us that, no matter how bad it gets, we can always start over. We can always turn our lives around. We can leave the past behind us. It’s not easy, but we can do it—because Jesus is alive. Jesus has made us his own. He has given us his Spirit. And the love he has given us urges us onward.
We are called to die. We are called to die to our selfishness and our need for control. We are called to die to all false values, all bad habits. Ultimately, we are called to die to our fears. But we are also called to live. In Jesus Christ, we are alive. We are God’s New Creation. We are fully alive at last. We are called to live for other people. We are called to be alive and free in Jesus, the Lord.
And our new life in him doesn’t always have to mean something spectacular. It’s not always a grand gesture. Most often, it is the cumulative effect of smaller decisions—to follow Jesus every day and love the people around us. Those tiny seeds of love grow into large trees. They are like the mustard seed—that smallest of seeds—that becomes the mighty shrub. The seeds God wants us to plant will grow by their own power. They will grow by his power. God has given us these seeds, the seeds of love, so that we might plant them and watch them grow. They have the power to grow wherever they are planted. And they grow in ways we can’t anticipate or control. These seeds are part of God’s plan. They are things God uses us to change the world, so that it looks more like Jesus. Imagine a world like that, a world that looks more like Jesus. A world where people actually love each other completely—where we give ourselves sacrificially for our neighbors. Imagine a world with no more violence, where everyone lives to a ripe old age, where people take care of each other.
We need to ask ourselves the following questions. Who are the people that Jesus is calling us to love? Who are the particular people he has put into our lives, so that we might love them? And how is his love urging us onward? How is Jesus calling us to go deeper in our faith? How is he calling us to serve our neighbors? How is he calling us to befriend them?
We’ve made a good start together at Trinity. That start has been interrupted. But it’s a real one, and we can’t afford to be complacent. Now, God is calling us to rebuild his church (person by person, ministry by ministry) on the other side of Covid-19. We have our plans, but we can’t always guess what God wants to do with us. God is always calling us to do a new and holy thing. We must be willing to make adjustments. We need to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
One thing we do know: As we follow in the steps of Jesus, he is always calling us to move outward. We need to go farther. We need to go deeper. We need to find Jesus out in the world he lived and died for.
For it is in serving and befriending our neighbors that the Church comes to life. It’s by serving and befriending other people, my brothers and sisters, that we find “the greater glory of God.”