This past week I spent time with hundreds of recent college graduates – including six from Montclair State University – out in Lincoln, Nebraska.  They were out there completing their first phase of training to serve as FOCUS missionaries for the next two to three years of their lives. FOCUS is an acronym for the Fellowship Of Catholic University Students.  So these twenty-somethings have committed to Prayer, Study, and going out to their peers and encouraging them into deeper relationships with Jesus’ Christ and the Catholic Church which He founded.  More than just reaching out to them to come to Mass and a Bible study, they go the next step and encourage and challenge their peers to strive for excellence in their studies and live soberly and chastely.   We are blessed to have had a team of 4 missionaries serving at Montclair for the last 13 years.  And it’s amazing to see them going out regularly throughout the school year, creating events to invite people to come, or just engaging people their age in dialogue on campus.  In order to do this, these young people have to fundraise their salaries.  So a few weeks ago, they started reaching out to family members, friends, friends of their families, former employers, teachers, and coaches – explaining to them what they are doing and inviting them to consider joining their support team by making a monthly contribution.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the 12th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME -JUNE 25, 2023.  I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

I’m humbled every time I pause and consider everything they’re doing. It’s not hard for us to think of the considerable odds they’re up against.  You might think the difficulty of engaging complete strangers in one of the most hostile environments to the Gospel, the college campus – particularly in this day and age – is the hardest part for them.  But, for some of them, that’s almost easy compared to what they experienced when they first told their families and friends. I’ve heard all kinds of extremes – from being told they were a disappointment; they were wasting their life, forbidding them from calling their relatives friends or neighbors. It’s jarring as their priest – and as one of their spiritual fathers, it hurts my heart to hear and see those types of things. I’ve had a few colorful discussions with parents of graduates who were becoming missionaries and finally snapping and saying, “do you realize how some of your friends have kids who are doing all kinds of destructive things, alcohol, drugs, that there are kids addicted to porn, have no jobs and are living at home after college – and your upset that your son, your daughter wants to serve God and His people, their peers as a missionary for a few years?” Fortunately, for the most part, the parents come to their senses and realize that this is a good thing – it’s a wonderful thing their kids are doing.

In his public testimony, one student-turned-missionary said “I know some of my friends think its weird, some of my family think I’m crazy – but if I can help one person get to heaven it’s totally worth it.”

As I said – completely humbling.  The only time I would imagine the words “Pride” and “Mass” being paired is when I witness they are being commissioned at the closing Mass for training and being sent forth to the campuses they’ve been assigned to.

Their witness is a perfect example of what Jesus talks about in this Gospel passage.  Some hear Jesus saying “Fear no one” at the outset and liken it to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “there’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” There can be this expectation that we’re not to feel fear.  Or if we are feeling fear, we’re doing something wrong, or we can start to think perhaps our faith isn’t as strong as we thought.

But that’s a misinterpretation of what Jesus is saying here. He’s not saying that people aren’t going to experience difficult things – in fact he promises that they will.  When He told us to “take up our cross and follow Him” He wasn’t saying a decorative piece of jewelry that we would wear or a tattoo on our bodies.  He was telling us that if the world would kill and destroy Him, who is the message, we should expect that they would be just as hostile to messengers who come in His name.  And He’s not saying that we’re not going to experience the feeling of fear or that fear itself is a bad thing.

What Jesus is challenging us to do is not to let that fear inhibit us from doing the work He calls us to as His disciples.   In fact, He encourages us to let the fear of someone being separated from God for all eternity be the only fear acceptable.  He clearly says that in today’s Gospel:   be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.  Jesus is speaking about the reality of Hell.  And that we should be working not just on avoiding sin to prevent ending up there ourselves but that we need to help others as well.  Hell should frighten us.  That fear should motivate us to speak His word.  That fear should separate us from anyone or anything that could undermine our getting to Heaven.  That fear should animate our trust and commitment in Jesus Christ alone.

These kids are scared of rejection, of being mocked.  Who isn’t?  But as one of the student missionaries shared, “I know Hell is real – I see so many of my friends living in it right now, and the last thing I would want is at the end of my life for Jesus to show me I could’ve done something to help them and I didn’t.”   May you and I be as convicted and motivated in wanting all those we come into contact with how they too are seen, known and loved by our Heavenly Father.  Inviting them to come to Jesus Christ and experience their true value and worth as a child of God now and for all eternity.