Jesus assured us that He has prepared for us numerous eternal dwelling places in His Father’s house, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”
He also assures us that He is preparing us to enter into these eternal dwellings, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that were I am you may be also.” Jesus who has prepared a place for us is now preparing us too to enter these already prepared dwellings. It is not an “all are welcome” affair: only those who allow Christ prepare them adequately will enter the eternal dwelling places He has prepared for them.
Jesus prepares us for entrance into our eternal dwellings by giving us two things constantly — divine gifts and numerous opportunities. We are to make use of these gifts in all circumstances for the glory of God and growth of His body, the Church.
The early Church was experiencing a continuous growth in disciples, “The number of disciples continued to grow.” But they had to address the grievances of the Hellenist widows against their Hebrew companions because of the unjust distribution of resources. The Church did not choose just any person(s) to address these issue but those who had obviously received the necessary gifts, “Select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” They all used their gifts to respond to the opportunity at hand.
The Church continued to grow and flourish only when those who had been gifted used their particular gift, no matter how insignificant the gift may be, to fulfill the tasks assigned to them at that moment and to do so in such a way that they also made it easier for others to use their own gifts and meet their own assigned tasks. The community bore spiritual fruit as they all used their gifts for their tasks for the sake of the body of the Church, “The word of God continued to spread, and the number of disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large number of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.”
St. Peter calls the Church to be spiritually alive and fruitful because, in Jesus Christ, we have become “a spiritual house,” a collection of “living stones,” called to “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Our sacrifices are acceptable to Him only because we have come to share in the gift of His own priesthood through baptism, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” We all have been individually gifted with divine gifts and charisms to make divinely acceptable sacrifices in the opportunities of every place and time for the sake of His body the Church. This is how the Church grows and we too allow Jesus to prepare us for our eternal dwelling places.
The debate on the Catholic priesthood was raging in the Church shortly before the COVID-19 virus appeared and forced everyone to scamper to our homes, communities, and rectories and quarantine ourselves. There were many suggestions to solve the shortage of priestly vocation in the universal Church. Unfortunately many of these suggestions lacked deep biblical, theological, or traditional basis. The popular proffered solutions include the ordination of women as deacons or the ordination of married men to the priesthood.
The implied assumption in this clamor for women ordination and the ordination of married men is that the Church will somehow be stronger if only we had more Catholic priests. That is an illusion because what makes the Church strong and vibrant is not more ordained priests but our greater fidelity to the gifts of our baptismal priesthood. The Church grows and bears spiritual fruit only when every single one of us comes to discover and appreciate the particular gift or charism that Christ has given to us in baptism and make use of these gifts in all circumstances for the building up of the Church, and ultimately, for the greater glory of God.
As we celebrated Mothers’ day last weekend, I spent time reflecting and thanking God for all the mothers in my life whom He had used to bring me to this point in my life. I remember one of them in particular who helped me develop my public speaking skills in my early seminary days. She was obviously gifted and passionate about helping seminarians overcome their fears and speak boldly and clearly from the pulpit. I later on learnt that she was called “Dragon Lady.” She really lived up to that reputation. I am still thanking God I survived her intense one-on-one sessions with me! She was a devout wife, mother, grandmother, and university professor. Despite her deep Catholic faith, vast knowledge, zeal for the priesthood, and speaking skills, she did not have time or reason to clamor for priestly ordination. She knew who she was in the Church and her own gifts. She was focused more on using her particular teaching skills for the sake of the Church’s future priests.
This is an example of what the Church needs now more than ever – Catholic faithful who live their given charisms to the fullest at each moment and help others to do the same. We need married families and homes where the gift of new life is welcomed and accepted and not those in which the life of the unborn is threatened by abortion and artificial contraception. We need parents that are not indifferent but are so on fire with the faith that they passionately raise their children up in the faith by word and example. We need parents who are so about the mission of Christ in His Church that they create the necessary foundations for their children to hear and follow the call to religious life and priesthood in the future. We need parents who will teach their children to love and pray and to be chaste instead of those who unreflectingly cave in to the prevailing materialistic and consumeristic mentality. We need parents who will let the grace of baptism flourish in their children and not be fixated on imposing their own career choices on their children.
We also need the Catholic priests who will realize that they are not ordained for ourselves but to use their own office and unique gifts to help others discover and use their own gifts for the sake of the Church. The Church teaches us: “Through the sacrament of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are consecrated to be a holy priesthood…The ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed to the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians.”(CCC 1546, 1547)
The painful clergy sexual scandals of the past months have taught us the bitter lesson that we need not just more priests, but priests who will allow Christ to deepen in them the grace of their priestly ordination and so overcome all mediocrity and worldliness. We need the priests who will not succumb to public opinion in their preaching but speak the word of God with love, courage, and humility, reminding all of us of the graces and grave responsibility of our baptismal faith. We need the priests who will show our people that it is possible to joyfully live the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the very sacraments we make present and the helping grace and example of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is how the Church will grow and be vibrant in each age and time.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus assured the disciples earlier when they wanted to have privileged places at His right and at His left, “It is not mine to give but it is for those for whom my Father has prepared them.”(Mk 10:40) The Father has prepared these places for us because “it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.”(Lk 12:32) Jesus also tells us that these dwelling places are many to remind us that we are to labor to bring others to their heavenly dwellings too. We do try to enter heaven alone but also to help others on their own journey home too.
Jesus has fully prepared these places for us and He will never cease giving us gifts and opportunities to make use of them. If we have been unfaithful in the past in the use of these gifts, we must not panic or get discouraged but prepare ourselves for the next chance because the opportunities and the gifts will never cease as long as we are alive.
In the spirit of Mothers’ Day, let us look to Mama Mary who was immensely gifted as the Mother of all the redeemed children of God. She was gifted with the power of intercessory prayer, “They have no wine.” She was gifted with the gift of counsel, “Do whatever He tells you.”(Jn 2:3,5) By using all her gifts to strengthen Jesus’ novice disciples, she too allowed Jesus to prepare her to enter into her own exalted eternal dwelling place as Queen of Heaven and Earth.
As faithful bride of the Holy Spirit who is the giver of all gifts and charisms, Mother Mary can also help us to recognize and appreciate our unique gift from baptism and make use of it for the sake of the Church all the days of our lives. This is how the Church will grow as we let Christ prepare us for the eternal dwellings that He has already prepared for us.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!