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07/03/16 Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

Jesus sends his 72 disciples out to preach the Gospel, and they come back rejoicing at the success of their mission.

And then Jesus says something rather strange.  He tells them, "I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven." Biblical commentators differ on their interpretation of this sentence. Some read it as if Jesus were simply affirming the reports from the disciples. It would be like Jesus saying, "Yes, while you were preaching and healing, I was here and I saw Satan's influence rolling back wherever you spread the Good News." Others read the saying as an introduction to the rest of his speech, as a warning against unhealthy pride, the cause of Satan's original fall from grace. In this case, the phrase would mean, "Well, it's good that you have experienced the power of my salvation, but be careful. If you forget that this power comes not from yourselves but from on high, you may fall into the tragic trap that the devil fell into, thinking that you are on par with God."

In either case, the lesson remains the same. 

Those who trust in God and obey his call in their lives, as did the seventy-two, will experience God's power acting in and through their lives, which is exactly what Christ wants. 

That experience will then open the door to the stable kind of happiness that only God can give, because it teaches us to depend on God, who is all-powerful, and not on ourselves, who are far from being all-powerful...A Christian's happiness doesn't arise from how great we are or how great our achievements have been. It comes from knowing that we matter to God, that God is our Father, Savior and Friend. It comes, as Jesus tells us, from having our "names written in heaven."

This is kind of a strange phrase to our ears: "rejoice because your names are written in heaven."

What does it mean?

Citizenship was an important concept in the ancient world, at the time of Christ. In a Greek city-state or colony, every recognized citizen could not only vote, but could also make their voice heard in the governmental assembly. It was as if each of us would be able to go to Washington, walk into the Capitol Building, pick up a microphone, and just start addressing Congress - and they would have to stay there and listen. Greek democracy was very participative, and citizens had notable and valued privileges.

But there was also a problem: citizenship could easily come and go.  It  was a slave-based economy, and a war-torn international stage. Slaves could be freed, and granted citizenship. Free citizens could be also be enslaved, if their city-state was conquered. As a result, the list of citizens in any particular city was constantly changing. If you wanted to be sure you had all the rights and privileges that belonged to you as a citizen, you had to make sure that your name was on the citizen roll-call list.

When Jesus tells us to rejoice because our names are written in heaven, this is the context he had in mind. 

Through baptism, God has made us citizens of the heavenly city, of his Kingdom.  Our names are on the list. We share in heaven's blessings now, and can look forward to their fullness later - just like all the saints. This is God's gift to us. No earthly power can take it away.

And so it is a stable source of rejoicing.

It is not easy for us to live in accordance with this truth. We have a strong tendency to base our satisfaction on successes and pleasures that we can see and touch. In fact, however, those are only pointers, beautiful invitations, but the real celebration, the real meaning of life is God.

Only by maintaining a vivid awareness of God's interest in and love for us, will we be able to experience the deeper, more stable happiness that can bring meaning and satisfaction even in the middle of hardship and suffering. This is what "rejoicing because our names are written in heaven" is all about. It's an application of the virtue of hope. Like every virtue, hope can grow if we exercise it. That requires the daily mental discipline of directing our thoughts again and again to God's goodness.....


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