Homily: “On Failure in Mission”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Eighth Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

Failure is part of the every day situation of our lives. Every person experiences failure on a regular basis, sometimes every day. There are things we want to do, things we want to accomplish. There are ways we want to act, things we want to say, ways we want to be known and accepted. We feel that we need these things, we might even feel called to them, and have been preparing for them for some time. Our hopes and dreams may have been deeply embedded in these desires, even financial livelihood or personal accomplishment.

And yet, we fail. We are not able to do the things we want to do, we do not act or speak as we would wish, we are not known as we thought we should be. And we have to face the possibility that perhaps what we thought we were called to do and be lies somewhere else. We might feel like we let ourselves down, and let down those around us who helped us, who taught us, who gave us their time, talent and even treasure. And we might feel that God has let us down, that He has abandoned us, gone far away and left us to our devices without Him. “How, God,” we might bewail, “how have you brought us this far only to be left in failure?”

Can we doubt that a great many of the disciples, even most of them, felt the same way as they saw their beloved leader and rabbi taking His last breaths on the Cross? Nailed to the hard wood were their dreams, as well—dreams of freedom from oppression, dreams of a fully rebuilt Temple, which had been the dreams of their fathers and mothers for generations. As Saint Peter once barked out to Jesus, “We have left everything and followed you.” How bitter those words would have tasted at the foot of the Cross when they heard Jesus cry with a loud voice, “E′lo-i, E′lo-i, la′ma sabach-tha′ni?” which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

It is the Cross that we face in all our lives, it is the Cross we come to when we have a contrite and humble spirit, and it is the Cross that transforms us—transforms the lowly, transforms the hungry, transforms the humble. The Cross transfigures bread and wine into the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ. The Cross transfigures the failure in our lives into living sacrifices.

And it was by the Cross, perceiving however imperfectly into its deepest significance, that the Apostles and disciples of the early Church recognized that failure in Mission is part of God’s plan, indeed well anticipated by Jesus in His teaching to the disciples before His crucifixion. After teaching them to be simple in their Mission—that is, take nothing fancy with them, not only materially but I think also intellectually, for our work is proclamation not manipulation, the work of preaching repentance, driving out demons, and curing the sick, He said, “If any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.”

The echoes of this with the Sacred Scriptures, with the prophet Amos and all of the prophetic writings, as well as the Law, were strong and resonant. Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, told Amos to leave. He was no longer welcome. Pharaoh told Moses repeatedly to leave off the requests for freedom. But emboldened by the Lord—specifically, a correct understanding of God who never fails to accomplish His purposes and will uphold and support the humble and contrite—Moses was undeterred and Amos unambiguous: “I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’”

In other words, deal with it—this is who I am, and my failure does not change that. When God is our rock—the rock of our salvation—that becomes our attitude. This is who I am—I love God Almighty, humble and contrite at the foot of His Majesty—and any failure that happens to me does not change that. We are told to pray to God, and to ask Him to help us know and understand what things we ought to do, knowing that God’s grace pervades all, and empowers us to accomplish not what we want, but what God wants. Humble and contrite at the foot of the Cross, may be go out in Tazewell County and preach that all should repent, may we cast out the demons among us, and with our presence and attention, anoint with oil the sick and lonely, and heal them.