Ordinary Time 29, Year B

For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified (Jn. 17:19)

If, to be recognized as saints, St. Peter and St Paul, and likewise the other apostles and disciples of Jesus, had to go through the process of canonization in force in the Catholic Church from 1587 to 1983, all of them would have given ground for the Devil’s Advocate’s—or better, the Promoter of Faith’s—list of objections not to be short. He would have noted that the disciples left Jesus and fled. He would have highlighted, in particular, Peter’s denial, Paul’s consent to Stephen’s execution and the initiative to persecute the church taken by one breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord.

The suggestion of revenge made by the “sons of thunder” would perhaps have been part of the testimony against canonization (Lk. 9:53-54; Mk. 3:17). Part of it too, for sure, would have been the two brothers’ divisive jockeying for the best positions of honor as well as the reaction of the rest. The ten’s indignation shows clearly—the Promoter of the Faith would perhaps have contended further—that, just like ambitious James and John, the ten learned nothing from the teaching, given earlier more than once by the Teacher, about his passion and death, about self-denial, servitude and the cross, about humility, simplicity and poverty. On account of the disciples’ failure to understand, the Teacher would immediately repeat to them the same lesson and explain it time and again.

All objections having been laid out, however, the Devil’s Advocate would still have to grant that in the end the disciples did drink the cup that the Teacher drank and were baptized with the baptism with which he was baptized. So, then, both the Promoter of the Faith as well as the Postulator of the Cause would end up singing and recounting the wonders of the Lord.

Indeed, it is by God’s grace that human beings become saints, weak though they are, foolish, hard of heart, ambitious, or of little faith and understanding. It is God’s servant who, through his suffering and his bearing their guilt, justifies these human beings. The one who gives sure access to the throne of grace and offers mercy and timely help is the high priest who is able to sympathize with human weakness and who has been similarly tested in every way, yet without sin. It is the Son of Man who, serving and giving his life as a ransom, enables the human beings he has chosen to become simple, humble, meek, mortified and zealous missionaries who embody and point to the Christian meaning of authority and greatness as humble and self-emptying servitude, and not as oppression of subjects by the tyrant. Only through, with and in Jesus can missionaries do anything of worth, because in the end they must get it firmly into their heads that when they have carried out all they have been asked to do, they should, following Christ’s advice, say to themselves that they are useless servants, that they have done what they were supposed to do (CR XII, 14). Indeed, as St. Vincent de Paul also pointed out in a 1658 letter to a discouraged superior, missionaries are simply poor tools that would spoil everything were they not in the hands of so excellent a workman.

Let the Devil’s Advocate, or any critic, for that matter, say whatever he likes about those sent by God, for example, about Archbishop Oscar A. Romero, alleged by some to have been murdered on account of politics rather than faith. For in any case, the merits of Jesus Christ, fallen humanity’s Savior and Servant, would be made to stand out.