Father William Vos, a priest of the Diocese of St. Cloud, MN, was a member of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners, serving in Eastern Africa for 19 years.
When Jesus sends us out as his followers, he is clear about his expectation: if we accept the call, we must be “all in.”
Really, we must put following his call “even before our love for our own mother and father!” This is the third Sunday in a row that we are listening to Matthew’s version of Jesus’s “pre-mission” instructions (in Matthew 10). There certainly is strong language in these instructions: if you wish to throw your lot in with Jesus, and expect to make it for the long haul, you need to start with the notion that you’re ready to give your life, your entire self, in the process. Jesus sums this up with his oft-repeated mantra: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Not for the faint-hearted!
We find the same notion in Paul’s letter to the Romans in today’s short passage: we followers have died and have been buried with Christ. The old “self” is supposed to be dead! We are then to rise to new life.
We have a lot of current examples of this foundational option to truly give of oneself. In my neighborhood, at a huge chicken processing plant, where dozens of wage earners are COVID-19 positive, people I personally know must decide whether to risk their lives in order to provide for their loved ones. I have a niece who served with the first responders during the recent massive protests in South Minneapolis.
We all can add to this list with most often unrecognized people who unselfishly give of themselves at great risk for the sake of others. And for many it would be a lot safer to just stay home and take care of number one.
But these dramatic illustrations are not the exceptions, really. Actually, this moral principle of “laying down one’s life” is pretty normative. It’s what every married couple tries to do every day of their married life. It’s what a parent wakes up every day to do and be for his or her child. And if they are indeed Christian, the motive is Christ-like love -- giving of oneself for the sake of others.
It is also what calls Catholic men and women to literally leave home here in the United States and commit to live and serve with the less fortunate as Maryknoll missioners. I was fortunate to serve for many years alongside the Maryknoll Lay Missioners. I found it so inspiring to witness the many hundreds of women and men who give a good chunk of their lives to show what giving one’s life for others looks like in Bolivia, Cambodia, or Tanzania, etc.. They laid down their lives in everyday ways, through healthcare, education, pastoral ministries, advocacy – all done in a hands-on, jump-in-with-both-feet manner.
And, most importantly, what’s the reward mentioned in today’s Gospel? When we stay on this journey, loving as Jesus taught and did, we are promised that our “joy will be complete.” You know, from my experience, the promise is true!
Photo, Tanzanian children, courtesy of Fr. Bill Vos.