Dedication of Altar – Church of Saint Mary of the Lake, Lake Winola
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 7, 2019 

            A month ago, we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.   During the course of this year’s anniversary, I’m sure many of you watched the numerous interviews with members of the “Greatest Generation” who participated in the invasion and who, sadly, are passing away very quickly.  One such interview touched me deeply.

A World War II vet, at 96 years of age, spoke with what seemed to still be a fresh sense of pain and anguish.  He recalled losing numerous friends and colleagues within the first minutes of landing on the shores of Normandy.  And he talked of the fear, the suffering and the horror of that day and of the war in general.  But then he said, “Still, I look back on those years in the war as the very best years of my life.  Why?  For once in my life, I really had the feeling that I was part of something bigger than myself.  We had a mission.  Our task was noble.  Our goal was to root out evil, to end hatred and to bring about peace.”

Notice what he said, “I was part of something bigger than myself.  We had a mission” – a mission to end war and bring about an era of goodness and peace.  …  Today’s gospel is also about a mission of peace that engages the 72 disciples whom Jesus commissions in something bigger than themselves, namely, the work of God.

As they prepare to embark upon their mission, Jesus instructs the 72 to embrace their work in a particular manner.  …  Make your relationship with God the foundation for who you are and all that you do.  …  Keep focused on the values of the gospel message – travel light, accept the hospitality of those you visit and always be grateful for what you are given.  …  Proclaim God’s goodness, even when you find yourselves in the midst of “wolves.”  …  Offer hope and healing – not judgment and condemnation.  …  Wherever you go, proclaim a message of “Peace,” for your presence, indeed, heralds something bigger than yourselves.  …    And find your satisfaction not in what you will do but in what God will do through you.

My friends, while the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ commissioning of the 72 are quite different from most anything that we might experience today, the mission that they were given is the same mission that you and I received at baptism.  It’s the same work that any committed disciple of Jesus is called to embrace today – a work that emerges first from a relationship – a relationship with Jesus.

And that relationship is why we are here today.  …  Oh, we may be here to get a look at some much-appreciated enhancements to our worship space.  But when all is said and done, our presence reflects much, much more – doesn’t it?

We’re here despite the struggles that we face in life – despite the disappointments that we’ve experienced in our Church and with its leaders – and despite all of the guilt that we heap upon ourselves for one reason or another.  …  In short, we are here because we really have nowhere else to turn if we’re intent upon finding a life of meaning, purpose and peace.  …  We’re here because, when all is said and done, we believe that God provides us and our world with a way forward.  …  We’re here because of our relationship with Jesus that is ultimately rooted in God’s love for us.

And it’s our relationship with Jesus that prompts us to acknowledge the mission that he gave to the 72 in today’s gospel and to seek, however feebly, to make that same mission our own – to become a part of something bigger than ourselves – to bring to this world of ours that so often seems to have been turned upside down the presence of Jesus – and to be his hands, his voice and his heart in service of our brothers and sisters who seek something more in life.

In a moment, we’ll dedicate this beautiful new altar.  Pope Benedict XVI offered these words about this central symbol for Catholic Christians, “Every altar is a symbol of Jesus Christ, present in the midst of his Church.  …   In the Church’s liturgy, … Jesus invites us … to share in his self-offering.  He calls us … to offer, in union with him, our own daily sacrifices for the salvation of the world.”  …  And each time we gather at the altar of the Lord to celebrate the Eucharist – as we do today – we are reminded that like this altar, we too are set apart for the glory of God and the service of his people.

So practically speaking, what does all of this mean?  Let’s go back to today’s gospel.  In it, Jesus sends the 72 out on mission.  He calls them to reflect his life in the work that they are called to do – to love selflessly and to serve generously.  …  The dedication of this altar and the Eucharist that we will receive from it are reminders of just how vital it also is for us to make Jesus’ mission our own, if we seek to live faith with authenticity.

In reflecting upon the gift of the Eucharist that will soon be celebrated on this altar, the great Saint Augustine put it best: “Become the mystery you celebrate.”  …  Become the broken Christ whose life was poured forth for those that he loved.  …  Become the compassionate Christ who multiplied loaves and fish and fed the hungry multitudes.  …  Receive Christ and then become Christ in loving service to one another.

That’s our mission, brothers and sisters.  …  And when we make the mission of Jesus our own, this parish will shine far more brightly and beautifully in the sight of the Lord than even this splendid space that we dedicate for worship today.