In Graham Greene’s novel “The Power and the Glory,” the unlikely hero is a priest. He is caught by the revolutionary Mexican government and condemned to be shot.
On the night before his execution, he sits in his cell and thinks back over his life. Greene tells us that tears poured down the priest’s face, not because he was afraid of death, even the fear of pain was in the background, he was crying because he had to go to God empty-handed. His life had been a dingy failure. It seemed to him, at that moment, that it would have been easy to be a saint, or an apostle.
In our first reading, we hear about a summit meeting of the apostles. The original twelve are now eleven, one of the twelve has proved unfaithful, his life is a dingy failure. He has not simply denied Jesus, as Peter did. He has not simply run away as all save John did. This one sold Jesus for silver, and in despair hanged himself. It is time to replace him, to replace Judas.
The apostles were to witness in so many ways. They were to teach, to baptize, to do what Jesus did. Put another way, an apostle is a man or woman who has experienced Jesus, encountered God, and is driven to proclaim Him to others.
Apostles are not created by ordination; Apostles are created when water flows over your head at baptism. There is simply not one of you who is not an apostle, and who was not sent.
The reality is the world’s redemption for which the Son of God died is impossible without you. Not just difficult, but impossible! Popes may write encyclicals until the cows come home. Bishops confirm and ordain and produce pastoral letters ‘til the computer gives out. Priests offer the sacrifice of the mass from the rising of the sun to its setting. Theologians compose the most brilliant treatises. But unless the Gospel is preached in our everyday life, preached in the slums of our cities, as well as on Wall Street, preached to the wealthy of the world, as well as to the homeless and jobless, to the politicians as well as the drug-addicted, none of the other stuff matters.
Many times it can only be done by you because you are there, and when you bring Christ with you to the office, hospital, school, you are an apostle. Not by preaching in words, but by the way you are, how you treat those who are weak, those who are not bright and beautiful.
You see, Christ has no body now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. We are the Church and what we do, the Church does, and what we fail to do, the Church fails to do.
You have the gift of faith, and to whom much is given, much is expected. Do not be like the priest in the story, who at the end of his life had to go to God empty-handed. In the words of St. Francis, preach the Gospel always. Only when necessary, use words.