Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
September 9, 2014
St. Henry Catholic Church
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Feast of St. Peter Claver
Clergy and Religious Anniversary Celebration
“In those days he departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God.” Luke 6:12
The great spiritual writers of our Catholic tradition speak of the moment in prayer when, if the person is faithful to mental prayer, the one praying cannot live without it and wants to live in a state of prayer. The one who prays faithfully develops not only a habit of prayer but finds that this prayer is like the air he breathes. It becomes second nature, so much a part of life but not external to life, internal, such that if he stopped he might die.
We can only imagine what the prayer of Jesus was like, its intensity and content. The Gospels are filled with moments describing how, when and where Jesus prayed. Today’s Gospel is an example. Jesus ascended a mountain to pray and there spent all “night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). This prayer was a prelude to the great commissioning of the apostles. Jesus, we are told, called “his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve” (Luke 6:13).
This is a most revealing verse. It teaches us at least three important lessons. First, that Jesus was at prayer all night with God indicates that the commissioning of the Twelve apostles is not a casual event. This is not an “oh, by the way, I need some help and you are it” moment. Hardly. Jesus is choosing these twelve disciples to be intimate with Him. They are to listen to Him and follow Him in a way that the other disciples do not. But the Twelve are constitutive. This brings us to the second lesson. The Twelve apostles recall the twelve princes of the twelve tribes that God himself chose in the Book of Numbers (Numbers 1). These princes were to assist Moses and Aaron in identifying the people who constituted the tribes of Israel (Numbers 1:44). Not only are the Twelve instrumental identifying who belongs. This choice implies a hierarchy. Not all disciples are chosen to be an apostle. Not everyone is an apostle, and not everyone was a prince of Israel. But way the world thinks of princes, is not the way Jesus envisions His apostles to be. The apostles are set apart but not to lord it over anyone. In the next episode of this Gospel, Jesus shows them what they will do. He teaches and He heals. His princes are to be servants, just as He is a servant.
Today we celebrate the feast day of a saint who was a servant, St. Peter Claver. He worked tirelessly for the good of others, to lift the poorest of the poor from their destitution. St. Peter Claver had no social programs to offer the slaves. He could not even offer them freedom from their enslavement. What he could offer, however, was the freedom of a child of God. In so doing, he gave them hope. He extended to them the life of God through the Sacraments of the Christ. He taught them not to fear the human master who could take their human life but to have a holy fear of the God who gave them Eternal Life.
This is the lesson we learn from the Gospel today. Jesus sets His twelve apostles apart for a special mission, a hierarchical mission of service. This mission is not about politics. It is certainly not social service. As Pope Francis pointed out early in his pontificate, the Church is not an NGO. Christ through the Church invites the people of God to intimacy with Him. In this intimacy they discover the person of Christ who sets them free so that they can meet the challenges the world places before them with faith and hope.
Finally, we honor the men and women who, through priesthood and consecrated life, have witnessed to this service of the people of God. They have given of themselves teaching and healing. Recently at my Ladies Luncheon, where we read scripture and comment on it, I was asked by someone about the gift of tongues. Why didn’t we find people speaking in tongues as some did in the early days of the Church? I answered that we do. Not a day goes by that we don’t see the gift of tongues practiced. Every time the sinner hears a word of admonition and converts, the sinner has heard a new language. When a parent gets through to a child or a teacher imparts a lesson to a student that changes his life, a new language is spoken. There is a saying I came across many years ago: “To learn a new language is to live a new life.”
Learning a new language and living a new life is what the priesthood and consecrated life are all about. In turn, they bring this new means of communicating to so many who are served.
Learn the new language of prayer. Reflect on the all-night prayer of Jesus on the mountain. The ceaseless prayer of Jesus was the beginning of a vocation, a call to be an Apostle, to continue Jesus’ work in the Church, a call to disciples to come and follow.