Prayer. Community. Mission.
Henri Nouwen noted that in Luke—unlike in Matthew—Jesus starts with prayer before selecting his 12 disciples. Then, with his disciples, he reaches out to minister. “Jesus spent the night in solitude with God. In the morning, he gathered his apostles around him and formed community. In the afternoon, with his apostles, he went out and preached the Word and healed the sick.” (A Spirituality of Living) It would seem that for Luke, discipleship begins with solitude and personal renewal that informs the formation of community from which flows ministry and mission.
Nouwen’s concern was that we often start the other way around. “So often in ministry, I have wanted to do it by myself. If it didn’t work, I went to others and said, “Please!” searching for a community to help me. If that didn’t work, maybe I’d start praying.”
The movement from prayer to community to mission is cyclical of course, the reflection on the missional activity being constantly brought back into prayer and community. But Nouwen’s point shouldn’t be lost. The starting point of our life of faith, as a follower of Jesus, must be a relationship with God through prayer and solitude. But getting stuck in prayer—or community for that matter—is also ultimately unfaithful. Which part of this holy trio—prayer, community, mission—are you naturally drawn toward? Which—as a disciple, a follower of Christ—needs more attention?
Nouwen felt that Luke 6 offers guidance for how we approach mission and ministry in the world. He, like St. Ignatius, felt that Jesus was warning not to become trapped by “inordinate attachments.” Inordinate attachments are worldly illusions of success and happiness, such as our need to be liked, need to succeed, need to control…. Ultimately, they ensnare us in a false sense of security and faith in our own efforts.
Read carefully each one of Jesus’ statements in his Sermon on the Plain. Which one catches your attention? Which one challenges you most? Bring this to prayer and solitude with God.
LUKE 6:17-26 Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them. Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”
JEREMIAH 17:5-10 Thus says the Lord: Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse – who can understand it? I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.
PSALM 1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful! Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and they meditate on his law day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do shall prosper. It is not so with the wicked; they are like chaff which the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgement comes, nor the sinner in the council of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed.