Workers are few

Jesus was traveling in a circuit among the villages so he could teach in their synagogues, share the good news of the kingdom of heaven, and heal everyone who was sick in any way. He felt compassion when he saw the crowds because they were exhausted and lost, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his closest followers, “The harvest is heavy, but the laborers are light. Therefore, pray to our abundant God to provide more workers.”

MT 9:35-38, LK 10:2

Then Jesus went away by himself to a mountaintop to spend all night in prayer to God. When the first rays of dawn arrived, he called those he had chosen to him and they came. He also appointed 12 apostles. They were to be with him, to go out to preach, and to heal diseases and drive out demons.

Their names were Simon, (who Jesus renamed Peter); his brother Andrew; James and John – the sons of Zebedee; Philip and Bartholomew; Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus; Simon the Cananaean – also known as the Zealot; Thaddeus – also called Jude; and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

MT 10:1-4, MK 3:13-19, LK 6:12-16

Jesus wanted the disciples to only go to fellow Israelites. He instructed them not to go to other nations, especially any associated with Samaria.

MT 10:5-6

He told them “Announce that the kingdom of heaven is near.” Sending them out in pairs, he instructed them to “Heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, and cast out demons. Bring nothing for your journey; not a walking stick, a travel bag, food, money, or even extra clothing. Stay in the first house that welcomes you during the entire time you are in that town, eating and drinking what is offered to you, because a worker deserves his pay.”

When entering a house they were to “Say ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, then your blessing will stay with those who live in that house. Otherwise, your blessing will return to you. If the town does not welcome you and your words, then you are to shake the dust off your feet as you leave. When judgment day comes it will be easier on Sodom and Gomorrah that it will be for any town that did not show hospitality to you.”

The disciples went and did as he said, spreading the good news, preaching, and healing everywhere they went.

MT 10:7-15, MK 6:6b-13, LK 9:1-6, LK 10:1, 4-12

Jesus said “I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Because of that, be as clever as snakes and as peaceful as doves.”

MT 10:16, LK 10:3

“Get thee to a nunnery”?

So how come nuns get a special place to retire to? It is a lot nicer than a retirement home. Cleaner, smells better, better lit. Better food. There are no special codes to get in and out either. There isn’t a feeling of being trapped.

They have donated their lives to serving those who suffer from “poverty, sickness, and ignorance.” Their whole lives have been given up in the service of the church. No husband, no income, no possessions; they have sacrificed themselves to serve others.

How is this different from a teacher, or a police officer, or a nurse? How are their lives of service different? Their lives, the lives of the secular who serve, are harder in fact. They have to secure for themselves a home. They have to buy their clothes. They have to pay for the electricity, the water, the gas. They have to do upkeep on their homes. They have to pay for their training. If they are smart they save for their retirement. Then they have to find a place that has an opening that is nice to retire to.

This is a beautiful convent that just happens to be a nursing home. The grass is lush. The rooms are pleasant. It was built as a retirement home for aging Sisters of Mercy. Not all nuns, just these particular kind of nuns. The sister who welcomed us said that they had served the poor and the homeless all their lives, and now with their convent they are still serving them. But then she got a little quiet. How? By letting people come here on retreat.

Now, they aren’t leading the retreats. They are allowing people to come and have their retreats here. They didn’t initiate it. They had 41 sisters to start with and are now left with 18. Other people started calling, wondering if they could use the space. There are a lot of empty rooms.

This makes me wonder about the ranks of nuns. Surely there should be others who are ready to retire. A steady influx of novitiates would result in a steady stream of retirees 50 years later. But the stream is drying up.

Do people not want to serve God by being a nun? Is it too much of a commitment? Is it a stigma attached to the Catholic Church, and church in general? Or are people choosing to serve God in less open ways?

You don’t have to be a sister to serve. You can be married or not, female or not, Catholic or not. You can work in a church or a school or a department store. You can work anywhere where you can use your talents and your gifts to help others.

God wants each of us right where we are, right as we are.

Be honest in your dealings. Treat every person fairly. Speak truthfully and kindly. In these ways you are serving God.

You don’t have to join a nonprofit. You don’t have to give all your money away. You don’t have to go on a missions trip to Belize or the Congo or Africa.

God is here. The poor are here. You are here. Get going. You don’t even have to “get thee to a nunnery.” Just go.

(Started 9-14-13 at 11:30 am, middle of a 26 hour silent retreat. Expanded 9-16-13)