The risen Jesus says to his disciples, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). And again, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:22-23). Each of these statements is composed of two sentences that communicate a twofold gift. There is the gift of Jesus to those disciples: Peace be with you. . . Receive the Holy Spirit. Then there is the gift of Jesus through those disciples: As the Father has sent me, so I send you. . . Whose sins you forgive are forgiven. Saint Paul says the same thing: “God has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18). Through Christ, God grants reconciliation to Saint Paul and his fellow apostles and through them to others.
These gifts of God through Christ – His peace, His Spirit, reconciliation with Him – granted to and through the apostles, are likewise granted to and through those to whom the apostles are sent. This further extension of God’s gifts through Christ happens in at least two ways.
One way this happens is through what Catholic Christians call “apostolic succession.” That means the successive handing on of the specific ministry that Jesus entrusted to the apostles – the authentic, Spirit-led ministry of teaching, sanctifying, and governing – that assures the unity of the body of Christ. The beginnings of this successive handing on can be recognized in Saint Paul’s exhortations to Saint Timothy: “Stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands” (2 Tim 1:6) and, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus . . . proclaim the word . . . convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:1-2). In the Catholic Church, that succession is understood to have continued down through time even to the bishops of today.
Another way this happens is through the witness of believers. There are many examples of this in the gospels, but consider the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in the Gospel of John (John 4:1-44). After encountering Jesus at the well, “The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, ‘Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?’” (John 4:28-29). As a result, “Many of the Samaritans in that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified” (John 4:39).
One of the great joys of my life as a Catholic priest, Dominican friar, and health care minister is seeing how the people to whom Jesus has sent me have, in turn, been sent to others. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). Jesus sends his disciples and Jesus, in turn, sends those to whom his disciples are sent. Jesus is the one who does the sending. He bestows his gifts – including the gift of being sent – through the disciples he sends. But it is he, not they, who is the giver and the sender. I have received the gracious gifts of God through Christ, who has sent me many faithful ministers of his Church and witnesses to his love. I am grateful to all of them, and all of them would gratefully acknowledge that the gifts they bore me were from Jesus and not themselves. Jesus’ gifts to me have included the gift of being sent and the gift of seeing how some of the people to whom Jesus has sent me have, in turn, been sent by Jesus to others.
I would like to share two specific ways in which I am currently able to appreciate this gift. One of these concerns the ordinations to the Catholic priesthood that will take place at St. Dominic’s Church in Washington, DC on May 20, 2017 and at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on May 27, 2017. I intend to concelebrate both ordinations, joining my brother priests in imposing my hands upon the newly ordained who will have just received “the gift of God . . . through the imposition of” the bishop’s hands (2 Tim 1:6). Eight of those newly ordained priests – three in Washington and five in New York – will have completed our Health Care Ministry Internship Program. I, who along with other Dominican friars and collaborators have helped form these eight men for their future ministry in health care, will be deeply gratified to see them sent forth by Jesus through the grace of holy orders.
Another way that I am privileged to see Jesus sending those to whom he sent me is by visiting sick people in the hospitals we serve. I often encounter people who, through their own experiences of suffering and loss, are given newfound concern for others who experience suffering and loss. Two recent examples: One, I had an unexpected meeting after Palm Sunday Mass with a young woman who, having accompanied her mother through illness and death, is now studying to be a nurse in hopes of helping those who undergo similar suffering. Two, I visited a man who was hospitalized due to complications following a major surgery. He was reluctant to take Holy Communion or pray for himself because of his awareness of others in the hospital who seemed to need God’s blessings more than he did. He agreed to receive Communion if he could offer the graces of that sacrament for the children in the pediatric unit and their families. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”