St. Joseph of Leonissa (1556-1612)
Joseph avoided the safe compromises by which people sometimes undercut the gospel. Born at Leonissa in the Kingdom of Naples, Joseph joined the Capuchins in his hometown in 1573. Denying himself hearty meals and comfortable quarters, he prepared for ordination and a life of preaching. In 1587 he went to Constantinople to take care of the Christian galley slaves working under Turkish masters. Imprisoned for this work, he was warned not to resume it on his release. He did and was again imprisoned and then condemned to death. Miraculously freed, he returned to Italy where he preached to the poor and reconciled feuding families as well as warring cities which had been at odds for years. He was canonized in 1746.
In one of his sermons, Joseph says: "Every Christian must be a living book wherein one can read the teaching of the gospel. This is what St. Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘Clearly you are a letter of Christ which I have delivered, a letter written not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh in the heart’ (2 Corinthians 3:3). Our heart is the parchment; through my ministry the Holy Spirit is the writer because ‘my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe’ (Psalm 45:1)."
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (6:7-13 )
Calling the Twelve to him, Jesus sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. These were his instructions: Take nothing for the journey except a staff — no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them. They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
The Supreme work
Observe two things about the world — it is there, and it seems to be in constant danger of running down. That is to say, firstly, that the world is the great and evident Fact before us. It is there, and it suggests endless reflections on its own limited possession of the gift of being, and on how radically incapable it is to explain the very fact of itself. It stands before us as a given, while pointing aloft to the Unseen as its Source and Foundation. But there is a second thing about the world, apart from the fact of its being there. It is that it needs constant work if it is to be developed. Age after age, mankind has been setting out each morning to work so as to maintain and develop the world. This, indeed, is man’s vocation. He is called to work. Throngs without number awake from their slumber and step forth for the day’s work — some leaving for the field or the store, others remaining indoors to attend to family and house. Age after age, mankind has been at work because this heaving, throbbing, pulsating world depends on that daily work. Otherwise it will not reach its term. Work is the key to the development of the world and to the happiness of man who does the work. Now, while the world must be maintained in existence by God and sustained in its development by man, there is a radically new factor that imperils everything. At the root of the world — which is to say in the heart and soul of man — sin has been introduced. It is a terrible poison which has got into the bloodstream of the organism, into the sap of the tree, and the result is that death has been introduced and has spread. So, from the beginning, a new need has arisen and a new kind of work has had to be done. It is the work of redemption. To do this work God himself stepped forth from his home and entered the field of work in the world. He became man in order to take away the sin of the world and save it from death. Not only does he work to sustain the world; not only does he enable man to work at developing the world’s natural potential; he is engaged in the most important work of all, the work of redemption.
Thus it is that in our Gospel scene today (Mark 6:7-13), our Lord sends his disciples out on this most important of all works, the work of confronting sin and death with the Saviour. “Calling the Twelve to him, Jesus sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.” Nowhere in the Old Testament do we read of a prophet sending out his disciples with authority over evil spirits. Evil spirits are barely mentioned, and where they are, man is not presented as possessed of power over them. In this brief sentence of our Gospel today, it is as if the fundamental condition of the world is laid bare, and the supreme work to be done is presented. The world is very vulnerable to the infestation and influence of evil spirits. This is because, in man, it has fallen into sin. It has chosen to turn from God, and as a result its shield has gone. It stands without helmet, without sword, without horse or armour. It is bereft of its original strength and is entirely vulnerable to the Prince of this world, that grand Prince who advances amid lies and smoke. The work is urgent and imperative. Man of every generation must be saved and the remedy is at hand. The remedy is the person of Jesus who has won the day by his sacrifice on Calvary. He calls his disciples to his side for the work, and our Gospel today is an early, iconic instance of it. “These were his instructions: Take nothing for the journey except a staff— no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.” A great work was now launched and in every generation that work must be going on anew, and we are all called to it. Among all the works of life that we are asked to do, this is the greatest of all, the work of our salvation and sanctification. “They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.” In all our work in life, this work must be uppermost.
There are those whose vocation is to devote themselves exclusively to the person of Christ and bringing him to the world. The vocation of most is to serve the development of the world, the pinnacle and heart of which is man himself. They live and work directly in and for the world. But they too must be instruments of Christ bringing the world of their professional work and families into contact with the Saviour. Whatever be our work, we ought all have as our goal bringing man and the world before the feet of Jesus Christ the Saviour. In him there is life, life in abundance.