Words from Fr. Frank Cordaro

June 16, 2002

Eleventh Sunday Ordinary Time

Ex 12: 2-6, Rom 5: 6-11, Mt 9: 36-10, 8 Matthew 9:36-10:8

The Gospel: At first glance this week’s lectionary text would lead one to think it would be an ideal weekend to plug vocations to the priesthood and religious life. And though these readings would do well for such a talk, focusing on the call to the priesthood and religious life would be too narrow a reading of the vocational challenge presented in this week’s text.

This week’s Gospel can be divided into three sections: Jesus’ compassion for the crowd (Matt. 9:35-38), naming the twelve Apostles (Matt. 10: 1-4) and Jesus sending the twelve on their first missionary assignment (Matt.. 10:5-8). Matt 9:35-38 "The harvest is abundant but laborers are few". Jesus is enjoying a growing and thriving ministry in Galilee. Going from town to town, synagogue-to-synagogue preaching, curing, expelling demons and proclaiming the reign of God, he is attracting large crowds. In today’s gospel Jesus looks out at the crowds and his heart is moved to pity. Like sheep without a shepherd they are abandoned and greatly troubled. The crowds serve specific purposes in the gospel narratives. They are often in the background observing the main characters. Then they do play a part in the story, they are easily lead and mislead. They are fickle; one week they are praising Jesus in the streets of Jerusalem, the next week they are clamoring for his crucifixion before Pilate. They are the poor, the disenfranchised, the rabble, and an aimless herd seeking relief from physical and spiritual ailments. Their needs seem unending. They are the blessed of God! Jesus believes he has a way the crowds can get relief, a message and an example of living that will bring them into the reign of God, a way of life worthy of their human longings. Yet he knows he can’t do it alone. He needs a community of believers, like-minded, like-spirited people committed to the same message and way of life. He tells his disciples, "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few". He tells them to pray to God to send the needed laborers to bring in the harvest.

Jesus clearly is talking about a basic universal human need for meaning and purpose that the crowd represents. The help he seeks is a community of believers ready to be proclaimers and practitioners of his way: The way of unlimited forgiveness and unconditional love, actively and nonviolently seeking justice in this world, unto death and into life eternal. He is asking his disciples to join him in his plea to God to help form the community of faith needed to bring the human family into God’s reign. Matt. 10:1-4 "The names of the twelve apostles are": The word apostle means "one who is sent". This is the only time it appears in Matthew’s gospel. Matthew tends to equate all Jesus’ disciples with the 12 apostles. Though it’s not always clear. Mark, Luke, and Acts also have a list of the 12 apostles and they distinguish between the 12 apostles and the rest of Jesus’ disciples. Unlike in Mark and Luke’s gospels, Jesus in Matthew’s gospel does not choose them. They are simply listed assuming the reader already knows them. And in John’s gospel there is no direct mention of the 12 apostles, only indirectly in 20:24 when Thomas is identified as one of the twelve. And even there the term apostle does not appear.

The earliest New Testament text to speak of the 12 apostles is 1 Corinthians 15:5. However, Paul who uses the term the most understood that an apostle was someone who had seen the risen Lord and was commissioned to proclaim the resurrection. If Paul’s definition of an apostle is correct, then the number of apostles is far more than the 12. In 1st Cor 15:5-9 Paul list those whom the risen Lord appear and commissioned to proclaim the resurrection starting with Cephas (Peter), then the 12, then to 500 followers then to James, Jesus’ brother, then to "all the apostles" and finally to himself in an "abnormal" way. Apparently Paul was unaware of the strong tradition in the four gospels that Jesus appeared to women first on Easter Sunday morning.

Being an apostle and being one of the 12 are not the same. Though every one of the 12 was an apostle, not all apostles were one of the 12. By Paul’s reckoning there were at least 514 apostles, probably more. And of course within the ranks of apostles there were surely women.

Why 12 men? The footnote in my New American bible says, "The number probably is meant to recall the 12 tribes of Israel and implies Jesus" authority to call all Israel into the kingdom. It’s important to note that the 12 never functioned as a governing structure in the New Testament. Whenever governing authority was exercised the 12 never acted alone, nor on their own authority. Nor does the claim of apostolic succession rest on the witness of the 12 alone. It also includes the witness of all the apostles, the 514 plus men and women who saw the risen Lord and was commissioned to proclaim the resurrection. Matt 10:5-8 "Jesus sent out these twelve": Jesus sends the 12 on their first missionary venture. He tells them to go only to Jewish communities. They are to proclaim the reign of God and do as Jesus does, "cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons". And, do all this work at no charge. I wonder where our Church would be today if these were still the expectations of Church leadership?

Why the 12 and not the rest of the disciples? If the 12 represent the New Israel then Matthew’s account this week is intended to point to and anticipate the new proclaiming and witnessing community of Israel that Jesus was forming.

Why just to Jewish communities? Because the first people invited to join the Jesus movement was Jesus’ people. It was only after the resurrection that the invitation included all peoples and all nations.

Why no teaching commission? Jesus tells them to proclaim the kingdom. He empowers them to do as he does but he did not give them authority to teach. Teaching with authority was not to come until after the resurrection, after the experience of Easter and the reception of the Holy Spirit. Exodus 19:2-6A ‘You shall be to me a kingdom of priest’, as if to drive the point home the lectionary people choose this text from Exodus as our first reading. The Israelites are newly freed from Egypt’s slavery. They are camped at the foot of Mt Sinai. Moses goes up the mountain to converse with God. God tells Moses to tell the Israelites that if they obey God’s ways they will be God’s special possession, dearer to him than all other peoples. And then God tells Moses that they shall be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. Before the Davidic covenant, before the temple and the priestly temple cult, before they possessed the land and the land possessed them, the Israelites were a kingdom of priests, a prelude to the New Testament’s Priesthood of the People.

The last thing Jesus wanted to create was another exclusive priestly temple cult. This was the crowd that did him in. What leadership and governing structures Jesus’ followers were to embrace were meant to meet the needs of the Priesthood of the People. Any designated leadership or governing structure of the faith community are to serve the needs of the community as proclaimers and practitioners of the Jesus way of unlimited forgiveness and unconditional love, actively and nonviolently seeking justice in this world unto death and into life eternal. What that leadership and governing structure looks like and who can be a part of it is entirely up to the faith community to figure out.

"Only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die" Rm. 5: This year the 11th Sun. of Ordinary Time falls on Father’s Day. And the first person to be a living example of the above verse from this week’s second reading, for me, was my father. Christen George ‘Santos’ Cordaro. Santos means saint in Italian. And he was all that and more to me. My dad was a full-blooded Italian American with a large extended family. He was brought up on the south side of Des Moines within a larger Italian American community that centered on St. Anthony’s Catholic parish. For my dad as a kid sports and the south side community center were his real loves. He excelled in both baseball and basketball. He attended Dowling High School (DHS), at that time an all boys Catholic High School in Des Moines. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines. It was 1942 and the country was at war. It’s what everybody did. Wounded twice in the South Pacific, he came home with two purple hearts and a chance to go to college through the G.I. bill. He also married his high school sweetheart, my mom Angela Sposeto. He graduated from Drake University with a teaching degree and a desire to coach.

After several years of teaching and coaching in small towns he landed the job of his dreams, a teaching and coaching position at Dowling High School, his alumni, in 1956. When my dad started teaching at DHS he was one of three lay people on the faculty, the rest were priest and nuns. To say he loved his job would be an understatement. He embraced it as if it were his own personal vocation from God. Family, Church and DHS were the three interlocking concerns that commanded my dad’s full attention, love, and service.

My dad had a special way with his students, especially the ones he coached. He could bring out the best in each one. Even the troubled juvenile delinquent types would straighten out to play ball for him. He had a gentle and inviting spirit; a guy would want to do the best he could for my dad, if for no other reason.

My dad saw his coaching as more than just winning ball games. He saw himself as an ambassador for his Church. He wasn’t just showing ballplayers how to play a game, he was giving young men opportunities to demonstrate their faith by the way they played and how they lived their lives. His love for the school and teams he coached was contagious. He was a great beggar and raiser of money for the sports programs he was associated with. He became the first lay person to hold an administrative job at DHS when he was named athletic director.

By the time he started teaching at DHS, dad & mom had all six of their kids, one girl, the oldest Diane, and five boys; Joe, Frank, Bill, Tom and Rick, spaced out every two years. There was a plan. Though we were brought up in a strict gender role world my mom and dad were clearly equal partners in raising us and in making family decisions. My dad was head over heals in love with my mom. He was absolutely faithful. He took no pleasure in off-colored jokes. He would not tolerate bad language or disrespectful talk about women.

He was idealized at home, in his extended family, and in the larger Italian American community. All who came to know him respected him. To this day strangers will approach me and ask if I am related to George, the coach with the highest respect and love.

He suffered his first heart attack my First Holy Communion day. I’ll never forget it. Early that morning our house was filled with half our neighborhood, all of the relatives, as an ambulance took my father away to Mercy Hospital. While my whole family was at the hospital I went to my First Communion with a couple of cousins. All I can remember was praying throughout the Mass, ‘Dear God, don’t let my dad die". Dad survived the heart attack but his heart was damaged. Back then, heart medical care was primitive compared to today. There were no open-heart surgery or miracle heart medications. After a couple of months bed rest dad was back at work. He quit smoking. The doctors told him the best thing he could do if he felt another heart attack coming on was to drink a shot of whiskey. He carried a flask with him at all times. The doctors also told him he had to reduce stress and avoid hard strenuous physical labor, which included playing sports. At 37 years, in the prime of his life and five boys coming to the age of playing sports, this was one of the most difficult things for my dad to do; reduce stress and no more ball playing.

After his heart attack, the whole family knew my dad was living on borrowed time. Each day he was with us we considered a gift. His weak physical condition made him all the more precious and loved. He continued teaching and coaching.

Baseball was his primary coaching sport. He had some great teams. They often made it to the state tournament. Several times they made it to the finals but never won a championship. As athletic director he helped build up DHS athletic programs, especially the football program to one of the best high school athletic programs in the state. He did all this while DHS was still at the old site in dilapidated buildings in programs that were underpaid and under resourced. He was a big advocate for the new school to be built in West Des Moines and believed with good quality sports programs the greater Des Moines Catholic community would raise the money necessary to build a new school. He was right. He also led the way to get DHS into the citywide athletic conference. He was a visionary who never lived long enough to see the fruits of his work.

My best years with my dad were my four years at DHS. There was no one I loved or admired more than him. I did everything I could to make him proud. I played on all the ball teams, lettering in 4 sports. I played and started on the first two undefeated football teams at DHS. My senior year I was captain of the team and won all-city and all-state recognition. I was involved in many extracurricular activities. In an era of questioning authority and youthful rebellion, I was a straight arrow. I got better than passing grades, good enough to get into college. I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up: be a teacher and coach like my dad.

My senior year dad started to have serious heart problems. He was hospitalized several times. It finally got the better of him. He died Easter Sunday morning April 6, 1969 at Mercy Hospital. He was 47 years young. We waked him at the DHS Chapel. The funeral was at St. Anthony’s. Several thousand people attended these two events. It was only then that the magnitude of his stature and legacy began to be revealed.

The last thing I said to my dad the morning he died at the hospital just before he breath his last breath was, "Don’t worry dad, God is going to take care of everything". He could not speak. He looked me in the eye. It was a fearful look yet one of confidence and comfort that what I was saying was true. He nodded in affirmation.

My father’s death transformed our family. We were always a close knit family. When dad died we became even closer and dearer to each other. My mom stepped into the breach and did a great job of finishing the task she and dad started in raising us kids. And my dad left me a pattern, a way, an example of faithful service and dedicated love of family, of Church and of mission that I’ve tried to follow all my life. Happy Father’s Dad, and thanks!