Go and Tell!
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
In his message for Mission Sunday, 19th October 2008, which took place during the Synod on the Word of God in Rome, Pope Benedict stated boldly that, in this Jubilee Year dedicated to St. Paul, we are reminded of the urgency to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the world. There can be no slackening or stagnation in the essential mission of the Church to evangelize all people. For today there are countless people thirsting for hope and love who are still waiting for the proclamation of the Gospel, which is a life changing communication that gives hope. Without Christ, humanity is without hope - because it is without God, who is the great hope that sustains the whole of life. Paul experienced and understood that redemption and mission are the work of God and of his love for us, which prods us to missionary activity. Evangelisers must drink from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, for it is from his pierced heart that the love of God flows. Only from this source can care, tenderness, compassion, hospitality, availability and interest in people's problems be drawn.
In the vast sea of this world, we can and we should launch our nets without fear, confident in the aid of Jesus. Like Paul, each bishop is called to reach out to those who are far away and do not yet know Christ. Priests, cooperators with their bishops, are called to be generous pastors and enthusiastic evangelizers. The vocation of religious is marked by a strong missionary connotation, involved in bringing the proclamation of the Gospel to everyone. Laity are called by the witness of their lives to take part in an increasingly important way in spreading the Gospel. Therefore the Good News and the Acts of the Apostles (the early Church) begin in a way similar to how the Good News and the Acts of Jesus end: firstly, with Jesus assuring his apostles that his earthly ministry has been an unqualified success with his Crucifixion and Resurrection resulting in his Enduring Presence among them; secondly, with him entrusting to them his messianic ministry of going everywhere to preach the Good News of Salvation and thus being his Witnesses to the whole world; and, thirdly, with him giving them an undertaking that their own ministry would bear abundant fruit, once they would be baptized with the power of the Holy Spirit promised by the Father.
Thus for forty days after his Resurrection, Jesus would appear to his followers to reassure them that he had risen from the dead and was alive (Act 1:3), and that he was the same Jesus, crucified and dead then, but now risen and glorified. What is even more extraordinary, even though he would be returning to his Father very soon, he would still be present with them, always, even living within them (Jn 14:23), supporting them with his authority, and working in and through them with his power (Mk 16:20). But though the fact of his resurrection was now the basis of the Apostles' renewed and unfailing faith in him, it was meant to bring about the continuation of his 'concluded' mission, and become the springboard of their own 'just beginning' ministry, entrusting them with the awesome assignment to, "Go everywhere and preach the Good News to everyone" (Mk 16:15), "making disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19-20a), to "heal them and set them free" (Mk 16:17-18), to "feed my lambs and take care of my sheep" (Jn 21:15,16), and to "be my witnesses to the ends of the earth" (Act 1:8).
Today Jesus offers us too, as he did to his apostles, the same incredible privilege, "Just as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you" (Jn 20:21); and he is giving us the same overwhelming mandate, "Go and proclaim the Good News, heal and set the oppressed free" (Acts 1:2). But, don't forget, he is also giving us his guarantee that we will be able to carry on his same ministry, "I tell you for certain that anyone who has faith in me will do the same things that I am doing", and even, in a way, outdo him, "he will do even greater things, now that I am going back to my Father" (Jn 14:12). We may not all feel qualified or gifted, we may even otherwise be reluctant, to preach or to heal, but Jesus still throws us the unmistakable challenge to love and to care, as he did, and thus be his authentic witnesses, as he was to his Father.
But the assurance of his presence among the apostles and of his solidarity with them was not sufficient to ensure that they would carry on his work. What they needed was power, a power which only Jesus, to whom "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given" (Mt 28:18), could give, a power that would not be something, an impersonal force, but Someone, the third person of the Triune God, the Lord and Life-giver. Jesus himself had constantly told his Apostles that he would indeed be leaving them, but that he would instead be sending them in his place the Holy Spirit, who would teach them everything and empower them to do what he did and even greater things. And it was after his Ascension into heaven, and after they were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, that they experienced the Lord working with them and confirming the word by incredible signs, as they went out preaching everywhere (Mk 16:19-20). Today Jesus gives us the same assurance, that he gave to his Apostles, that the Holy Spirit will be with us always and even live within us, as our Protector, Supporter and Counselor (Jn 14:16-17). Today Jesus pledges us too, his believers and followers, the same wisdom and knowledge and the same authority and power, as he did to his Apostles, so that his Kingdom would come and be established in our hearts and our homes, in our communities and our parishes, in our dioceses and our nations (Mk 16:17-18; Act 1:5).
It was after having already received his Word that was now burning in their hearts like fire (Lk 24:32), and after being filled with his Spirit that was now ablaze even in their hearts again like fire, at this the First Pentecost, that the disciples went forth to proclaim the Gospel, facing persecution and martyrdom with joy. The Pentecostal fire, that Our Lord had said he had come to bring on the earth, was now blazing in them and would in turn kindle the whole world (Lk 12:49; 3:16). Today we too need to make our prayer the hymn, 'Holy Spirit, come down with your fire! Let your fire fall, to first purify our hearts and then set our hearts on fire to evangelize', so that we can experience a New Pentecost. It was Pope John Paul II himself who, at the beginning of the new millennium, exhorted the whole Church to rekindle the fire of the first Pentecost and be filled with the ardor of the first apostolic preaching which followed that Pentecost, making our own the burning passion of Paul who cried out: "Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!" (1Cor 9:16; NMI n. 40). We need to remind ourselves, as St. Paul reminded Timothy, to fan into flame the gift of God, for God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, of love and of discipline, and so like Timothy we should not be ashamed to testify about our Lord and to speak for Him" (2Tim 1:6-8).
Such a new ardor is needed in the Church today in order to deal with the New Situation of today's unprecedented secularization and religious indifference, moral and religious relativism, consumerism and sexuality immorality, terrorism and violence, and unethical power and scientific progress. These in their turn necessitate a new evangelizing attitude and action of the Church, more intensified and courageous efforts on the part of all evangelizers to find new and more effective ways of proclaiming the gospel, which are more consonant with today's culture and more respondent to the spiritual demands of contemporary man. For this purpose the Church must find new ways and approaches to integrate social communications and mass media, as the TV and the Internet, into her evangelistic and pastoral planning and activity, in order to safeguard human rights and promote truth and justice in public life, to reach out in solidarity to the weaker sectors of society, to address the social evils of alcoholism, drug addiction and sexual child abuse, and to infuse cultures with the values of the Kingdom. But more than social communications, we need the communications and workings of the Holy Spirit, called charisms, which are a manifestation of his comforting presence and a demonstration of his life changing power and, as the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church states, "are useful for the renewal and expansion of the Church," by giving guidance and effectiveness to the double ministry of preaching and of healing in live-in retreats and in outreach missions.
The most important and prominent expression or sign of this new evangelization is a rich flowering of renewal movements and ecclesial communities, which Pope John Paul II had constantly looked upon as "a special Gift of the Spirit to our age and a reason for hope for the Church and for mankind" (Address at Pentecost 1996), and acknowledged as "the Holy Spirit response to this critical challenge of Evangelization at the end of the millennium", giving to the life of the Church energies of spiritual renewal of extraordinary intensity and potentials for effective evangelizing activity. Today it is often the laity who must be in the forefront in seeking to apply the Church's teaching to the ethical, moral and social questions, which arise in their communities or at the national level. For the specific mission of laymen and women is the evangelization of the family, of culture, and of social and political life. And the prime movers of this new springtime are becoming the young people to whom the Pope never tired of telling: "You are the hope of the Church!" The task then of the Church today, and of its pastors, is to ensure that laity are formed as evangelisers, able to face the challenges of the contemporary world not just with worldly wisdom and efficiency but with hearts renewed and strengthened by the Love of God, the Truth of Christ and the Power of the Spirit.
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