Thursday of 29th Week in Course
Joy of the Gospel
St. Paul had during his Christian life on earth at least one experience that he characterized as being lifted up to the heavens. He needed that consolation because of the hard work of evangelization he was called to perform. He saw the Father’s riches and His glory. In his travails he experienced the strengthening of the Holy Spirit in his inner self. When he presided at Holy Mass, at what they called the "breaking of the bread," he experienced in liturgy the presence of Christ, because he re-presented the Christ of Calvary and the Last Supper as he said "this is my Body, this is my Blood." The Eucharist, and the communion he experienced with so many of the communities he founded, enabled him to feel and know the love of Christ which goes well beyond any gnosis, any merely human knowledge. Christ’s power, working within Paul, was able to do far more than any first century rabbi would ever believe possible: spread the Gospel successfully throughout the Western world.
There was fire in Paul’s preaching and letters. St. Luke, whose feast we recently celebrated, knew it first-hand. Jesus came to cast fire on the earth. He meant, of course, the fire of the Holy Spirit, which we symbolize every Pentecost by painting the church red. Not literally, of course, but in our vestments and altar cloths, and even in the dresses and ties worn by the parishioners. Every state, every nation, should be in the spiritual sense a "red" state or nation, on fire with love and zeal for spreading the Gospel. For many years those of us raised in the forties and fifties and later "saw red" whenever we heard that a person or nation was "a red," that is, a communist. But the atheist revolutionaries hijacked the color from the Church, and now it’s time to take it up again. The real revolution begins from within, when we repent and believe the Gospel, and stand up for the Truth, even if members of our own family reject it.
The Holy Father has a dream, which he relates in his letter: "I dream of a ‘missionary option’, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation. The renewal of structures demanded by pastoral conversion can only be understood in this light: as part of an effort to make them more mission-oriented, to make ordinary pastoral activity on every level more inclusive and open, to inspire in pastoral workers a constant desire to go forth and in this way to elicit a positive response from all those whom Jesus summons to friendship with himself. As St. John Paul II once said to the Bishops of Oceania: ‘All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion’.
Pope Francis also confronts those who call parishes outdated: "The parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community. While certainly not the only institution which evangelizes, if the parish proves capable of self-renewal and constant adaptivity, it continues to be ‘the Church living in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters’. This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few. The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration. In all its activities the parish encourages and trains its members to be evangelizers.It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a center of constant missionary outreach. We must admit, though, that the call to review and renew our parishes has not yet sufficed to bring them nearer to people, to make them environments of living communion and participation, and to make them completely mission-oriented."
Our parish is in the process of reinventing itself. I see the initial fruits in the large number–compared to my first year–of folks in the RCIA, good people who see in the Church an answer to what they are searching for. But we have too little of two things: prayer and money. We need to pray for those who are searching, and those who help them. And we need to do something about our debt and deficit. Let’s search our hearts and let the Holy Spirit build a fire inside us–inspire us to do whatever we can to work with Christ to let the fire burn brightly.