Summary: The Church must aspire to a necessary conversion so that our method and message is appealing to those who are in a sinful lifestyle, to return to Christ, convert themselves and be healed and reconciled.
Thursday of the 30th Week in Course
Joy of the Gospel
My wife was privileged to be the confirmation sponsor for a young lady this year, and her instruction to the girl was centered around this concluding passage from the letter of St. Paul to the church at Ephesus: “take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; 16besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. 17And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”.
Spiritual armor is what is needed in a spiritual battle. In a military confrontation, one uses deception to make the enemy weak where you want to attack; in spiritual battle, truth is an armor, because the enemy is the father of lies. What protects our heart is a breastplate of righteousness. The gospel of peace is the gospel of life, with which we confront a culture of death. The gift of faith is a precious defensive weapon, because believing what God has revealed in Christ will shield us from every verbal missile hurled by the disciples of the enemy. Salvation protects our mind, and our offensive weapon is the Holy Spirit speaking through the Scriptures.
Jesus, our leader, knew all this, and he knew then that the threats of King Herod in Galilee were of no avail, because His death had to be at the hands of His own people, acting for the Romans. Jerusalem had turned its back on its mission to convert the nations and bring them to true worship, and so it was forsaken. Just forty years after Jesus was killed and rose, Jerusalem was sacked and burned by the Roman army. The Catholic Church is the new Israel, and we fulfill our mission by drawing all to conversion, healing, and communion.
The Holy Father tells us that in fulfilling this mission, each local church must experience a kind of conversion: ‘Each particular Church, as a portion of the Catholic Church under the leadership of its bishop, is likewise called to missionary conversion. It is the primary subject of evangelization. Since it is the concrete manifestation of the one Church in one specific place, and in it “the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of Christ is truly present and operative”. It is the Church incarnate in a certain place, equipped with all the means of salvation bestowed by Christ, but with local features. Its joy in communicating Jesus Christ is expressed both by a concern to preach him to areas in greater need and in constantly going forth to the outskirts of its own territory or towards new sociocultural settings. Wherever the need for the light and the life of the Risen Christ is greatest, it will want to be there. To make this missionary impulse ever more focused, generous and fruitful, I encourage each particular Church to undertake a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform.
‘The bishop must always foster this missionary communion in his diocesan Church, following the ideal of the first Christian communities, in which the believers were of one heart and one soul (cf. Acts 4:32). To do so, he will sometimes go before his people, pointing the way and keeping their hope vibrant. At other times, he will simply be in their midst with his unassuming and merciful presence. At yet other times, he will have to walk after them, helping those who lag behind and – above all – allowing the flock to strike out on new paths. In his mission of fostering a dynamic, open and missionary communion, he will have to encourage and develop the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law, and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear. Yet the principal aim of these participatory processes should not be ecclesiastical organization but rather the missionary aspiration of reaching everyone.’
We have to keep in mind this primary aspiration when we read accounts of the bishops’ Synod in Rome. Let’s talk about the most contentious issues: God loves people with same sex attractions, which means he loves even notorious practicing homosexuals. He wants to draw them to the Church so that they may experience the grace of conversion, healing, and the call to a chaste and necessarily celibate lifestyle. But the Church is a hospital. When someone is spiritually sick, we can’t pretend that their illness is some kind of gift to be celebrated. So our outreach must have balance. We invite, we welcome, but we challenge and offer healing. The outreach to all who have sinned and who feel the massive hole in their hearts that sin constitutes must be the same: we welcome, we invite, but we challenge and heal.