Summary: The Holy Father teaches us about reforming our approach to the missionary mandate, so that we may appeal to a new generation in their own language.
Thursday of 27th Week in Course 2014
The Joy of the Gospel
St. Paul may have been at his hottest when he wrote the letter to the church in Galatia. Let’s position this church. Galatia was an area of Asia Minor, roughly in the upper center of Turkey today, where some illegal alien Gauls had settled many decades before Paul’s visit. They had both Jews and Christians among them. They were Paul’s spiritual sons and daughters, but the Jewish Christians who came to visit them had convinced them that to be true followers of Christ, they had to become Jewish Christians, complete with circumcision and obedience to the Mosaic Law. In other words, they had to become Pharisees.
Now the Galatian church had experienced all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including healing and miracles and tongues and prophecy. Paul reminds them that they did not receive these gifts by circumcision or celebrating Yom Kippur. These gifts were won by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, not some goat on a Jewish altar. Please note that many Catholics interpret the first verse of today’s Epistle, “Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” as evidence that early Christians employed a crucifix in their teaching. The cross is our glory; the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus earned our salvation and sanctification and mission. As Jesus says, after experiencing the sacramental presence of Christ in our lives, we can ask for anything, and the Father will respond by giving us the Holy Spirit. Then we can be truly effective in spreading the joy of the Gospel.
For the past couple of months we have been considering the first eighteen paragraphs of the Holy Father’s letter on the joy of the Gospel. Now we will move into the seven major areas of concern and instruction. The first is reforming the Church in her missionary outreach:
Pope Francis tells us: “Evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Mt 28:19-20). In these verses we see how the risen Christ sent his followers to preach the Gospel in every time and place, so that faith in him might spread to every corner of the earth.
“The word of God constantly shows us how God challenges those who believe in him ‘to go
forth’. Abraham received the call to set out for a new land (cf. Gen 12:1-3). Moses heard God’s call: ‘Go, I send you’ (Ex 3:10) and led the people towards the promised land (cf. Ex 3:17). To Jeremiah God says: ‘To all whom I send you, you shall go’ (Jer 1:7). In our day Jesus’ command to ‘go and make disciples’ echoes in the changing scenarios and ever new challenges to the Church’s mission of evangelization, and all of us are called to take part in this new missionary ‘going forth’. Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.
“The Gospel joy which enlivens the community of disciples is a missionary joy. The seventy-two disciples felt it as they returned from their mission (cf. Lk 10:17). Jesus felt it when he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and praised the Father for revealing himself to the poor and the little ones (cf. Lk 10:21). It was felt by the first converts who marveled to hear the apostles preaching ‘in the native language of each’ (Acts 2:6) on the day of Pentecost. This joy is a sign that the Gospel has been proclaimed and is bearing fruit. Yet the drive to go forth and give, to go out from ourselves, to keep pressing forward in our sowing of the good seed, remains ever present. The Lord says: ‘Let us go on to the next towns that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out’ (Mk 1:38). Once the seed has been sown in one place, Jesus does not stay behind to explain things or to perform more signs; the Spirit moves him to go forth to other towns.”
Katie Maguire is one of our Catholic school graduates who went up to A&M and discerned a call to the religious life. She is now studying in Rome. In her latest e-mail, she shares a story of their communities outreach to an Italian town: “Besides giving talks at the parish as well as being available to meet with people one-on-one, we also had the opportunity to share our stories in the classes of the local high schools. You can imagine the surprise of the students to find out that these young people in front of them (some of them from the distant and exciting land of America) wanted to become priests and nuns! Although it was terrifying beforehand to think about trying to win over a group of teenagers armed simply with a smile and a story in broken Italian, I realized how much could be communicated by our simple presence. One girl told me afterwards, ‘What struck me the most from your visit was your courage – to leave your country and culture and come to a new place.’ Not so much what I said but the fact that I had the courage to say it to strangers in a foreign language – to exemplify the strength that I claimed to have received from the love of Christ – that was what left an impact. Truly, it was a moment to realize the truth of St. Paul’s words: ‘When I am weak, then I am strong.’”