Summary: "To be evangelizers of souls, we need to develop a spiritual taste for being close to people’s lives."

Thursday of 4th Week in Course 2017

Joy of the Gospel

This is a solemnity, one of the three or four greatest saints festivals of the year, and it comes on the heels every year of the solemnities of Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart, and the birth of St. John the Baptist. Today we hear from St. Matthew the almost full transcript of the dialogue between St. Peter and Jesus at Caesarea Philippi, right at the foot of the great stone called Mount Hermon. At the rock’s base is a cave that issues spring water that flows down into the Jordan River. The cave appears to be bottomless, and so the ancients constructed temples there to placate the god of the underworld. The cave was called “the gates of Hell.”

Knowing first-century Jewish practice, we know that Jews never abused the name of God. Even today many Jews won’t say the word “God.” They substitute “Hashem,” which means “The Name.” In St. Paul’s writings and other sources we see that first-century pious Jews might use the name of God, but immediately follow it with some doxology or word of worship.

So a few years ago I advanced the idea that Matthew knew this and omitted all those doxologies. If that’s true, then the full transcript of the conversation would be: “who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, blessed is He." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Christ’s answer, then, echoed back Peter’s proclamation. Christ would form a community of praise, thanks, good deeds and mutual growth around Peter, a people of God.

The Holy Father tells us, using the words of St. Peter: ‘The word of God also invites us to recognize that we are a people: “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people” (1 Pet 2:10). To be evangelizers of souls, we need to develop a spiritual taste for being close to people’s lives and to discover that this is itself a source of greater joy. Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people. When we stand before Jesus crucified, we see the depth of his love which exalts and sustains us, but at the same time, unless we are blind, we begin to realize that Jesus’ gaze, burning with love, expands to embrace all his people. We realize once more that he wants to make use of us to draw closer to his beloved people. He takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity.

‘Jesus himself is the model of this method of evangelization which brings us to the very heart of his people. How good it is for us to contemplate the closeness which he shows to everyone! If he speaks to someone, he looks into their eyes with deep love and concern: “Jesus, looking upon him, loved him” (Mk 10:21). We see how accessible he is, as he draws near the blind man (cf. Mk 10:46-52) and eats and drinks with sinners (cf. Mk 2:16) without worrying about being thought a glutton and a drunkard himself (cf. Mt 11:19). We see his sensitivity in allowing a sinful woman to anoint his feet (cf. Lk 7:36-50) and in receiving Nicodemus by night (cf. Jn 3:1-15). Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is nothing else than the culmination of the way he lived his entire life. Moved by his example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep; arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world. But we do so not from a sense of obligation, not as a burdensome duty, but as the result of a personal decision which brings us joy and gives meaning to our lives.’

In the next few days we will see a tangible result of this encyclical we have been meditating on for three years: “the Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America will be held in Orlando, Florida, from Saturday, July 1, to Tuesday, July 4, 2017.” Let’s spend the next few days praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on these men and women so that a real explosion of Catholic evangelization comes from its work.

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