Yesterday (October 24) we marked World Mission Sunday. This is a time to reflect upon the missionary mandate of the Church and her members. We often think of this in terms of the missionary priests and sisters who are sent around the globe to announce the Gospel, particularly through their work among the poor and needy. At the same time we realize that missionary work is incumbent upon all the baptized. This means looking for opportunities in our own circumstances to share with others the all-important message and good news that God has saved the world in Jesus Christ and remains always near to his people.
When a missionary travels to a foreign land it is often necessary to learn a new language so that the Gospel can be communicated intelligibly. This is, in fact, the case for all of us, even if we find ourselves in the midst of people who share our manner of speech. In our current society the immensely rich vocabulary that the Christian tradition has for centuries used to communicate the Gospel is no longer accessible to the majority of people. What is needed in our day is a new way of expressing ageless truths so that people may understand and appropriate them. What might such new expressions be? I suggest four.
Today we need to speak in terms of beauty. This is a concept all instinctively understand, and which attracts. Pope Benedict has signalled this from the beginning of his pontificate, when in his first homily he stated that there is nothing more beautiful than knowing the Lord and telling others about our friendship with him. This has been the motivation for our own Nothing More Beautiful new evangelization initiative in the Archdiocese of Edmonton. God is the fullness, the perfection, of Beauty, and we participate in this when we share in his life through union with his Son in the Holy Spirit. No earthly beauty can surpass that of a life lived in and from Jesus Christ.
Second, we communicate the Gospel when we speak of and give witness to joy. Our Western society tends to speak in terms of happiness or pleasure, which is usually based upon self-will, a desire to do whatever one wants, which in turn often ironically amounts to doing what others are doing so as to fit in or be noticed or admired. Such a pursuit of happiness frequently leads to misery. The Christian tradition announces a life not of superficial happiness but of profound joy. This joy is grounded not on self-will but on a truthful and humble recognition of our need for God and an encounter with his unconditional and merciful love. Consider the contrast between the “righteous” Pharisee and the humble publican in the parable of yesterday’s Gospel. Truthful reliance upon God gives rise within the heart to a deep and lasting joy that no one or no circumstance can take away.
A third necessary method of announcing the Gospel in our day is by speaking of hope. For too many today, hope is in short supply. Life is challenging, to say the least, and is replete with problems before which we are powerless. Despair is often not far away, especially if we live from the myth of self-reliance. The Christian proclamation of hope is rooted in the knowledge that God is near. St. Paul speaks of that beautifully in yesterday’s second reading. Nearing the end of his life he looks back and sees how God has not failed to stand by him and rescue him from danger. Nothing is greater than God’s love, the power of which is fully revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. God stands by us, and this truth transforms our fear into hope.
Finally, we need to speak of and give witness to communion. God’s will for the world is communion among his people. Indeed, to gather into one his people who had been scattered by sin, Jesus came to us and gave his life on the Cross. (cf. John 11:52). The prevailing individualism of our day leads to isolation and a terrible and terrifying loneliness in the lives of many. As a communion, fashioned by the work of the Son and Holy Spirit, the Church is called to stand forth in the world as both a sign and instrument of the unity that God wills for all people (cf. Lumen Gentium, 1-4). When we love one another as God has loved us we are drawn into a real communion and solidarity with each other. In a fractured world, our witness of genuine communion is a powerful method of making known the good news of the Gospel.
Beauty, joy, hope, communion: new methods for giving expression to the Gospel today and embracing the missionary mandate bestowed upon us as members of the Church of Jesus Christ.