The Sea of Galilee at Dawn (photo by Mark Mallett)
THERE are no words that can adequately describe what it’s like to walk in the literal footsteps of Jesus. It’s as though my trip to the Holy Land was entering into a mythical realm that I’d read about all my life… and then, suddenly, there I was. Except, Jesus is no myth.
Several moments touched me deeply, such as rising before dawn and praying in quiet and solitude by the Sea of Galilee.
Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)
Another was reading the Gospel of Luke in the very synagogue where Jesus first proclaimed it:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)
That was a defining moment. I felt a tremendous sense of boldness welling up within. The now word that came to me is that the Church must rise up with courage (again) to preach the undiluted Gospel without fear or compromise, in season or out.
WHAT’S IT ALL FOR?
That brought me to another, much less edifying, but no less mobilizing moment. In his homily, a priest who resides in Jerusalem stated, “We don’t need to convert the Muslims, Jews, or others. Convert yourself and let God convert them.” I sat there a bit stunned at first. Then the words of St. Paul flooded my mind:
But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring [the] good news!” (Rom 10:14-15)
I thought to myself, If we don’t need to “convert” non-believers, then why did Jesus suffer and die? What did Jesus walk these lands for if not to call the lost to conversion? Why does the Church exist other than to continue the mission of Jesus: to bring glad tidings to the poor and proclaim liberty to captives? Yes, I found that moment incredibly mobilizing. “No Jesus, you did not die in vain! You did not come to placate us but save us from our sin! Lord, I won’t let your mission die in me. I won’t let a false peace supplant the true peace you came to bring!”
Scripture says it is “by grace you have been saved through faith.” Eph 2:8 But…
…faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)
Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and all manner of non-believers need to hear the Gospel of Christ in order that they, too, may have the opportunity to receive the gift of faith. But there is growing a politically correct notion that we are simply called to “live in peace” and “tolerance,” and the idea that other religions are equally valid paths to the same God. But this is misleading at best. Jesus Christ revealed that He is “the way, and the truth, and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through” Him. John 14:6 St. Paul wrote that we should indeed “Strive for peace with everyone,” but then he immediately adds: “See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God.” Heb 12:14-15 Peace enables dialogue; but dialogue must lead to proclamation of the Good News.
The Church respects and esteems these non Christian religions because they are the living expression of the soul of vast groups of people. They carry within them the echo of thousands of years of searching for God, a quest which is incomplete but often made with great sincerity and righteousness of heart. They possess an impressive patrimony of deeply religious texts. They have taught generations of people how to pray. They are all impregnated with innumerable “seeds of the Word” and can constitute a true “preparation for the Gospel,”… [But] neither respect and esteem for these religions nor the complexity of the questions raised is an invitation to the Church to withhold from these non-Christians the proclamation of Jesus Christ. On the contrary the Church holds that these multitudes have the right to know the riches of the mystery of Christ—riches in which we believe that the whole of humanity can find, in unsuspected fullness, everything that it is gropingly searching for concerning God, man and his destiny, life and death, and truth. —POPE ST. PAUL VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 53; vatican.va
Or, dear friend, is ‘the peace of God that surpasses all understanding’ (Phil 4:7) reserved for us Christians alone? Is the tremendous healing that comes from knowing and hearing that one is forgiven in Confession meant for just a few? Is the comforting and spiritually nourishing Bread of Life, or the power of the Holy Spirit to liberate and transform, or the life-giving commandments and teachings of Christ something we keep to ourselves so as not to “offend”? Do you see how selfish this kind of thinking ultimately is? Others have a right to hear the Gospel since Christ “wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:4
All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. —POPE FRANCIS, Evangelii Gaudium, n.15
PROPOSE, NOT IMPOSE
One must carefully distinguish between imposing and proposing the Gospel of Jesus Christ—between “proselytism” versus “evangelism.” In its Doctrinal Note on Some Apsects of Evangelization, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith clarified that the term “proselytize” no longer simply refers to “missionary activity.”
More recently… the term has taken on a negative connotation, to mean the promotion of a religion by using means, and for motives, contrary to the spirit of the Gospel; that is, which do not safeguard the freedom and dignity of the human person. —cf. footnote n. 49
For example, proselytism would refer to the imperialism practiced by certain nations and even some churchmen that imposed the Gospel upon other cultures and peoples. But Jesus never coerced; He only invited.
The Lord does not proselytize; He gives love. And this love seeks you and waits for you, you who at this moment do not believe or are far away. —POPE FRANCIS, Angelus, St. Peter’s Square, January 6th, 2014; Independent Catholic News
The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by “attraction”… —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Homily for the Opening of the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Bishops, May 13th, 2007; vatican.va
It would certainly be an error to impose something on the consciences of our brethren. But to propose to their consciences the truth of the Gospel and salvation in Jesus Christ, with complete clarity and with a total respect for the free options which it presents… far from being an attack on religious liberty is fully to respect that liberty… Why should only falsehood and error, debasement and pornography have the right to be put before people and often, unfortunately, imposed on them by the destructive propaganda of the mass media…? The respectful presentation of Christ and His kingdom is more than the evangelizer’s right; it is his duty. —POPE ST. PAUL VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 80; vatican.va
The reverse side of the coin is a kind of religious indifferentism that makes “peace” and “co-existence” ends unto themselves. While living in peace is helpful and desirable, it is not always possible for the Christian whose duty it is to make known the path to eternal salvation. As Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” Matt 10:34
Otherwise, we owe a whole lot of martyrs an apology.
…it is not enough that the Christian people be present and be organized in a given nation, nor is it enough to carry out an apostolate by way of good example. They are organized for this purpose, they are present for this: to announce Christ to their non-Christian fellow-citizens by word and example, and to aid them toward the full reception of Christ. —Second Vatican Council, Ad Gentes, n. 15; vatican.va
THE WORD MUST BE SPOKEN
You’ve probably heard the catchy phrase attributed to St. Francis, “Preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.” In fact, there is no documented proof that St. Francis ever said such a thing. However, there is plenty of evidence that these words have been used to excuse oneself from preaching the name and message of Jesus Christ. Sure, almost anyone will embrace our kindness and service, our volunteerism and social justice. These are necessary and, in fact, make us credible witnesses of the Gospel. But if we leave it at that, if we blush at sharing “the reason for our hope,”1 Peter 3:15 then we deprive others of the life-changing message we possess—and place our own salvation at risk.
…the finest witness will prove ineffective in the long run if it is not explained, justified… and made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed. —POPE ST. PAUL VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 22; vatican.va
Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (Mark 8:38)
My journey to the Holy Land made me realize more profoundly how Jesus did not come to this earth to pat us on the back, but to call us back. This was not only His mission but the directive given to us, His Church:
Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 15:15-16)
To the whole world! To all creation! Right to the ends of the earth! —POPE ST. PAUL VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 50; vatican.va
This is a commission for every single baptized Christian—not just clergy, religious, or a handful of lay ministers. It is “the essential mission of the Church.” Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 14; vatican.va We are each responsible to bring the light and truth of Christ in whatever situation we find ourselves. If this makes us uncomfortable or is a cause of fear and shame or we don’t know what to do… then we ought to implore the Holy Spirit whom St. Paul VI calls “the principal agent of evangelization”Evangelii Nuntiandi, n. 75; vatican.va to give us courage and wisdom. Without the Holy Spirit, even the Apostles were impotent and fearful. But after Pentecost, they not only went to the ends of the earth, but gave their very lives in the process.
Jesus didn’t take on our flesh and walk among us so as to give us a group hug, but to save us from the sorrow of sin and open new horizons of joy, peace, and eternal life. Will you be one of the few voices left in the world to share this Good News?
I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage—the courage—to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward. —POPE FRANCIS, First Homily, news.va
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