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June 2, 2019
[Annunciation Church, Waimea; Ascension Mission, Puako (with dedication of new altar)]
Perhaps someone may have received an assignment in a theology class that is studying the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to write his or her own Gospel. One would have to decide what audience it would be directed to. To young people? To elders? To the rich and well educated? To those with little formal education? One would have to decide which stories of the life of Jesus to include and what details of those stories would best express the objective one has in mind. Of course, it would not be completely novel, because it would need to be authentically about Jesus and his saving works.
I propose this not just as a theoretical possibility for someone taking a theology class, because every Christian is called to proclaim the Gospel. Although it must be authentically rooted in what has been handed down to us, it also must be fresh and captivating for those to whom it is destined. After all, when Jesus ascended into heaven, this was the mission he gave us, to preach “in his name to all the nations.”
Parents are given the mission of preaching the Gospel to their children. For little ones, it will be done simply, but for teens and adult children, it may take a different form, yet this is their life-long mission. Students have the mission of preaching the Gospel to their classmates in such a way that they may not even know the Gospel is being preached to them, but through an example of caring love and support to them in their needs. We are all called to preach the Gospel to the oppressed and to the homeless, and the language we use may be no language at all, but rather our good deeds toward them.
I think in many ways this is why Jesus ascended into heaven. He wanted us to be in the driver’s seat, if you will, and not always look to him or to other “professionals,” because Jesus can be more present to others if he has many dedicated disciples who do not say, “Let Jesus do this,” but who know that he left us so that he could send his Holy Spirit upon us to empower us to do what he began. It is this Holy Spirit who inspired the four evangelists to write their Gospels according to the will of God, and it is the same Holy Spirit that is given to us to translate this Good News into the language that our own contemporaries will understand.
But if the Gospel we preach is to be authentic, certain signs are necessary. First of all, we must know intimately that Jesus is alive and have an active relationship with him. That is why he gave us the gift of the Eucharist, so that we could come into his presence physically and be in communion with the Body of Christ, which is the Church. Anyone who acts apart from this Body of Christ cannot preach an authentic Gospel. It is also why Jesus gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, the “power from on high” that will clothe us, enlighten us, and guide us. [That is why we treat this new altar with such loving respect, because it is the table from which we receive the One who ascended into heaven but who is the living bread come down from heaven.]
If it is authentic, we must also be careful to not sanitize it to make it the way we would have played things out. It must include Christ’s sufferings, because those are a concrete sign of his love and dedication to us. It must proclaim the risen Christ, who is no story-book character from the past but who is alive now and with us. It must proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins, so we cannot ignore the presence of sin in our own lives and in the world. We often have this tendency, and thus sanitize and tame the Gospel so that it becomes harmless sentiment rather than the fire that will change us. We stay close to Jesus by staying close to his Word and staying close to his living presence in the sacraments, especially Penance and the Eucharist. It was this closeness that impelled the first writers of the Gospels to be authentic in doing so, and it is this closeness that will impel us to do the same.
What is the Gospel you will write on the hearts of other believers and of those who do not yet believe? Jesus has ascended into heaven to draw our gaze there, but he keeps us focused on the earth, as did the two men who appeared to the disciples who were gazing off into the sky. He now empowers us to continue his own work in proclaiming his abiding love to all, each one according to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who clothes us with his power.