Reflections on Lumen Gentium, Part XVII

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Christ the Redeemer

17. As the Son was sent by the Father,(131) so He too sent the Apostles, saying: “Go, therefore, 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 things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world”.(132) The Church has received this solemn mandate of Christ to proclaim the saving truth from the apostles and must carry it out to the very ends of the earth.(133) Wherefore she makes the words of the Apostle her own: “Woe to me, if I do not preach the Gospel”,(134) and continues unceasingly to send heralds of the Gospel until such time as the infant churches are fully established and can themselves continue the work of evangelizing. For the Church is compelled by the Holy Spirit to do her part that God’s plan may be fully realized, whereby He has constituted Christ as the source of salvation for the whole world. By the proclamation of the Gospel she prepares her hearers to receive and profess the faith. She gives them the dispositions necessary for baptism, snatches them from the slavery of error and of idols and incorporates them in Christ so that through charity they may grow up into full maturity in Christ. Through her work, whatever good is in the minds and hearts of men, whatever good lies latent in the religious practices and cultures of diverse peoples, is not only saved from destruction but is also cleansed, raised up and perfected unto the glory of God, the confusion of the devil and the happiness of man. The obligation of spreading the faith is imposed on every disciple of Christ, according to his state.(21*) Although, however, all the faithful can baptize, the priest alone can complete the building up of the Body in the eucharistic sacrifice. Thus are fulfilled the words of God, spoken through His prophet: “From the rising of the sun until the going down thereof my name is great among the gentiles, and in every place a clean oblation is sacrificed and offered up in my name”.(135)(22*) In this way the Church both prays and labors in order that the entire world may become the People of God, the Body of the Lord and the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and that in Christ, the Head of all, all honor and glory may be rendered to the Creator and Father of the Universe.

131 Cf. Jn. 20:21.

132 Mt. 2:18-20.

133 Cf. Acts 1:8.

134 I Cor. 9:16.

135 Mal. 1:11

(21) Cfr. Benedictus XV, Epist. Apost. Maximum illud: AAS 11 (1919) p. 440, praesertim p. 451 ss. Pius XI, Litt. Encycl. Rerum Ecclesiae: AAS 18 (1926) p. 68-69. Pius XII, Litt. Encycl. Fidei Donum, 21 apr. 1957: AAS 49 (1957) pp. 236-237.

(22) Cfr. Didache, 14: ed. Funk I, p. 32. S. Iustinus, Dial. 41: PG 6, 564. S. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. IV 17, 5; PG 7, 1023; Harvey, 2, p. 199 s. Conc. Trid., Sess. 22, cap. 1; Denz. 939 (1742).

As the Father sent the Son, so the Son sent the Apostles, and the Apostles send the People of God today and in every generation. We are commanded by Christ Himself to spread the good news, the gospel, of salvation from sin and reconciliation with the Father. All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. All are in need of the grace of Jesus Christ for redemption. All are born into alienation from God as a result of the sin of Adam. All are in need of the cleansing waters of baptism to wash away original sin, to be infused with the life of God, to be made a member of the Body of Christ.

Who among our race can save him or her self? Who among us has no need of forgiveness, of God’s grace? None! Not one! It is the command of Christ, then, that the word of redemption be preached, taught, and lived by example, so that all those who, having never heard of Christ, may hear His call and be provided the opportunity to embrace Him and receive His saving grace. This mandate is given to all in the Church. We are all evangelists!

Where to begin? In the home, of course! Family is for heaven. It is in the family that children learn to love and respect each other, to care for each other and to carry each others’ burdens. It is in the Christian family that children learn of Jesus, His life and mission. It is in the Christian family that children learn to pray, first hear the Word of God spoken to them by their parents, who are, to them, next to God. It is in the family that children learn of their own responsibility to live faithfully the gospel of Christ and to share the good news of Jesus to others, according to their vocation, their state in life.

In today’s culture the greatest sin is not blasphemy or rejecting God, but intolerance. Intolerance is a horrible sin, when it means hating others or thinking less of them for who they are as God made them. But, today, it is interpreted to mean holding the opinion or, worse, declaring publicly, that cultures, religions, lifestyles, political or economic systems, and even mere opinions are unequal. The contemporary person insists that all religions, all claims of divine revelation, are equal and merit equal respect. This is because moderns lack either faith that there is truth, or that truth can be known. As such, religious claims cannot be shown to be more truthful than others because, at the heart of the matter, moderns believe that religion is man-made, and not divinely revealed.

To preach that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then, is to disrespect those who believe Him to be merely a progressively-minded, gifted guru. To believe that Christ is the only incarnate Son of God and that reconciliation with God is possible only through Christ is to disrespect those who believe differently. To believe that the Church is the instrument of God’s revelation to humankind is to disrespect those who reject the Church. Simply put: To preach the gospel of Christ, to baptize, and to teach all nations to observe what Christ commanded, is intolerance and will not be tolerated!

Against this false equanimity, the Church cannot be fearful, and individual believers cannot quake in the face of criticism or consequences mild or severe. Our mandate comes from Christ, and woe to us if we do not preach the gospel.

This never has and does not now mean disrespectful or prejudicial behavior toward those we meet from other faith traditions. It certainly does not mean that embracing Christ means embracing Western civilization. Too many Christians have made this mistake in the past, with dreadful results. Neither does it mean, however, compromising the integrity of the faith in an effort to make it more palatable to those from other faith traditions, or from non-Western cultures. The foundations of Western civilization are in Christianity, whether modern Westerners care to admit it or not. But, there is room in Christ’s universal Church for various cultures, North, South, and East. Indeed, as the West seems to have lost much of its enthusiasm for its Christian roots, the South and East are experiencing something of a renaissance of Christian culture. This is the fruit of the hard work and uncompromising proclamation of the gospel by missionaries to the South and East. Some of those Christians from the South and East are now coming West in an attempt to re-ignite a fire that has been allowed to diminish to a smolder.

What is needed is clear: Proclaim the gospel! Proclaim the gospel in its fullness. Preach the truth with passion. Reach out to all with the respect all merit as made in the image of God. All have a right to hear the good news of Christ. It is our job, our call, our mission, our vocation, to preach that good news in word and deed that the entire world might become the People of God.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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