5TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR – BLESSED SACRAMENT – FEBRUARY 6, 2000
Both New Testament readings emphasize the preaching of the Gospel. St. Paul speaks of his ministry as an obligation placed upon him, which he exercises without claiming the right to live by the effort, doing so in order for him to be able to share in its blessings. That insistence on the duty to preach is heard also in the Gospel where Jesus himself says that this is why he has come: “For this purpose have I come”: to preach the Gospel.
That Gospel, of course, is the good news St. Mark had already summarized as the message of Jesus: “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” It is what St. Mark was himself doing by writing his book. Preaching the Gospel for him meant telling the story of the one who announced and brought the Gospel.
This is also what is happening at this and at every liturgy. What began with Jesus of Nazareth and was carried forward by the apostle and the evangelist continues now, through the scripture-readings proclaimed to us, through this sermon, through this celebration. The Church was sent for this. The Church has gathered here for this. The Church will be sent from here for this.
And “the Church” here does not mean something apart from you and me. We are the Church here gathered. I once heard a member of an African-American congregation say, “We had good Church today.” The phrase struck me: “having Church”–not a typical Catholic phrase. It conveys the sense of the Church as something that happens, something that occurs, is created, becomes real, when the Word of God is proclaimed again, preached again, heard again, believed again, celebrated again. Church is what we are at this moment, what we are doing, what occurs because of what we are doing.
And, of course, we are not supposed to be Church only here. The Church is the creature of the Gospel, here reminded again of what it is–what we are–, here becoming again what it is–what we are. But it becomes–we become–the community of the Gospel here, in this building and through this liturgy, only in order to be the sign and instrument of the Gospel when it leaves here–when we leave here. This is why recent popes place such emphasis on a “new evangelization,” a new telling of the good news of Jesus Christ, in face of a tendency especially in the oldest parts of the Church, Europe and North America, where something like a dechristianizing of culture has taken place, meaning the Gospel is less widely and less deeply lived, has less of an impact on individuals, society, and culture. They are trying to inspire a zeal similar to that of St. Paul, eagerness to tell the good news of what God has done in Christ.
To bring home to us what this means and to recognize the ways in which it occurs, we might individually think of how it is that we have all come here today. Who was it who told us of the God in whom we believed, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit? Was it a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a neighbor, a friend? What words or deeds or example was it that led us to take what we heard seriously, to devote ourselves to it, to define the way we live our lives by it? Who evangelized us, brought us the good news? Who convinced us of its truth and value? Have we ever thanked them for it, in person or at least in grateful acknowledgment and prayer?
Such reflection would be a useful exercise, one we cannot undertake without feeling immediately our own obligation to bring the gift we have been given to our own generation, to our children and grandchildren, to the wider society and culture. Are we doing for others what others did for us? Are we giving them the opportunity that others gave us, to know God and ourselves and our world? Creatures of the Gospel, daughters and sons of the previous generation, we are supposed now to be the mothers and fathers of a new generation, by our example, by our deeds and words, bringing the same good news that Jesus began and embodied, that Paul carried forward, that generation after generation after generation passed on, until it was brought down to us who gather here today. If we gather in thanksgiving here and now, we cannot genuinely do so without committing ourselves to keeping the Gospel alive, alive for us, alive for others. For this have we come: to preach the Gospel.