One of the books making the rounds these days and gaining quite a bit of attention is “From Christendom to Apostolic Mission,” published by the University of Mary Press. I have found it particularly enlightening and helpful in understanding the situation of the Church in the world today. The fundamental thesis of the book is that the age of Christendom in the Western world is over, and the Church finds herself once again in a situation calling for her to be truly on mission to evangelize, not unlike apostolic times. We can no longer rely on the way we have always done things and the institutions that once supported us.
My favorite page in the whole book (Page 36 specifically) has the apostles, before Pentecost, taking stock of the resources they have on hand to fulfill the mission that Jesus has given them to bring the Gospel of Christ to the world. It’s a pretty bleak picture. From a worldly point of view, it looks hopeless, especially since most people think their leader is dead. They have none of the institutions, experience, or other resources that the Church later developed. With only 11 bishops/priests, a few hundred followers, very little money, and living in a society that is ignorant or hostile toward them, this enterprise looks bound to fail.
But those same apostles (with the later addition of Matthias) radically changed the entire world forever! The Gospel was spread to the far corners of the known world, and then beyond. The Church was on fire.
So, what did they have? They had two things: the lived experience of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, and the Holy Spirit that came upon them on the day of Pentecost. With just that, they transformed the world.
They had seen Jesus alive again. They spoke with him, ate with him, and even touched the risen body of Christ. And all this after having spent three years being formed by Jesus. Then the Holy Spirit set them on fire to proclaim him to the world. To me, these two things are the secret to the New Evangelization.
We must remember that we have the same Holy Spirit that descended upon the apostles gathered in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost. Do we really believe this? Do we really believe that the Holy Spirit has the power and the desire to transform the world once again? I do!
Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will be with us forever until he comes again in glory. The Holy Spirit guides us, directs us, teaches us, empowers us, strengthens us and leads us into all truth. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are poured out upon the Church in all her members. There are special gifts given to the bishops as successors to the apostles to be authentic teachers and shepherds of the Church. But the whole People of God is endowed with various gifts to further the mission entrusted to us by Jesus. We need to trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit and unleash his power once again in the world.
But of these two things the early Church had, perhaps the greater need among modern day disciples of the Lord is that encounter with Jesus Christ that informed the life of the apostles and first disciples. The encounter those first followers had with Jesus was truly transformative and life changing. Can we say the same for us?
In order to fulfill the mission of the Church in these challenging times, we need to bring disciples, starting with ourselves, into a transformative, life-giving, ongoing encounter with Jesus Christ. To be the missionary disciples that Pope Francis has called for, we need to first be disciples who have truly fallen in love with the Lord. The apostles knew and loved the Master. We must come to a deeper love and knowledge of Jesus in order to share him with others. We can’t give what we don’t have.
Pope Benedict XVI said in Deus Caritas Est, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Disciples today need to experience once again, or for the first time, this encounter. We need to see the new horizon toward which we travel with a decisive direction to follow Jesus Christ.
I decided in my own discipleship to “get out of the way” of the Holy Spirit and surrender all to Jesus, whom I love and trust. I felt the Lord say to me: “Finally you’ve gotten out of my way with all your plans and ideas. Watch what I will do.” It has started. Come Holy Spirit!