“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”
“Danny, put down your guitar and go call in your brothers and sisters. Time to get washed up for supper,” my mom would say. So I’d slip on my flip-flops and head out into the hot summer afternoon to gather up my siblings. Tom was the easiest to find; he would usually be at the pond across the road catching tadpoles. Rick would be somewhere underneath a tree reading his latest sci-fi novel. And usually Jackie and Carla would be up the road getting crochet lessons from Grandma. And I had the blessed task of calling them to table!
As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend it’s important to remember that the Church is a mother, too: the mother of nations. It is her task to gather people of every race, language, and culture into the Family of God. We are her sons and daughters; she send us out to bring her other children home. That was the last thing that Jesus said before he returned to the Father. ““Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”
On October 22 of last year on the feast of Saint John Paul II and World Mission Sunday, Pope Francis spoke about the last words that Jesus uttered to his disciples before returning to his Father. “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. He reminded us that our evangelism must never become the means to forcing our way of life on someone else. Rather we have the blessed task of call the rest of God’s family to the table of his love.
Now it is one thing for a mother to share her values and faith with her children; it is quite another for a mother to insist that her children be carbon copies of her. Pope Francis said, our preaching the Good News must be purified of any colonial overtones and kept far away from nationalistic and expansionist aims.
We know now in hindsight that much injustice was done to the native peoples of the New World when some missionaries represented their own cultural heritage as the only true expression of Christianity. They did not walk with the new people they met; they did not listen to their stories, nor could they imagine that native Americans and the peoples of Africa or the Orient might have something to tell them about God.
What would it look like to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature”? What would it be like to see ourselves as sons and daughters of a mother who wants to gather the world into her arms?
Pope Francis told us in his encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel”
“In these first two Christian millennia, countless peoples have received the grace of faith, brought it to flower in their daily lives and handed it on in the language of their own culture. Whenever a community receives the message of salvation, the Holy Spirit enriches its culture with the transforming power of the Gospel. The history of the Church shows that Christianity does not have simply one cultural expression, but rather, “remaining completely true to itself, with unswerving fidelity to the proclamation of the Gospel and the tradition of the Church, it will also reflect the different faces of the cultures and peoples in which it is received and takes root”. In the diversity of peoples who experience the gift of God, each in accordance with its own culture, the Church expresses her genuine catholicity and shows forth the “beauty of her varied face”. In the Christian customs of an evangelized people, the Holy Spirit adorns the Church, showing her new aspects of revelation and giving her a new face. Through inculturation, the Church “introduces peoples, together with their cultures, into her own community”, for “every culture offers positive values and forms which can enrich the way the Gospel is preached, understood and lived”. In this way, the Church takes up the values of different cultures and becomes sponsa ornata monilibus suis, “the bride bedecked with her jewels” (cf. Is 61:10)”.
Sisters and brothers, next week we will celebrate the birthday of the Church, the Solemnity of Pentecost. We will hear that list of strange sounding countries and peoples from all over the world gathered under the balcony of the Cenacle while Peter announces for the first time the Good News. Perhaps this week as we watch the nightly news, the events of the day pouring in from Washington and Seoul and Melbourne and Iran…perhaps we can whisper a prayer, calling all our sisters and brothers home for supper. The banquet of God’s love in Christ Jesus.