We will soon celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church. The teaching concerning missionary activity both at the Council and since has been that the Church is by nature missionary and that every baptized Christian participates in that mission. Our task, no matter what our state in life or vocation, is to be missionaries, in every nation and to every culture. That understanding lies at the heart of what it means to be a Christian - we carry forward in time the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ. All Christians need to "put out into the deep" and lower our nets for a catch.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - The Gospel I proclaimed at Mass on Thursday of the 22d Week of "Ordinary Time" (Luke 5:1-11) reminded me of insights Blessed John Paul II shared in an apostolic letter he wrote at the beginning of the new millennium. They are a call to every Christian, no matter what their state in life, to take up the missionary mandate of the Church:
"At the beginning of the new millennium, and at the close of the Great Jubilee during which we celebrated the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus and a new stage of the Church's journey begins, our hearts ring out with the words of Jesus when one day, after speaking to the crowds from Simon's boat, he invited the Apostle to "put out into the deep" for a catch: "Duc in altum" (Lk 5:4).
"Peter and his first companions trusted Christ's words, and cast the nets."When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish" (Lk 5:6). Duc in altum! These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb 13:8). (Pope John Paul II, "At the Beginning of the New Millennium")
The words reflected the dynamic living faith and indomitable missionary spirit which characterized the life and ministry of the late Pope. He coined the phrase "New Evangelization." Among the many writings and speeches throughout his pontificate wherein he used the phrase was his 1990 Encyclical Letter entitled "Mission of the Redeemer."
He wrote, "God is opening before the Church the horizons of a humanity more fully prepared for the sowing of the Gospel. I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church's energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples".
He lived this mission until his final passing to the Father. His living faith was displayed to the whole world, confirming the great truth of the Gospel which he both proclaimed and incarnated in a life of conformity to Jesus Christ. His blessed successor in office, Pope Benedict XVI, continues to call us to this "New Evangelization" and speaks regularly of this time in which we live as a new missionary age.
In his first homily delivered at the installation liturgy wherein he assumed the Chair of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed: "Peter's call to be a shepherd...comes after the account of a miraculous catch of fish... There too, the disciples had caught nothing the entire night; there too, Jesus had invited Simon once more to put out into the deep. And Simon, who was not yet called Peter, gave the wonderful reply: "Master, at your word I will let down the nets." And then came the conferral of his mission: "Do not be afraid. Henceforth you will be catching men" (Lk 5:1-11). Today too the Church and the successors of the Apostles are told to put out into the deep sea of history and to let down the nets, so as to win men and women over to the Gospel - to God, to Christ, to true life."
We must cultivate a missionary spirit. Western culture is deeply de-Christianized. Only the Church can carry out the needed evangelical work the West needs. She is the Body of the Risen Christ, called to carry on His redemptive mission and continue His presence on this earth as a universal sign and sacrament. She is the missionary agent and - in the words of the fathers of the second Vatican Council - the seed and beginning of the kingdom of God.
The "New Evangelization" of the Church:
The Catholic Church needs conversion at every level. It will necessitate solid catechesis, instruction in the Catholic Christian faith. Many Catholic Christians do not know what their Church actually teaches. They have embraced what some have called a "cafeteria Catholicism"- choosing what parts of the faith they will follow. In some cases, a practical atheism is spreading, demonstrated by those who claim the title Christian and profess the ancient Christian Creed at Mass but fail to live it during the rest of the week.
The Church is God's plan for every culture and for the entire world. The early Fathers called her the "world reconciled". We who are Christians were reborn in Baptism as through a second womb and entrusted to the Church as mother. We now live our life in the Church. We may leave our buildings after we gather for Liturgy and Prayer but we never leave our communion with the Lord and, in Him, with one another for the sake of the world.
The Church has been weakened from within and is under attack from without. We cannot abandon the Church to the wolves within or without. The promise of the Master is still true "The gates of hell will not prevail" (Matt. 16:18). There is no "plan B" through which Christ will save this world. The Church is His Plan! She has undergone much purification throughout her two thousand years. Her hull may be battered but she is still the Ark of Salvation.
Saint Cyprian ( A.D. 258) proclaimed "He who has turned his back on the Church of Christ shall not come to the rewards of Christ; he is an alien, a worldling, an enemy. You cannot have God for your Father if you have not the Church for your mother." (On The Unity of the Catholic Church) Church history demonstrates that seasons of purification are often followed by times of restoration and triumph for the Church. I believe it will be so in our day - in spite of what some may say. The Catholic Church is not a mere human institution. If it were, it would have shipwrecked long ago.
The Church is that Ark, the boat, presided over by the Lord. He is at the helm steering His redemptive course through time and providing the means of grace we all need to be set free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2) in order to become new creations.(2 Cor. 5:17). Jesus says to those of us who have joined His family through our Baptism what he said to those frightened followers "Put Out Into the Deep, and lower your nets for a catch".
The Mission to the World:
The contemporary culture has thrown off almost every remnant of Christian influence. It has embraced a new paganism. There is nothing progressive about the claims of the self styled "progressives" of this age. They spout the sophistry of an age that purports to be "enlightened" when it is stumbling in darkness, drunk on its own excesses and folly.
The embrace of license over liberty, death over life and the use and abuse of the goods of the earth over stewardship are all fueled by a counterfeit notion of freedom as a raw power over others and the delusion that "freedom" implies some feigned "right" to choose what is wrong. Such a "freedom" is a counterfeit and leads to what Jesus (John 8:34) and St PaulRomans 6:20) rightly called the slavery of sin.
The rejection of even the existence of objective truth in an age deceived by a dictatorship of relativism has given rise to a practical atheism. It is not new. It is Eden's error rewritten. Our age rejected God and His plan for the human race. Contemporary humankind, like Cain, now wanders aimlessly in a land of Nod, East of Eden.
America consistently polls as one of the most "religious" of the Nations of the West but has little evidence of the influence of religious faith in its daily life. The moral philosopher Alasdair Macintyre once said that "the creed of the English is that there is no God but it is wise to pray to him from time to time." Let's be honest, this is now the "creed" of the whole of Western culture.
"Religion" is acceptable as long as it is kept "private". Christianity can never be "kept private". It must be given away in love. The Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is profoundly public. Christian faith may be personal but it is not private. It proclaims a God who loves the world that He created so much that He wrote the universal laws governing all men and women into the fabric of a natural law.
The God who fashioned us out of the earth breathed his Life into us, making us in His Image. He invites us us to grow into His likeness. The epicenter of His Image within us is our capacity for freedom, our ability to choose. He now invites us to choose what is right and true. Christians insist some choices that are universally wrong and that there is an objective truth for all men and women, all cultures and all times. The new pagans find this offensive. However, its reassertion by a renewed Church, and its demonstration in our lives, will set freedom free.
Cultures formerly infused with a Christian culture, are post-Christian and need to be "re- evangelized." We who live in America know firsthand the sadness of the loss of this Christian influence. Only a holy, vibrant faith filled Catholic Church can bring this culture of death, use and darkness to a new conversion and transformation. ".
Put Out Into the Deep (Luke 5:4)
All of the faithful, men, and women, lay, clergy and religious - ALL of the faithful - are members of the Body of Christ. As Pope Benedict recently reminded us, we are "Co-Responsible" for the Church. We all need to view ourselves as missionaries. This mission is not reserved for a group of "professionals", whether they be clergy or the growing "professional" lay faithful who seem to be multiplying. Rather, it is the task incumbent on all of the Christian faithful.
We will soon celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church. The teaching concerning missionary activity both at the Council and since has been that the Church is by nature missionary and that every baptized Christian participates in that mission. Our task is to be missionaries, in every nation and to every culture. That understanding lies at the heart of what it means to be a Christian - we carry forward in time the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ.
All Christians need to "put out into the deep" and lower our nets for a catch. The Lord of the harvest is calling workers for the New Evangelization of His Church. Then, he is calling all of the loyal sons and daughters of His Church into a new missionary age.
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