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New Evangelization: Christians Called to Love the World as Jesus Loved the World
By Deacon Keith Fournier
September 22nd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
In the words of St. Jose Maria Escriva, "May Our Lord be able to use us so that, placed as we are at all the cross-roads of the world - and at the same time placed in God - we become salt, leaven and light. Yes, you are to be in God, to enlighten, to give flavor, to produce growth and new life. But don't forget that we are not the source of this light: we only reflect it. (St. Jose Maria Escriva, Friends of God, 250)
STAUNTON,VA. (Catholic Online) - I write to you from my annual Diocesan Deacons Convocation. It has been a fruitful time of prayer, shared liturgy and theological instruction. It has also been a time for fellowship, presenting an opportunity to get caught up with other men who are living this vocation of going from the ambo, to the altar and into the world, in order to bring the world to Jesus and into His Church. The Gospel text for our closing day is very apropos. It is taken from Luke's account of the parable of the sower which is also found in the other synoptic Gospels.
In the last part of the parable Jesus opens up the parable of the sower and the seed upon inquiry by His disciples in these words: "This is the meaning of the parable. The seed is the word of God. Those on the path are the ones who have heard, but the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts that they may not believe and be saved. Those on rocky ground are the ones who, when they hear, receive the word with joy, but they have no root; they believe only for a time and fall away in time of temptation."
"As for the seed that fell among thorns, they are the ones who have heard, but as they go along, they are choked by the anxieties and riches and pleasures of life, and they fail to produce mature fruit. But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance."(Luke 8: 4-15)
This parable has been the source of inspiration for some of the richest reflections on the dynamic power of God's word in the Sacred Tradition. We are both the soil and the seed. The Word, the Living Word, is sown within us and we must cultivate the ground of our "hearts", the center of our very identity, so that we can be transformed in the Lord and more fully and completely reflect His Image and likeness.
However, there is another aspect of the parable, the missionary response, which can best be seen within the context of other parables from the Master. We ourselves become seed, in His Holy Hands, and He now spreads us into the world. It is that world, which he created, that needs to be re-created again - in and through Him. We are members of the Body of Christ, the Church, and seeds of the eternal Kingdom.
Another biblical image which helps us to comprehend this dynamic and missionary insight is found also contained in Matthew's Gospel: "Jesus said to his disciples: "You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden."
"Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father." (Matt. 5: 13 - 16) The passage calls to mind the words of the Lord, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)
We have been baptized into Christ and he now lives His life in us - and we live our lives in Him. This is meant to become a reality for us as we live in His Body, the Church, for the sake of the world. The Father still loves the world and still gives His Son to save it. (John 3: 16) Now, that gift of His Son continues through you and me.
In Matthews Gospel Jesus uses other images to further communicate this vital message and missionary mandate to us: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened." (Matt. 13: 31 - 33)
We are light and leaven, salt and seed, in a world waiting to be born. We are spread in the fields of the world and called to fall to the ground and bear fruit.
All of the images concerning the spread of the kingdom used by Jesus in his parables are meant to bring home the new reality that comes from our discipleship. In the words of St. Jose Maria Escriva, "May Our Lord be able to use us so that, placed as we are at all the cross-roads of the world - and at the same time placed in God - we become salt, leaven and light. Yes, you are to be in God, to enlighten, to give flavor, to produce growth and new life. But don't forget that we are not the source of this light: we only reflect it. (St. Jose Maria Escriva, Friends of God, 250)
As Christians we are called to love the world as God loves the world. Because we now live in Jesus Christ, incorporated into Him by Baptism, He continues His redemptive mission in and through us! God created us for Himself. He made us in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). He placed us within this created world with a purpose. God so loved the world he sent His only Son into it to save it! (John 3:16).
Jesus now walks into that world through His Body, the Church, which is the new world, being re-created in Christ.
Understanding and living this reality can change the way we view our entire human existence and change the way we live. In fact, it is meant to do just that! We live our daily lives now in the Lord. In a very real sense, we actually live in the Church and go into the world. One of the titles that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council ascribed to the Church (found in early patristic literature) is the "the world reconciled." That same Council reaffirmed the ancient Patristic Image of the Church as a seed of the kingdom.
Some of the confusion concerning our relationship to the world comes from the remnants of one of the early heresies in Christian history, Manichaeism. The followers of this error believed that all matter itself was evil. That is NOT a Christian belief. We profess in our Creed a belief in a bodily resurrection and the coming of a new heaven and new earth! Yet this error of viewing matter as evil still infects and can lead to a kind "ghetto mentality" whereby Christians withdraw from the world. Some confusion also comes from ways the term or phrase "the world" is used in the New Testament.
There is "the world" that God created and looked upon and said "it is good". (See e.g. Genesis, chapter 1). That world is still good. It is filled with beauty and reflects the Divine artist and architect who made it. That world He entrusted to the crown of his creation - man and woman. Then there is a system, that culture of death and use, which has squeezed God out of His rightful place and substituted idols.
That system is also called "the world" in the bible. (See, e.g. James 4:4). We are not to "love" that world, in the sense of giving ourselves over to its dominion. We are to reject that system in order to free those enchained by its lies. However, the Father wants to bring the entire human race back into a relationship with Him through His Son Jesus Christ. Those of us who live in Christ are sent on that mission into the world.
The power to effect redemptive change in the world comes from the life of God within us. It is amazing how little leaven it takes to raise a loaf of bread. That is because within those little particles of yeast is found the power to ferment, to change the lump of wet dough into a loaf of aromatic, tasty, nourishing bread. However, the power contained within that yeast is not activated unless it is mixed and kneaded into the dough.
Once you work the leaven in, it is still hidden to the eye but how it transforms that loaf! So it is with Christians within human culture! The power within us is the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead (See Romans 8:11)! All we are asked to do is to mix it up. We have to get in the loaf. We must be in the world - where Jesus is - in order to be used by Him to accomplish His ongoing work of redemption.
Leaven or yeast that is not used in time spoils and loses its capacity to ferment that dough; it must be active or it becomes useless. That leaven must be in the dough to effect its extraordinary change. So it is with us. We must be "in the world" to effect its transformation. Once hidden in the loaf, leaven always raises the dough. It also takes human effort - it must be kneaded and worked into the loaf.
So it is with our lives of faith. Faith is a verb, it must be exercised. By living in the heart of the Church in the center of the world we bring the world back to God. This kind of missionary mindset has inspired great missionary ages in the past and brought extraordinary changes to entire cultures. It can once again! However, it always begins one person, one grain, at a time.
The seed of the kingdom, the living Word, has been planted within us. And now, we become the seed, the salt and the leaven for the Divine Sower who continues His redemptive mission in a world waiting to be reborn in Him.He now spreads us in the field of the world to bear a harvest for the Kingdom to come. We are called to live at the crossroads of that world and become missionaries of the new world, of which the Church is a seed and sign.
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