Tuesday, November 30, 2010

St Andrew, Apostle

Romans 10:10-18 / Matthew 4:18-22

When was the last time you introduced someone to Jesus Christ?

In much of the world today, one would be hard pressed to consider mission or evangelization constitutive of Catholic Christianity. They are there of course; no one is willing to deny that. The global presence of the Catholic faith reminds all, believers and non-believers alike, that their sound hath gone into all the earth, and their words unto the end of the whole world. But to speak of a missionary, of bringing the name and news of the Cross of Jesus Christ to those who have never heard it before, to those who may think they know Jesus but have never been given the chance to hear him preached fully and well — these are not the images that come to mind when thinking about Catholicism. The Latter-Day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, and in somewhat more subtle but no less insistent ways, evangelical Christians — all of these are well known for their missionary zeal, their willingness to endure shame, ridicule and rejection, for the sake of the name of the Lord. Roman Catholic, not so much.

I suppose one might be able to provide a whole array of explanations — sociological, historical, cultural — to account for this, but this would be to evade the issue rather than to confront it. St Paul is clear. Salvation is available to all people in Jesus Christ, not in race or lineage, not in scientific acumen or philosophical sophistication, for the Lord is rich unto all that call upon him and whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. However, as the Apostle reminds us, faith, then, cometh by hearing, and if by hearing, then from the lips of a preacher, and if from a preacher, then from one who has authorized his preaching and sent him forth. The authority to send we have in abundance, from the successors of the apostles, the apostles themselves in their Scriptural witness, and of course, at root, in God himself, through the sending of the Spirit of the Son into the members of the Son's body, that body prepared by the Father who sent his Son into the world for our salvation. Preachers may be fewer than we might like, but for those of us in the Christian and post-Christian West, not altogether difficult to find. But bringing people to hear? How often to we manage to do that?

The coming to faith, of course, is at root a work of God in us. That St Andrew, along with his brother Simon Peter, immediately left their nets at the appeal of Jesus, Come ye after me, cannot be explained as the result merely of a dispassionate and abstract process of testing hypotheses and yielding universally obtainable conclusions. Nor, on the other hand, was it an irrational leap into darkness, the crass and unreasoning acceptance as true of something for which one had no reasonable motive whatsoever. Andrew believed, Simon Peter believed, the sons of Zebedee believed, and we the faithful believed by hearing, but we could hear only by the word of Christ. To be able to hear in the proclamation of the Gospel not Iron Age fairy tales but the saving work of God required not simply the voice of a preacher, but the word of Christ already in the heart. As St Paul soberly reminds us, all do not obey the Gospel.

Even so, we cannot let the fact of the prevenience of Christ's word be an excuse to allow the coming to faith in others, or the growth of faith in ourselves, just to "happen" without anything else. While it may be true that no one whom God wills to come to him will fail to come to him, this will happen neither apart from nor regardless of what we do, but rather through and in the free works of his creatures. If our neighbors who do not believe have not heard the Gospel, have not heard a preacher who can speak past their now too frequently conditioned responses to privatize, relativize, or reject the faith, how much of this is because we have not taken to effort to invite them?

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