Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 / Matthew 13:31-35

How important is it that Christians proclaim the Gospel by their words? An odd question, perhaps, but one that touches upon the perception of many of the Catholic faithful throughout the world. Whatever it was in the past, many, maybe even most, Catholics today tend to associate direct, verbal proclamation of the Gospel to those who do not believe with Christians of a more Evangelical or Pentecostalist persuasion. However much we insist on our right, indeed our obligation, to live out the Catholic faith in full, public view, we are generally more inclined to imagine that it will be more the manner of our living, or the intrinsic beauty of our worship, our moral witness, or even of the faith as experienced in charity, that will draw others to Christ.

There is, to be sure, much in the Scriptures to support this view of things. Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, is delighted precisely because his proclamation of the Gospel to them hath not been ... in word only, but in power also, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much fullness. This is so, he asserts, because the Thessalonians knew of Paul and his fellow missionaries what manner of men we have been among you for your sakes. That is, it was how Paul was among the Thessalonians, not merely his word, that effected such a transformation, and this transformation is seen not so much in the Thessalonians' verbal assertion of faith in Christ as in their manner of living. Indeed, Paul is so convinced in the indisputable evidence of their rebirth in Christ by the power of the Spirit that he sees no need to tell anyone else about his work in Thessalonica — For they themselves relate to us what manner of entering in we had unto you; and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven (Whom He raised up from the dead).

Christ, too, seems to have avoided a direct proclamation of the things hidden from the foundation of the world. In public, to the crowds, Jesus refrained from any direct publication of the truth — All these things Jesus spoke in parables to the multitudes: and without parables He did not speak to them. If Paul saw the best evidence of the faith to be the lived experience rather than the spoken word, and if Christ himself saw fit to confine a clear proclamation of the mysteries to his intimate friends and not to the crowds, does this mean that we are confirmed in our bias against public, verbal proclamation of the faith?

As tempting as such a view might be to reconfirm our own timidity, we are engaging in a dangerous reading of the Scriptures should we draw such a conclusion. After all, the men of Thessalonica did not intuit the Gospel of Christ merely from Paul's lifestyle or behavior. They did not know the saving power of the risen Lord, the glory of the Cross, simply by witnessing the wholesome power of Paul's character. While it is true that his Gospel to them was not in word only, it nonetheless was in word, and indispensably so.

Likewise, while Jesus may have spoken in parables to the crowds during his earthly ministry, when he had risen from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit upon his apostles, he commanded them to proclaim what he had taught them to every creature. Granted, the kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed or like a leaven in three measures of meal: small, unnoticed, unassuming, but with great potential and transformative power. However, these parables of the kingdom are not programs or models for living out the life of the Church. Rather, they are what God does within us in Christ by the power of the Spirit. That is, it is God who plants the seed in his field and he who puts the small bit of leaven in the measures of flour. We, the Church, are meant to be the seed all grown up into a tree, greater than all herbs ... so that the birds of the air come and dwell in the branches thereof.

While God's work within us is invisible to all outward appearance, its effect on us is supposed to be manifest to all, clear and evident and unmistakable. This means also that we are to be explicit where God's work in us is more subtle. We are to proclaim the Gospel in every aspect of our selves, and this means explicitly in our verbal and public proclamation of Jesus Christ to an unbelieving world. This is our task and our goal. This is the prayer of the Church today for us, and for all believer: Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that thinking everything over in our minds, we may accomplish, both in words and works, that which is pleasing in Thy sight.

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