The Ascension of the Lord | Year B
Jesus showed himself to the Eleven, and said to them, ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up deadly snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’
And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven: there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.
In the encyclical Deus Caritas Est Pope Benedict XVI describes the nature of the Church:
“The Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable.”
People – including Catholics – expect a lot of the Church. It has a role to play in society in exercising the ministry of charity and advocating for justice and peace, but that must never be seen as its reason for being. If the Church does not proclaim the gospel and celebrate the sacraments then it cannot fulfil the mission which Christ gave it, and it just becomes another social service organization.
Jesus told the Eleven to proclaim the Good News to all creation, and to baptise. The proclamation of the word and the celebration of the sacraments are an essential part of the life of the Christian community. Both are for the Christian community, but not only for them. These events must also draw others into the life of Christ. That has become the hard part, perhaps because sometimes we are too comfortable doing things just for ourselves without that missionary edge.
Everything we do in our parishes and dioceses must both nourish the believers and attract others to Christ. We must sing and preach and welcome people as if everyone of them was not yet baptised because we can never be sure who is in that category.
We all have this responsibility, and we need to talk about how to do together and individually. We may have to consider radical ways of being missionary rather than comfortable ways.