The Gospel writers describe in different language the mission that Jesus entrusts to his followers. According to Matthew they should «make disciples» that learn to live as he has taught them. According to Luke, they need to be «witnesses» of what they have lived by his side. Mark sums it all up by saying that they should «proclaim the gospel to all creation».
When someone approaches a Christian community today, they don’t directly encounter the Gospel. What they perceive is the functioning of a worn-out religion, with serious signs of crisis. They couldn’t identify clearly in the inner-workings of that religion the Good News that comes from the impact that Jesus provoked twenty centuries ago.
On the other hand, many Christians don’t directly know the Gospel. Everything they know about Jesus and his message is what they could reconstruct partially and fragmentarily, remembering what they’ve heard from catechists and preachers. They live out their religion deprived of personal contact with the Gospel.
How could they proclaim it if they don’t know it in their own communities? The Second Vatican Council has remembered something all too forgotten in these moments: «The Gospel is, at all times, the beginning of the whole life of the Church». The time has come to understand and to form the Christian community as a place where what’s first is to welcome the Gospel of Jesus.
Nothing can regenerate the fabric in crisis of our communities as can the power of the Gospel. Only the direct and immediate experience of the Gospel can revitalize the Church. A few years down the road, when the crisis forces us to center ourselves only on what’s essential, only then will we see clearly that nothing is more important for Christians today than to come together to read, listen to, and share together the Gospel stories.
What’s number one is to believe in the regenerating power of the Gospel. The Gospel stories teach how to live faith not as an obligation, but as an attraction. They get us to live the Christian life not as a duty, but as an irradiation and a contagion. It’s possible to introduce in our parishes a new dynamic. Gathered together in small groups, in touch with the Gospel, we’ll go forward recovering our true identity as followers of Jesus.
We need to return to the Gospel as a new beginning. No longer will just any program or pastoral strategy work. The time will come when listening to the Gospel of Jesus together won’t be just one more activity among others, but rather the womb from which will begin the regeneration of Christian faith in the small communities that are spread throughout secular society.
Pope Francis is right when he tells us that the beginning and the motor of the Church’s renovation in our times needs to be found in «returning to the source and recovering the original freshness of the Gospel».
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf