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Come together

Having completed his 40-day fast in the desert and upon hearing of St. John the Baptist’s arrest, Our Lord entered Galilee to begin his public ministry. Galilee was the most northern part of Palestine — the land of the tribes of Zebulun and Napthali — above Samaria and Judea. The Assyrians had invaded the region (734–721 BC) and colonized much of the area. Therefore, it became known as “Galilee of the Gentiles.”  Jesus began here to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that the messiah would come to save not only the Jews but also the Gentiles, and thereby unite all peoples.

Note, his preaching echoed that of St. John the Baptist: “Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand.” The “kingdom” is not a restoration of the territorial kingdom of David, but a spiritual kingdom: “an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace” (Preface of the Mass for Christ the King). For this kingdom to be made visible, he established the church, whose members would bear witness to him and continue his mission. 

The church would also need a visible leadership, and so the Gospel continues with the call of the first apostles: Jesus said, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Having encountered Christ, they responded with a profound “Yes,” to his invitation. They left everything — their loved ones and friends, occupations and familiar surroundings. For three years, they witnessed Our Lord’s ministry and learned from him. They heard his preaching and teaching, and they saw his good works. In all, they were drawn out of themselves to see beyond their selfish instincts and recognize the needs of others; to see beyond the limits of this time and space and envision God’s work in this world; and to see beyond this life and to see the promise of everlasting life. They came to know Jesus as Son of God, Lord and savior. 

At the Last Supper, they were ordained priests to act in the person of Christ, the high priest. At the Ascension, having spent another 40 days with the risen Lord, they were commanded to go forth, preach the Gospel, make disciples and baptize in the name of the Trinity. Moreover Jesus said, “Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.” Filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they fulfilled their commission with courage and conviction. They went to unfamiliar places and peoples, founding the Catholic Church that exists to this day. Their witness was sealed with their own blood — all of them except St. John, who survived the means of execution, died as martyrs.  Nevertheless, the work continues, and the message is the same: “Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand.”

This apostolic mark of the church is beautiful and sacred. First, Christ entrusted his authority to the apostles, his priests and the first bishops of the church — that authority has been handed on through the sacrament of holy orders from the apostles to bishops to this very day, and by extension to priests. The special authority given to St. Peter as first pope likewise has been handed on, and is now entrusted to Pope Francis. Second, through the Holy Spirit, whom Our Lord identified as the Spirit of truth, the church’s magisterium, that is the apostolic teaching authority, continues to preserve, to teach, to understand better, and to hand on the authentic faith so we can live as authentic Christians; always remember the apostolic leadership of the church declared the books of sacred Scripture, and that same leadership has preserved the teaching from erroneous interpretation or application. Third, our worship at Mass and our sacraments all reflect the apostolic life handed onto us and manifest the kingdom of holiness and grace. Finally, the church’s work in education and social services is also a continuing of the apostolic mission. Pause for a moment: If anyone ever asks, “Why are you a Catholic?” an intelligent response would be, “Because Christ founded the church, and the leadership, the teachings, the spiritual life and the work all go back to Jesus and the apostles.” 

Therefore, we who profess belief in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” church must together continue the mission of Our Lord, according to our own vocation. We must have the courage to hand on the fullness of faith, despite living in a secular, even pagan, culture and despite scandals in our own church.  We must call all to repent and believe in the love, truth, justice and peace that only Jesus can offer. We must be for others the witness and the encounter with Jesus through our words and deeds. In sum, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “All the faithful … have the right and duty … to work so that the divine message of salvation may be known and accepted by all men throughout the earth” (No. 900).

Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Church in Potomac Falls and episcopal vicar for faith formation and director of the Office of Catechetics.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020