Bearers of the Fruits of the Gospel: A missionary reflection for Lent (Part 2)

Fruits of the Gospel, Part 2 of 2

(Click here to read Part 1: How We are Bearers)

The first thing Jesus does in the Gospel of Mark is to say that “The Kingdom has already arrived” and the first thing he asks us is that we be converted. This conversion is not just a stop doing, or a stop thinking, no. It is a change of mentality, and if we change our minds, we will begin to change our actions and attitudes and begin to create new values. The conversion that Jesus asks of us is CONVERSION TO THE KINGDOM, as he says and shows, when he says in the Synagogue of Nazareth, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in me.” (Lk 4:21)

This conversion to the Kingdom will force us to come out of ourselves, our schemes, our worries, our logic, to become, “to convert” to the logic of the Kingdom.

The logic of the Kingdom begins as the logic of the incarnation. God in Jesus is becoming one of us, identified in everything except what dehumanises us. In the kenosis, in the emptying of himself, Jesus comes close to our condition, shares it in solidarity, and in his compassion shows us the way to retrieve life, dignity and all that puts our humanity and our creation in danger of death.

When Pope Francis speaks to us of an “outgoing Church”, when he invites us to “pastoral conversion,” or when we speak of “Franciscans going forth” what we are reaffirming is that there is no mission without incarnation, without going to the other, identifying with him. If those others are the privileged of the Kingdom, the poor, then being incarnated is to seek with them the paths of liberation, justice, peace, and the dignity of the human condition.

Being the bearer of the Gospel and its fruits is then turning ourselves into GOOD NEWS. Are we really this for others? Do the poor of our continent, those who live around our houses, friaries, parishes and residences, see us as good news?

The poor, women, and children followed Jesus because they saw in him someone who gave them good news. He went to them full of compassion proclaiming the good news, freeing them from all oppression, giving them hope, restoring their stolen dignity, casting out all kinds of spirits, enslaving demons, cleansing them of their leprosy and restoring their lives, sitting with them at the same table. Casting out demons, healing the sick, cleansing lepers, restoring life to the dead, eating with them – this is how the Gospels summarise the whole practice of Jesus, the restoring practice of the Kingdom.

The invitation of the Old Testament prophets to be “holy like Yahweh,” becomes in Jesus, “be compassionate as the merciful Father is compassionate.”

In the Kingdom, we bearers of the fruits of its proclamation and building up, are first invited to be compassionate and merciful. To be sacraments of God’s love (and sacrament means being a sign and instrument … showing and doing …) that in Jesus is revealed as love without conditions, even to the ultimate consequences, seeking, as love does, the best for the loved one. God in Jesus does it with us. To speak of sacramental presence is to talk about the efficacy of the sacrament that we are. How effective is our supportive love, our accompaniment of the weakest, our work in favour of the poor, women, neglected and abandoned communities?

To be compassionate is not only to grieve for the pain of others but to identify with their suffering, to assume responsibility for it, to accompany them in their process of liberation. Like the Samaritan.

How are we good news for the poor, the marginalised, the faithful of other religions, those belonging to different cultures?

The mission here is to recognise their sacred history, their history of salvation. That God has also saved these people in Jesus Christ through his sacraments and educated them through his doctrines, his teachings, his books.

The mission then is not to bring them to our God, our religion, our Church, but rather, in a contemplative and grateful attitude, to discern the loving presence of God in the midst of these peoples, in the stories of their achievements, of their sufferings and hopes … It is to be with them, to contemplate with them, to thank them.

The mission is  to place oneself at the service of God in the middle of the people, at the service of the liberation of the oppressed (liberation), building community (communion) in an attitude of permanent dialogue.

Pray with your prayers, celebrate with your rites the memorial of Jesus as unconditional surrender, even to the cross and death. Imbue yourself with his spirituality present in so many sacred works and writings full of so much wisdom.

And meanwhile “we will not lose the opportunity to name the Name of the One who opted for the poor with the poor, the homeless, who opted for the rejected stone and was the suffering servant of all. We will name the Holy One who is present and gives meaning and value to the wounds and tears of all, who plants the seeds of the resurrection in the heart of our death. We name it with humility; we present it as our treasure and not as a hammer with which to threaten peoples and crush them. We present Jesus in his kenosis, and in his love in the solidarity of the resurrection, as a friend of the peoples and a giver of freedom, and not as a religious Julius Caesar, who conquers, destroys and dominates” (SAMUEL RAYAN, a spirituality of mission in an Asian context).

We could say many other things about being bearers of the fruits of the Gospel, the capacity for forgiveness, resilience, resistance, sharing. But there is one final point that I would like to share with you, and that is SPIRITUALITY.

A human, Christian and Franciscan life lived in love, compassion and solidarity is generating a new spirituality, allowing our lives and our actions to be permeated by new values, new attitudes, leading to new behaviours. It enables our interior to grow and become greater than our interior. When this happens, we do not need to put on facades. Many beautiful facades hide ruins.

This new spirituality is emerging from the dialogue of life and of action and is enriched in a dialogue of spiritualities, where we can also offer ours to be enriched by the others, and that can in its turn enrich the other spiritualities.

Our evangelical proposal should not only permeate other cultures, to which Paul VI invited us in the “Evangelii Nuntiandi“, but also be between cultures (not only ad gentes but also inter gentes) and also, why not? Create a new culture. We are invited to build the new civilisation of love (also Paul VI’s invitation), of gratuity, of solidarity, of peace (builders of Peace), of fraternity (a call made by the Pope and the Imam in his recent document).

We must create this new culture among ourselves, in our families, our communities, our churches … We should be a permanent, not an occasional, example of the new world we hope for, building it from the here and now of our history. More than seeking to change the world, what we must do is to create examples, little concrete realities because the task of the Spirit (who is united to our spirit) is to make all things new. Beginning by making a new heaven and a new earth, with a new culture of life, of peace, where we can all live as brothers and sisters. On a planet that is not regarded as a source of resources, but as the common home that we have to take care of, because it is the ship on which we all go rolling through space, and our future depends on its survival.

This must be the meaning of our social, pastoral plans, etc. Being a historical, close and credible anticipation of the great project of the Kingdom. That is why all our programmes are only approximations, always perfectible, since none completely coincides with what the Kingdom is.

All this means that we are turning what the gospel invites us to be into reality: light, salt, leaven and fragrance (Mt 5:13-16; 13:33, 2 Cor 2:14-16). The mission is light that we, as a missionary community, radiate through the new culture we are building. As salt, we prevent the world from falling into violence and vulgarity. As leaven, we must be able to transform hearts and structures and make the whole earth become bread for the feast of God, the feast of all. “We are the aroma of Christ” (2 Cor 2:15). Following the expression of Gandhi, let us be like the rose, she has a gospel to narrate, but she does it silently, with her scent, efficiently.

In this way, in solidarity with all the poor, men, women, children, the elderly, the sick, of our continent, we can seek the liberation, among all and with all, of humanity, at the same time liberating our planet earth from exploitation and of impoverishment.

The Spirit that dwells in us gives us this task and accompanies us in its fulfilment. He arrived before us and will continue here after us. What we do is support his work, follow his inspiration.

Let us remember, with the words of Patriarch Athenagoras what we can do if we have the Spirit, and what happens if we do not have the Spirit:

 

“Without the Spirit,
God is far away,
Christ dwells in the past,
The Gospel is a dead letter,
The Church is simply an organisation,
authority is a matter of dominion,
mission a case of propaganda,
liturgy nothing more than an evocation,
the Christian experience a morality that enslaves.

 

But in the Holy Spirit
– the universe comes alive and groans with the birth pains of the Kingdom,
– The risen Christ is there,
– The Gospel is its life force,
– The Church is a sign of the Trinitarian life
– authority is a service that liberates,
– mission is a Pentecost,
– liturgy is memorial and anticipation,
– Human action is deified”
(JAMES H. KROEGER, M.M., Signposts of the Spirit for Mission, in LANDS 10 (1996) 57-71).

 

Photo: © Marie-Armelle Beaulieu/CTS