June 8, 2018

Christ the Cornerstone

The Church is the agent of evangelization

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“Evangelization is the task of the Church. The Church, as the agent of evangelization, is more than an organic and hierarchical institution; she is first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way toward God. She is certainly a mystery rooted in the Trinity, yet she exists concretely in history as a people of pilgrims and evangelizers, transcending any institutional expression, however necessary”
(“Evangelii Gaudium,” “The Joy of the Gospel, #111).

The Church is sent by her Lord “as the sacrament of the salvation offered by God” (“Evangelii Gaudium,” #112).Pope Francis tells us that, rather than waiting for us to draw closer to him, God comes close to us. The saving action of Jesus Christ—every fiber of his life, death and resurrection—is based solely on the unconditional love and mercy of God rather than any merit on our part.

As the Holy Father says, “The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy. No human efforts, however good they may be, can enable us to merit so great a gift. God, by his sheer grace, draws us to himself and makes us one with him. … Through [the Church’s] evangelizing activity, she cooperates as an instrument of that divine grace which works unceasingly and inscrutably. … The principle of the primacy of grace must be a beacon which constantly illuminates our reflections on evangelization” (#112).

At the very core of the Gospel, the Good News, is the gift of salvation announced by the Lord: Behold, the Kingdom of God is at hand for those who dare to believe in Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior of the world. This is the essence of evangelization, which is ultimately focused not on “programs,” but on cultivating a personal encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. To carry out this sacred mandate, the Church has been entrusted with special gifts to be used in ministry and service.

These special gifts include the gift of both the priesthood of all the baptized and the ordained priesthood; and the deposit of faith safeguarded and handed on by the Apostles; each gift is made sacred by the ultimate gift of God’s presence among us.

At every Mass, in union with the whole Church and following the Lord’s command, an ordained priest invokes the power of the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to be really present upon the altar. This sacred action reminds us of the awesome responsibility that ordained ministers carry out in service to the entire people of God. That’s why at every Mass, we pray for our pope, our bishop and all the clergy. As we do so, we recall the necessity of the priesthood for the Eucharist, as well as the necessity of the Eucharist for the Church.

According to Pope Francis, in a brief catechesis on the sacrament of holy orders during his weekly general audience on March 26, 2014, “Holy orders, articulated in the three ranks of episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate, is the sacrament which enables the exercise of the ministry, entrusted by the Lord Jesus to the Apostles, to feed his flock, in the power of his Spirit and according to his heart; to feed Jesus’ flock not with the power of human strength or with one’s own strength, but with that of the Spirit and according to his heart, the heart of Jesus, which is a heart of love. The priest, the bishop, the deacon must feed the Lord’s flock with love. If he does not do it with love, it is useless.”

The ministry of the ordained enables us all to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the task of evangelization; namely, to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor, and to comfort mourners.

In essence, the sacrament of holy orders makes other sacraments possible as a means of mediating God’s compassion, consolation, reconciliation and redemption. This sacrament provides us with ministers who can lead us; who can travel with us as we accompany those in need of mercy, hope, forgiveness, love and understanding; and who can also follow after us as the Good Shepherd finds those who have strayed, bringing them home again.

The Church’s task of evangelization is rooted in the bold proclamation of Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest and Good Shepherd. Let’s pray that we can accept the vocation given to each of us to be missionary disciples and evangelizers who have been made into a holy people called to serve those in need of God’s grace with the support provided by the sacraments of the Church. †

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