Pope Francis, in his recent letter on the joy of the Gospel, has given us a powerful reminder that we are a missionary people. As we continue our celebration of Easter, let us acknowledge that mission was the first fruit of the Resurrection. The Risen Lord touched the hearts of his disciples. They were filled with a joy that could not be contained, that reached out to the whole world.
Peter’s address at Pentecost demonstrates the missionary power of the Resurrection. The timidity of frightened Apostles was transformed. They were no longer dominated by the fear that had hidden behind closed doors. The Spirit of the Risen Lord had done more than give them courage: it had fundamentally changed the way in which they related to the world. Their master’s charge to preach the Gospel to the whole world was no longer a matter of words. It had become, deep within them, Christ’s living presence reaching out to the world.
Peter’s Pentecost address was the invitation of a missionary: “The promise that was made is for you and your children, and for all who are far away, for all those whom the Lord our God will call to himself.”
What occurred on that day was something beyond the eloquence of any human voice. The power of the Risen Lord, at work in the Apostles, made ready the hearts of those who listened. This was indeed the fulfilment of the Lord’s promise that he would be with them always, with them and with those who heard their words.
We share in the Spirit of the same living Lord, and are called to proclaim his presence in our own world. If we are to become heralds of the Gospel we must return again and again to Peter’s summons at Pentecost: “You must repent, and every one of you must be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The missionary work of the Church is not a human strategy. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in the power of Christ’s Resurrection. If repentance is truly a change of heart and attitude, then our constant repentance will continue to conquer our fears, enabling us with a joy that reaches out to “those who are far away, those whom the Lord will call to himself”.
John’s Gospel, in its account of Jesus the Good Shepherd, unfolds for us the missionary heart of the Church. Jesus is the gate to the sheepfold, the gateway to the healing and salvation for which we long. Just as the Good Shepherd gathered his sheep into the sheepfold, so must our lives be first gathered into the presence of our Risen Lord. It is in his presence alone, in word, sacrament and prayer, that we shall be made ready for his mission. We hear his voice, he calls us to himself. Only then does he lead us out. He leads us out and goes before us.
The mission of the Church begins with a truly personal repentance, a willingness to be called into the presence of God, and, from the strength of that presence, to be led with Christ to a world that longs for his healing. In a world that is frequently hostile to Christianity, it is not surprising that we are sometimes timid and fearful. We are not abandoned to our doubts and uncertainties. The Lord calls us to the joy of his presence, and his presence makes of us a missionary Church.