Today's missionary Church is the voice crying in the wilderness of the world
Luke the Evangelist makes a stirring entry, as a historian attentive to the facts (Gospel): he sets the public appearance of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth into the historical-geographic context of the day. With quiet precision he names seven personages who are contemporary to the event (vv. 1-2). Here, too, the number seven has a symbolic meaning: indicating a totality. Mentioning the seven personages and their position and function, Luke intends to point out that the whole of history - pagan and Judaic, profane and sacred - is involved in the events he is about to narrate. They are facts that regard the whole human family, with its institutions and its religious and civil structures.
The event is that “the word of God came to John, son of Zecharaiah, in the wilderness” (v. 2), on the riverbanks of the Jordan, sending him with a message of “repentance, for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 3). Luke, with the evidence displayed, wants to assure his readers that God’s Salvation takes place in a time, in a place, according to a clear and precise plan. It is a further proof of the intention of the Evangelist, expressed in his prologue: to go over the whole story carefully, to write an orderly account, so as to show “how well-founded are the teachings received” (Lk 1,3-4). The Gospel of Jesus is based on secure facts, transmitted by eye-witnesses who can be believed; there is no room for human inventions or psychological projections.
God’s salvation takes place within human history, not outside it; it is not added on to history, but is part of it, even though it transcends it. Like salt. With the power of the seed and of the yeast. Like the ferment of new life. That is exactly what Jesus did, and what we Catholics are called to do in the world (see the Letter to Diognetus). John the Baptist foretells this with the words of the prophets Isaiah and Baruch; words which become reality in this precise geographical context. John preaches in the wilderness, a biblical place rather than a geographical one; a place and a time for powerful spiritual experiences (calling and alliance, temptations and fidelity...) that the chosen people has to re-live continually. The Baptist preaches on the shores of the Jordan; the river that has to be crossed (in the Baptismal rite) with a change of mind and of live (conversion), so as to enter the promised land. No longer following harsh and twisted paths (the biblical symbols of pride, arrogance, oppression and injustice…), but the way of interior conversion, made smooth and straight (vv. 4-5). Paul offers a further description of this kind of new life in Christ (2nd Reading): it is full of love, of moral integrity, of commitment to the spreading of the Gospel (v. 5-9).
God’s salvation is for everyone, the Baptist insists, quoting Isaiah: “all mankind shall see the salvation of God” (v. 6). Every single human person, all flesh, that is, each one in his or her weakness and fragility, will have salvation from God. A salvation that God offers to everyone, without exception. A salvation that no man can work for himself, but that has to come from outside: only from God! The Russian writer Alexander Soljenitsyn has a description of he radical incapacity of the human person with regard to personal salvation: “If someone is drowning in a pool, he cannot save himself by pulling himself out by his own hair.” Another hand, from outside is needed: the hand of God. And the hand of God‘s friends. The time of Advent, the time in which all humanity is waiting, calls on us to think and act for the many peoples who do not yet know the Saviour who is coming.
The loving hand of God is clearly seen in the maternal presence of Mary Immaculate (8th December), who is so close to God and to the human family, as well as in the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe (celebrated on 12 December). God also shows Himself through the friendly hand of Christians, a hand stretched out to help anyone who is in material and spiritual need. Today, the task of John the Baptist falls on the Missionary Church, that cries out in the desert of the world: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (v. 4). To proclaim Christ is the permanent task of Christians, a treasure to be shared with others, as Pope Benedict XVI often declares. See, for instance, his pastoral and ecumenical Journey to Turkey (*), his messages on World Mission Sundays, etc. The Gospel is the most precious treasure for the Christians, a good to be shared with the whole human family.
The Pope’s words
(*) As the Body of Christ, the Church has been charged to proclaim his Gospel to the ends of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19), transmitting to the men and women of our time the Good News which not only illuminates but overturns their lives, even to the point of conquering death itself. This Good News is not just a word, but a person, Christ himself, risen and alive!... How could Christians keep for themselves alone what they have received? How could they hoard this treasure and bury this spring? The Church’s mission is not to preserve power, or to gain wealth; her mission is to offer Christ, to give a share in Christ’s own life, man’s most precious good, which God himself gives us in his Son.
Homily in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Istanbul, 1st December 2006
In the steps of Missionaries
- 06/12: S. Nicola (ca. 250-326), Bishop of Mira and Patron of Bari in Southern Italy. He is one Italian equivalent of Father Christmas, and Patron Saint of children, youth, chemists, merchants, sailors, fishermen, perfumers.
- 06/12: Bl. Pedro Pascual (ca. 1225-1300), a Spaniard who assisted Muslims’ slaves, Bishop of Jaén, who evangelised both Spain and Portugal. He was martyred by the Moslems in Granada.
- 07/12: St. Ambrose (339-397), Bishop of Milan, Doctor of the Church, defender and organiser of the community and teacher and mentor of St. Augustine.
- 7 e 8/12: Anniversary of important mission documents: Council’s Decree Ad Gentes (7.12.1965); Evangelii Nuntiandi of Paul VI (8.12.1975); Redemptoris Missio of John Paul II (7.12.1990).
- 08/12: Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ the Saviour.
- 08/12: St. Narcisa of Jesus Martillo Morán (1832-1869). She was born and lived in Ecuador, and died at Lima (Peru). She was a Dominican Tertiary, given to prayer, penance and the care of the needy.
- 09/12: St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (+1548), the Mexican peasant to whom Our Lady (of Guadalupe) appeared on Tepeyac hill in 1531.
- 10/12: World Day of Human Rights (UNO, 1948).
- 12/12: Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who appeared on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico (1531) to San Juan Diego, a local indio, with a message of hope in the early days of evangelisation of the American continent: “Don’t be afraid; am I, your mother, not here?”
Compiled by Fr. Romeo Ballan, MCCJ - Comboni Missionaries (Verona)
Translated by Fr. Henry Redaelli, MCCJ
Website: www.euntes.net “The Word for Mission”