Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
“The apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles too had accepted the word of God.”
The readings this week tell us about the beginning of an important shift in the early Church: from the proclamation of the Gospel only to the Jewish people to the proclamation of the Gospel also to the Gentiles.
This shift contained a seed of enormous growth for the early Church. It also left some things to be worked out. For example, the Church needed to come to a new understanding of what the Jewish law meant for Gentile Christians.
The Church today is also undergoing an important shift. For a long time, we’ve been content to proclaim the Gospel to those who are already coming to us — what some have called a “Christendom” or “maintenance” mode of being Church. For many years, we’ve been talking about, and now are just beginning to make the shift to, proclaiming the Gospel to those who are not already coming to us — what some are calling an “apostolic” or “mission” mode of being Church.
This shift contains the seed of tremendous growth for the Church. In that respect, we need to embrace it. It also leaves some things to be worked out — and we need to embrace that, as well!
Let me be clear: unlike in the early Church, we’re not talking about working out any new doctrinal points. As we make the shift from Christendom to an apostolic mission, the teachings of the Church are not up for negotiation!
What we do need to look at, however, is the basic mindset of some of our operations. I think Pope Francis was on to something when he said: “I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation” (“Evangelii Gaudium,” 27).
In a Christendom mode, we can assume that people will come to us; in an apostolic mode, we know that we need to go out to find people where they are. In a Christendom mode, we can assume that people will basically agree with us on issues of morality, philosophy and theology; in an apostolic mode, we know that people need basic conversions on all those fronts. In a Christendom mode, we can drift along with the current of culture and be faithful; in an apostolic mode, we have to swim against the current of culture to be faithful.
At the end of the week, on May 14, we celebrate the feast of St. Matthias, who replaced Judas among the 12. St. Matthias was chosen to step into an apostolic role. What a fitting time to reflect on the fact that, in today’s Church, we’re being asked to step into an apostolic mindset.