by Thomas L. Garlitz
The “Framework for Pastoral Action”* challenges us to fully embrace the Gospel, as a diocese, as parish communities, as families, and as individuals. It calls us to reflect upon what that embrace might look like in this time and in this place.
What then is this Gospel we are called to embrace? The Gospel, or the Good News, is so magnificent that it can be and has been articulated in many ways. It brings with it many beautiful outcomes. But fundamentally and at its core, the Good News is that “Jesus Christ is Lord!”
The word gospel itself harkens back to the prophet Isaiah (chapters 40 and 52) where the people of Israel were promised, in the midst of their suffering, that a new day was coming wherein God would make everything right. God would reign supreme, justice would prevail across the land, and the People of God would be cared for and renewed by the Spirit of God. This message was meant to be the comfort of Israel and the hope of the entire world. Adding to our understanding of the word gospel is the idea that it was also used in Roman society. It was a term the Roman emperor used when speaking of the occasion of his own enthronement. The Christians, by using this term, were announcing “Jesus Christ is Lord! Caesar isn’t.” The Gospel, then, is a declaration of a new power, of a new reality. Jesus has been enthroned, and everything in the heavens and upon the earth must come into alignment with that reality. The Gospel is a challenge to become obedient to this kind of faith. It is a call to believe, not merely in some intellectual fashion, though it is rationale, or even as a private spiritual experience, though it is an intensely personal one, but it is to believe in such a way that we are pledging our allegiance to this new Lord, an allegiance which demands we orient our lives, not to the voices and values of this world, but to the precepts of the new Kingdom that is emerging in our midst. Indeed, there is something very subversive about this Gospel. It seeks to overthrow all ideas, values and powers that do not conform to the way of the new King.
So Jesus Christ is Lord. What makes this good news? Well, it’s not too hard to see how the values of this fallen world have led to such darkness and death evident through abortion, war, genocide, to such inequity and poverty, to oppression, racial divide, and discrimination, even to the very degradation of creation. And so if you are living on the receiving end of the outcomes of the false values of this world and its powers, be they political, economic, or cultural, the idea that there is now someone new in charge, someone whose will and ways promise to undo all the damage, someone who pledges to “come to the aid of the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, bring recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free,” as Luke would describe it, it becomes very good news indeed.
And while this Gospel is subversive in nature, turning upside-down the lives of any who would embrace it and seeking to overthrow the values and powers of this age, ours is not a mission of condemnation of the world or fearful isolation from it. Rather – as the three foci of the “Framework for Pastoral Action” outline for us – it is one of full engagement and sacrificial, suffering service to the world. John 3:16.
EVANGELIZATION: We are told to go into all the world announcing Jesus Christ is Lord and that a new kingdom is being established. Mark 16:15.
DISCIPLESHIP: We are called to bring people into obedience to this new kingdom, teaching them the ways of the new King and helping them to live like him. Matthew 28:19.
CHARITY: We are commanded to help them recover from the effects of this fallen, false values world through acts of caring love and justice. Mathew 25:31-46
The Kingdom of God will, of course, not be fully realized until Jesus returns in glory. However, we do live in the age of the Lord’s Prayer – “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, just as it is in heaven.” The original language here brings a sense of immediacy and urgency, “be done on earth, right now.” This is the prayer we pray as Christians. This, too, is our prayerful labor.
Within our particular focus area of Choosing Life, Struggling for Justice, and Seeking Christ in the face of the Poor, the Office for Human Dignity, through its ministries of Respect Life, Justice and Peace, and Missions, stands ready to assist parishes and individuals as they reflect upon the Pastoral Plan, to help as they discern how to live the Gospel more fully in this time and place, and to support them in actions which will lead to a fuller manifestation of the Kingdom of God in our midst.
*This article is appearing in the November issue of Christ is our Hope, the magazine of the Catholic Diocese of Joliet, along with other articles aimed at helping to introduce the new pastoral plan for the diocese.