The Great Commission for the pandemic

“Now is not the time to be selfish, to be cruel and to retreat inside our cocoons of comfort.”

The reading for this Sunday – Ascension Sunday – is the presentation of what is known as the Great Commission of the Faith. In the Gospel narrative, Jesus commands his disciples to “Go, therefore, and make disciples from all nations. Baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to fulfill all that I have commanded you. I am with you always until the end of this world.” This is Jesus’s marching orders to his disciples before he went back to his Father. The church’s ad gentes (“to the world”) mission cannot be overemphasized. It is the central mission of the church – Go, therefore, and make disciples from all nations.

After the close of the Vatican Council Pope Paul VI issued Evangelii Nuntiandi where he stated that the Church “exists in order to evangelize, that is to say in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of his death and glorious Resurrection.”

In his encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Pope (now St.) John Paul II differentiated three spheres of evangelization – (a) Missio ad gentes, directed to people who do not yet believe in Christ; (b) Re-evangelization, aimed at rekindling Christian faith; and (c) Pastoral care, the deeper insertion of the gospel in the hearts and minds of faithful Christians. In it he said that “what was done at the beginning of Christianity to further its universal mission remains valid and urgent today. The Church is missionary by her very nature, for Christ’s mandate is not something contingent or external, but reaches the very heart of the Church.” The new Evangelization, a term coined by St. John Paul II; an “evangelization will gain its full energy if it is a commitment, not to re-evangelize but to a New Evangelization, new in its ardor, methods and expression.” In Redemptoris missio, he wrote: “I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization and to the mission ad gentes. No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”

Just this week, Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Letter Antiquum ministerium, establishing a new lay ministry of catechists. The Pope, in the context of evangelisation in the contemporary world and in the face of “the rise of a globalised culture,” says it is necessary to recognise “those lay men and women who feel called by virtue of their baptism to cooperate in the work of catechesis.” He emphasizes the importance of “genuine interaction with young people,” as well as “the need for creative methodologies and resources capable of adapting the proclamation of the Gospel to the missionary transformation that the Church has undertaken.”

As explained by Vatican News, the new ministry of the catechist has ancient origins, going back to the New Testament, in the Gospel of Luke and in St Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians and Galatians for example. But “the history of evangelization over the past two millennia,” writes Pope Francis, “clearly shows the effectiveness of the mission of catechists,” who have “devoted their lives to catechetical instruction so that the faith might be an effective support for the life of every human being,” — even to the point of sacrificing their own lives.

“In our own day too,” according to Francis, “many competent and dedicated catechists… carry out a mission invaluable for the transmission and growth of the faith,” while a “long line of blesseds, saints and martyrs who were catechists has significantly advanced the Church’s mission.” This constitutes a great resource for catechesis and for Christian spirituality.

Now that the world finds itself in the midst of a calamitous pandemic where the whole world population is being adversely affected in so many ways and billions of people are reeling from its catastrophic effects, it is a unique and singular opportunity for each one of us, especially us Christians who profess the faith, to witness the Gospel and take heed of the great Commission of Christ by practising the Christian values of faith, love and charity to the needy, the displaced, and the poor as well as to bring the light of Christ into the darkened world. Now is not the time to be selfish, to be cruel and to retreat inside our cocoons of comfort, but the time to do our share to contribute in any way to alleviate the suffering of the less fortunate and the most vulnerable amongst us.

We need not do extraordinary things but what is important is a sincere and loving heart. As St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

In a pandemic, the Great Commission is above all to love more.

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