“You may be the only Gospel someone may hear this day.”
That aphorism doesn’t seem as overwhelming as the call of Isaiah or the Galilean fishermen. Nonetheless their call is a mirror of our own call to discipleship.
But be assured that the biblical prophets and early disciples were often more reluctant than we might at first realize. Most of the early prophets initially demurred, using a variety of excuses; too young, too inexperienced, too sinful. But God would not accept such flimsy excuses, because it was not about them. It was about the Word of God, which didn’t need a whole lot from the human voice to be effective.
So the youthfulness, the inexperience, even the sinfulness of the prophet, preacher or the disciple is a non-starter. What is necessary is the willingness to be used by the divine will to proclaim the Good News. That Good News was defined by the prophet Isaiah and echoed by Jesus in the Nazareth synagogue:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because God has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
God has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
This proclamation at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry is our charge as well. We were anointed in our baptism and we are sent to minister in his name. This is not an option. It is a mandate. So often we lull ourselves into a complacency of negative discipleship: we observe all the “thou shalt nots” and fail to see the flip side of those commands as positive action. Discipleship is not so much about “not doing something” as it is being proactively involved in building a world of peace and justice.
In spite of our inexperience, our age – too young or too old – or our perceived lack of talent, even our sinfulness, each one of us should be willing to accept the call and say “Here I am Lord, send me.” We should not see in these Scriptures the opportunity to appeal for more vocations to the priesthood. That would be another cop out: leaving the task to someone else. The decline in the number of active clergy and religious in recent years is a clarion call from the Holy Spirit to all the faithful to embrace their discipleship more fully than ever before.
In any given parish there are opportunities to embrace the call to “follow me.” Youth ministry or religious education does not need a cleric or religious. A lay person freely visiting the sick and imprisoned is a powerful act of a faithful disciple. The spontaneous act of compassion or concern for the sick, the elderly is the powerful testimony of a welcoming faith community. There is a place for the St. Vincent DePaul Society and a Stephen’s Ministry, but the list of organized ministries in a parish should never be seen as the hallmark of its involvement in building the reign of God. Do we really have to be told to greet one another at the beginning of the Liturgy. Shouldn’t that be a natural response as the community gathers?
What God asked of Isaiah, what Jesus asks of the fishermen is also asked of each one of us. The call to discipleship is a way of life, not an organized project. Each one of us in any number of ways each day can be the Good News. A family member, a neighbor, a colleague, a stranger are all valid recipients of the Good News. Those specifically singled out by Isaiah, those most in need, should be our greatest concern. With as many as seventy percent of registered Catholics not attending church regularly, we must all know at least one of them. For whatever reason they are absent from the worshiping community, they should be the primary recipients of our being Good News! And that's where you and I (mostly you) come in.
Pope Francis lays his vision for the Church at the doorstep of the worshiping community:
...[The parish] continues to be “the Church living in the midst
of the homes of her sons and daughters”. This presumes
that it really is in contact with the homes and the lives of its
people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch
with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few.
The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an
environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian
life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration.
--The Joy of the Gospel
There are as many opportunities for being Good News each day as there are people who move in and through our lives. When we gather each week to share in the One Bread and One Cup, we become what we profess. Maybe today. Maybe you and I will be "the only Gospel someone may hear this day.”