Today we are dealing with big numbers. In the gospel Jesus sends out 70 disciples to preach the good news to all and sundry – to every town and village that Jesus himself intends to visit. It’s one thing for Jesus to send out his chosen twelve but to send out 70 suggests that the task of proclaiming the good news is not just limited to the chosen few. We often think that ‘the apostolic life’ is something that we can delegate to a few specialists: full time ‘apostles’ or ‘missionaries in foreign lands’ or those who live ‘the religious life’. Not so! All of us are called to be apostles in our baptism; we cannot delegate the responsibility. That number 70 represents all of us in our different vocations. As spouses, parents, teachers, ministers in the church community, friends, spiritual guides, political or civic leaders, we are called to open the way for others to meet God, to “go ahead of him”.
This of course, is at the heart of Pope Francis’ teaching. He keeps insisting that the church must get out of herself, forgetting fears and self-interest, in order to put herself into contact with the real world where people live, and to make the Gospel present where today’s men and woman suffer and rejoice, struggle and work. Francis warns us of the danger of a Church that is fixated on an attitude of self-defence: “when the Church closes in on herself, she gets sick”; “I prefer an injured Church a thousand times more than one that is sickened by closing in on itself”.
In tune with today’s gospel therefore, Pope Francis is presenting the whole Church with a decisive question which we will need to keep answering in the coming years: “Are we set on running new paths that God’s newness presents us with, or will we entrench ourselves in out-of-date structures that have lost their ability to get us anywhere?” Pope Francis is calling us to bring to life in the Church the evangelising breath, that Pentecostal fire, that Jesus hoped would constantly enliven his followers. Luke reminds us of his instructions. “Get going.” Don’t wait for anything. We don’t have to hold Jesus inside of our parishes. We need to reveal him in our lives.
Running new paths is the challenge. St John Paul came up with an amazing new path in 1985. It goes by the name of World Youth Day. In that year he initiated the first World Youth Day and he had one overriding goal, namely, to inspire young people to draw closer to Jesus. While there is always a tendency for us older folk to overlook our youth, John Paul saw the native search for goodness in the young. He sensed that if young adults had an experience of God’s presence, they would feel moved to explore the truths behind that experience. He referred to World Youth Day as ‘a powerful moment in which the young people of the world could meet Christ.” Like Pope Francis, John Paul was utterly convinced that there are deep hungers out there in the world for Christ and that it is only Christ who can satisfy those hungers.
Clearly, John Paul’s hopes have been fulfilled. He succeeded in creating an exciting atmosphere that helps young adults from around the world experience Jesus and deepen their faith. He left a rich spiritual legacy, which Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have faithfully continued. If you want to know how popular these youth days are just look at the numbers. At the 1995 gathering in Manila, five million people attended the event’s closing mass. At that time, it was the largest number of people ever gathered for a religious event, or perhaps for any event for that matter. But that record was surpassed last year when six million people attended a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis – again in Manila.
Well this month it’s all going to happen again. Another World Youth Day will take place in Krakow, Poland from the 25th to the 31st July. I am very interested in what the Pope will say to the youth. He is very aware of the kind of world they are growing up in. He knows first-hand their struggles and issues. My hunch is that he will first of all encourage them. He will likely tell them what he told one Italian newspaper editor recently: “We have to encourage people to move towards what they think is good.” Rather than lecturing them on what they need to believe, he will honour their desire for goodness, confident that any quest for “the good” will ultimately lead to the Lord. Of course, he will encourage them to consider Jesus as the ultimate good but he won’t force Jesus on them. He will urge them to ask their questions and voice their doubts so that they can start conversation and dialogues with people in the Church who are sincerely trying to understand where they are coming from.
He also knows that the young, when presented with an ideal worth fighting for, will be willing to sacrifice. They can rough it. They know what it means to “Take no purse with you, no backpack, no extra sandals.” These sentiments are also precious to the Pope. It’s about getting out into life simply and humbly. Without privileges or power structures. The Gospel doesn’t force anyone. It is contagious because of our faith in Jesus and our trust in the Father.
Pope Paul VI once said that the best means of evangelisation is the witness of an authentic Christ life. Let us cherish the good news of Jesus this morning and live it as best we can, so that we too can be numbered among that seventy disciples who are bearers of the Good News of Jesus.
Sunday, 3 July 2016