Accepting the first proclamation, which invites us to receive God's love and to love him in return with the very love which is his gift, brings forth in our lives and actions a primary and fundamental response: to desire, seek and protect the good of others. (Evangelii Gaudium, 177)
When I was a boy in the third grade I made my First Holy Communion in November of 1955. If my experience of that day is any measure, I suspect that most of us remember it. Perhaps my memories are triggered by the fact that I had forgotten to tell my mother that we were supposed to buy a white carnation to wear in the lapel of our suits. So I stuck out in the crowd.
However, more than the lack of a boutonniere, I remember that we had been instructed that upon returning to our place in the pews, we were to cover our eyes and to concentrate on my private time with Jesus. For years after that, I followed that practice. When the liturgical reforms of Vatican II were instituted, most Catholic found themselves singing a hymn during the reception of communion. I make no secret of the fact that I love to sing; so I heartily joined in with the singing. My private time with Jesus was lost.
I tell this story simply to illustrate the point that to a great extent religious faith and the practice of religion was and to a certain extent still is regarded by some as a private matter. "That's between God and me!" is a response that is frequently heard in discussions about faith and morals. The fact of the matter is that this mentality is really foreign to the faith. Just as our image of God is Trinitarian and therefore communal, our faith is also a communal affair. It follows then that evangelization is not something that is done for individuals. We participate in the evangelization efforts of the Church because of our responsibility to care for all people.
One of the scenes which Jesus paints in the Gospel is that of the second coming when he will return with the angels and will separate the sheep from the goats. It is interesting to note that the scene begins with these words: When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:31-32) I suspect that in our mind's eye we see Jesus separating the people into two groups. Which group will I be in? However, if we pay close attention to these verses, we will notice that "the nations" are assembled before Jesus, not individual people. It follows logically that Jesus is separating the nations, not the people as individuals.
If we read this passage in this way, we cannot possibly hold to the position that my life of faith and my moral conduct is "between God and me." We can no longer simply sit quietly with our prayer books and rosaries and pray for the sinners with whom we live. As Pope Francis states: The kerygma has a clear social content: at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others. The content of the first proclamation has an immediate moral implication centred on charity. (Evangelii Gaudium, 176)
In other words, we are in this together.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator