Our gospel this weekend, of course, comes from the very end of Mark’s version of the story of Christ. Jesus has risen from the dead and is about to ascend to the Father. But before he goes, he instructs the apostles, and by extension, he instructs us as well:
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
This of course, is another version of what’s often called the Great Commission — Jesus is sending his apostles, and all Christians — all baptized believers — out to the farthest corners of the world… to do what? To proclaim the Gospel, which is the announcement that Jesus is victorious. That Jesus is King! That God raised Him from the dead. The Church’s mission — Her very identity — is to give people the opportunity to believe in this Gospel truth. It’s the only reason the Church exists… to help people believe, to know, to love, and to serve God above all else.
But perhaps we ought to look at that word — “believe” — because if you ask me, belief is desperately misunderstood today.
It is a huge understatement to say that we have no idea what we can really believe these days. It’s really hard to discern what is fact and what is fiction. It seems like every source is saying wildly different things about so many things that matter to us: About the pandemic, about the election, about the latest scandal inside or outside the Church… about what the pope did or didn’t really mean.
There is just SO MUCH information in our world today, and the various interpretations that are out there are so dramatically diverse, that it’s no wonder we feel sort of overwhelmed sometimes. It’s no wonder we are not sure what to really believe. Fake news is everywhere, media outlets don’t have pure, unbiased intentions at all, social media is a breeding ground for all sorts of gossip and divisive rhetoric, and under the weight of all of that, it almost seems like it’s just up to our individual wits and personal judgment, or irrational emotions to determine what is, in fact, believable. We might feel like we need to define what is real, founded on our own perspectives and opinions on what’s really going on.
But the belief that Jesus is calling for in our gospel today, and what Christians ought to really mean when they say: “I believe,” is NOT “I think,” it’s not “I suppose,” it’s not “I am of the opinion” of such and such.
And it’s also not a blind, irrational, baseless belief, either. It’s not superstition. There are good reasons to believe the Gospel. Still less is Christian belief something as noncommittal and boring as: “I believe this is true for me, but I can’t say that it’s true for anybody else.”
That’s boring. Christian belief is an adventure. Christian belief is convinced — it’s firm.
As Joseph Ratzinger, otherwise known as Pope Benedict XVI, once put it so beautifully: The central formula for Christian faith is not “I believe in something,” but “I believe in You.”
Here we come to the foundation of the Christian faith, to the fundamental root of the Christian statement: “I believe” — We believe in a “Who” not a “What.”
This is so crucial! And it’s precisely THAT belief that compelled the apostles to rush off to the farthest corners of the world. They were not carrying a collection of doctrines — as important as those are. They were not distributing ethical concepts — as necessary as those are.
No — they rushed out into the world, breathless and alive, to introduce every human person to this man they had met, that they had fallen in love with, that they had encountered God in. They KNEW that Jesus was worth believing in!
Are we convinced of that?
St. Josemaría Escriva once said: “Don’t forget that we will be more convincing the more convinced we are.”
Convinced of what? That Jesus is worth believing. That He not only has the answer to the meaning of our lives, but that HE IS HIMSELF THE MEANING OF LIFE! Not just for us Catholics — but for every person, in every place, in every time.
We heard in our first reading today — that beautiful reading from the prophet Isaiah: “Come, let us climb the LORD’S mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” It’s as if the prophet is saying to you and to me this morning: Come, let us be convinced that the LORD is everything we need.
That he is believable.
Here’s the deal: I am not particularly interested in preaching a set of ideas, or a list of moral precepts to you Sunday after Sunday. I’m not interested in merely getting you to think the same way that I do, to believe the same stuff I believe — as if that would legitimize my convictions. That would be selfish of me.
I’m not interested in getting more people to come to Church as though it was some sort of club for like-minded individuals.
That’s not a good enough reason to preach.
What I AM interested in preaching is the Person of Jesus, who reveals to us the bottomless Mystery of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I AM interested in proclaiming to you all, week in and week out, that the Good News of the Gospel is absolutely believable, despite everything the world says to the contrary. That God is trustworthy. That you can have an intimate relationship with Him. That every single life matters. That the Lord is personally invested in YOU — so invested, in fact … that He was more than willing to be nailed to a piece of wood to give us life!
I AM interested in giving you hope that God will never stop loving you, and that He will never give up on any one of us.
I AM interested in proclaiming that Jesus established one, holy, Catholic, apostolic, trustworthy Church to be the Sacrament of salvation in this dark and sad world that does not know what to believe is true and false.
I AM interested in preaching Christ’s love in the Eucharist by offering the Eucharist. I AM interested in preaching the forgiveness of sins by pronouncing absolution over you for your real, messy sins.
That’s what I want to preach, and that’s what I want each of us to believe — That Jesus IS the Lord. If I successfully preach Him — If I know nothing among you but Christ and Him crucified — then YEA… all of the other doctrines, all of the moral teachings… every one of them, not just the convenient ones… every facet of the magisterium of Holy Mother Church, whose children we ARE, will naturally follow. I’m convinced of that.
Some of those teachings you will agree with, and some of them, perhaps you won’t, you’ll wrestle with them. Ok! But I promise you: I eagerly desire to preach the whole Gospel to you — Not bits and pieces. Not the parts I like best. Not the beliefs that I know people won’t be offended by. I want to deliver the entire Truth to every creature and give you the opportunity to believe in Christ. To believe in the Lord Jesus. I want to “Go out to the whole world,” as Jesus Himself put it, to proclaim the Gospel, regardless of the cost.
Why do I want to do all that stuff?
Because I have come to know and believe that Jesus has the words of eternal life. What else is there? Who else is there? He is trustworthy and good. His is the BEST news on the market. If you find better news, then come tell me. But honestly, there IS no better news! That Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, died for us? And rose again from the dead? And now He is working in His CHurch even to this day? And that we have been baptized into that faith. And that we have the possibility not just to eek by and maybe slip into Heaven, but actually have Divine Life in us?
Wow! If only I believed that. If only I really believed that and lived from that!
I believe that if the Church becomes more fully convinced of this fact — if we grow in faith and conviction that Jesus is worth believing in and that the Holy Spirit is absolutely at work in our lives — then our efforts to spread the Gospel will be all the more fruitful. We heard in our second reading from the Acts of the Apostles that “the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.”
So go out into the world, as Jesus says. Go and proclaim the Gospel. Notice, he does not say: “Let the world go into you.”
No — He’s very clear: You have been taught the Truth from Him. You have been entrusted with the fullness of Life. You have seen the power of God in His Resurrection. You are the Light of the world. You are the salt of the earth.
In other words: You have something worth believing in — You have SOMEONE worth believing in, and the world needs to know Him. People have a right to know how much Jesus loves them. Your children have a right to be formed in this rock-solid belief in a Savior who teaches them that they have dignity, that their actions really matter, that they have an eternal destiny in God. They won’t hear that anywhere else.
Every soul in the world has a right to hear this glorious announcement that we have been charged to proclaim:
Jesus is worth believing.
Jesus is Lord.