Sometime ago this e-mail message was received at St. Ambrose Church in Albion where I have been helping with week-end Masses since retirement. The communication reads: “To whom it may concern: I enjoy Fr Kiley’s column The Quiet Corner and had a topic for the Easter season. I am not sure how to contact him. I love to spark discussion with this question. Why didn’t Jesus walk through the temple before His Ascension and have a nice chat with the Sanhedrin? I would enjoy Fr Kiley’s remarks on this someday in his column!” Since my columns are written well in advance of publication, this summertime submission is my first opportunity to respond in print. The question frankly hits at the heart of Christianity and especially at the core of the post-Vatican II Church.
Indeed the Risen Christ could have returned triumphantly to the Temple precincts and awed the Jewish scholars and priests with his risen glory. He could have offered them the same opportunity he granted to St. Thomas. To stroke his wounded hand and to finger his lacerated side would have been tough arguments to refute. Christ’s risen presence could have silenced all opposition and opened closed minds to the truth of the Gospel. But this prospect for a speedy conversion of the Jewish leaders did not occur. And for good reason. Jesus had founded a Church and the labor of evangelization was now handed over to them.
With the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ, the work of redeeming the world had been accomplished. Jesus’ task, his commission from the Father, was now complete. Now it was the Church, the believing community, that had to return to the Temple to confront and hopefully convert the Jewish leaders as well as the Jewish people and eventually the whole Gentile world. The brief conclusion to St. Mark’s Gospel account (16:19-20) declares the plan: “So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.”
Just as Moses painstakingly led the Jewish nation to the shores of the Jordan River but then handed the task of settlement in Israel over to Joshua, so the mission of Jesus had been accomplished during his brief public life. The Gospel had been announced and its teachings sealed with the death and resurrection of Christ. Now a new Joshua, a new Jesus if you will, the Church community, had to take the Good News and announce the message to people everywhere, to Jew and Gentile alike. Jesus respected his newly founded Church. Christ had confidence in the new People of God. The task of universal evangelization would be daunting but the Savior knew that entrusting the furthering of the Gospel message to the Church was his heavenly Father’s plan. God wanted sinful mankind to prove itself once again.
Humanity had gravely fallen through the sin of our first parents. From the Garden of Eden up to the garden tomb, sin had abounded. But now, redeemed by Christ on Good Friday and empowered by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the believing Church could reverse history and through their effective preaching and living the Gospel guide erring humanity back once again to the Father’s good will. The torch had been passed by Jesus to his Church. Now it was the People of God who must continue Christ’s saving work. St. Luke confirms this commission, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:20).”
Pope St. John Paul II in his exhortation CHRISTIFIDELES LAICI (1988) re-affirmed the mission of the whole Church to promote Christ’s Good News of salvation. As Christ had confidence in his first Apostolic community, so the Pontiff urges today’s People of God to embrace an active role in the spreading of the Gospel. “All the members of the People of God--clergy, men and women religious, the lay faithful--are laborers in the vineyard. At one and the same time they all are the goal and subjects of Church communion as well as of participation in the mission of salvation.
Every one of us possessing charisms and ministries, diverse yet complementary, works in the one and the same vineyard of the Lord.” Certainly clergy and religious have their unique sacramental and eschatological responsibilities. But today, in an increasing secular world, lay believers are challenged more than ever to promote the Christian message. The torch has been handed to them as well. Christ expects evangelization to be the task of the entire Church.