We all know this passage from the end of Matthew’s Gospel. It is the commissioning statement. Jesus has given his disciples their mission in the world. But they are still afraid. As we know, there is one more event to come before they will be able to go forth into the world to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ to all who will listen. That event will happen, as we know, on the day of Pentecost, when the holy Spirit that Jesus promised to send when he was gone, descends upon them in the upper room. Then they will go out, joyfully, bearing the Good News to all, even in the face of ignorance, hatred, and the violence of persecution.
The key word here in the last sentence is ʺjoyfully.ʺ As Christians today, we are still being commissioned to spread the Word of God. How should we do this? If we truly understand Jesus, if we truly believe in the message he has given us to pass on to the world, we will evangelize best by our joy, not by an imposition of obligations on those we bring to Christ. And we need to remember here that we do not GIVE people faith by our words, or even by our actions. They must come to it themselves, interiorly. Still, if people see that our words are joyful, that we not only speak of the joy Christ’s of mercy and forgiveness, but we also live in accord with those words, their hearts might be opened enough, softened enough, to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ within themselves. They might open the doors of their minds, just enough, to let the light of the holy Spirit enter them, and be able to ʺseeʺ the joy and the truth of Jesus with their own intellects. Only then will they freely choose to come to Christ from the depths of their own hearts. And, the truth is, it will be the holy Spirit working within their own minds, hearts, and souls, and their response to the Spirit, that will bring them to Christ.
Our job is to pray daily, to read the scriptures, and to study the traditions of the faith, in order to come to the joy of the Gospel within ourselves so well that our very lives, the way we live publicly every day, will show others the joyful horizons of truth, goodness, and beauty that our faith gives us. Our mission is to ʺinviteʺ others into this joy by living the joyful lives that can only come from knowing Jesus. When they see our joy, they might well be moved from within their own hearts, to ask us about it, to ask us how we came to it. In the end, it is not through proselytizing that the Church grows, but by attraction. We do not impose faith on others, we simply propose the joy of it to them with the way we live our lives, and we invite them to share it with us. We must show the world that we are joyful Christians by our acts of love, compassion, justice, tender mercy and forgiveness. ʺBy this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.ʺ (John 13:35)
Let us, then, go forth living the joy of the Gospel everywhere we go each day. And with the aid of the Paraclete, the Church will grow by our examples of joy, just as it did in those days, months, and years after the Pentecost event.