On Wednesday night at the junior high youth gathering we are going to ask the question: "What is the Gospel, anyway?"
Perhaps that seems like an elementary question. Certainly they have been told what the Gospel is time and time again throughout their formation years.
I contend it is a most important question to ask, though.
We are going to ask the question as if we have never heard of the Gospel before.
Last week we examined the thirst of the human heart for God. Our desire for God drives us forth, seeking heaven in which we will find the fulfillment of all desire. Jesus Christ comes along and wakens us to that thirst within, and offers us the opportunity to quench it. Repent and believe the Good News, he says.
|Illustration copyright 2014, used with permission|
Most of the children and youth we work with in faith formation have known nothing but Catholicism all their brief lives. They have been, to greater or lesser degree, exposed to the message of the Gospel since infancy.
This is good because it means that these children are being raised in the Faith, that their parents have taken seriously the responsibility to be their primary educators in the Faith. But raising children in the Faith brings challenges, as well. Take it from one who is not only Catholic, but who has worked in the trenches of the Church for a number of years. It is not easy being the child of a worker in the vineyard of the Lord. But that’s another story.
When people are raised in the Faith, their astonishment-potential can be diminished. When there is a crucifix on every wall, and Catholicism is the air we breathe, that shadow side of this very good reality is that we run the risk of neglecting to really look and listen. The crucifix becomes another pretty ornament and we no longer see it; the Gospel becomes so familiar we no longer hear it. And we certainly aren't astonished by it.
But the thing is, when Jesus came on the scene in first century Palestine, he did astonish people. His teachings, which people recognized came from his “authority,” blasted religious convention away. Jesus shook things up. He left people either 1) angry (usually because he made them look in the mirror) 2) perplexed, or 3) amazingly and suddenly alive. He was anything but status quo, or business as usual.
And he is still astonishing people. Right out of their complacency and even deepest sin.
Jesus is never mundane. Jesus and boring are concepts light years apart. But our perception of him often is dulled by certain realities in our lives. Sin, cold-heartedness, distractedness, idol-worship, and familiarity--- these things sometimes cloud our perception of Jesus and the Gospel message. Often we meet the Savior with indifference. Sometimes we yawn through the Gospel readings because they are so familiar that it has been years since we actually heard them, let alone tried to live by them.
I have seen this in myself (not proud to admit) from time to time.
How often on my journey, for instance, have I walked past a crucifix without taking a moment to really look at it, take in its stark and yet glorious truth? This is what love looks like! This is how much I loved you! What happened to the wrench I used to experience in my heart as a young man when I gazed upon the crucifix with eyes newly baptized into the Faith?
How many times have we seen or heard the words from John 3:16, words that should astound and shake our hearts to the core, only to have them barely register in our minds?
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16, RSV).It is important that we are intentional in personally re-encountering the Gospel message over and over. It is critical that we help our children and youth hear the Gospel as if for the first time. (We can't effectively do the latter unless we first do the former.)
Sometimes I like to commit to a fresh read-through of the Gospels. For instance, I will choose one of the Gospels (each is so rich in its own way, you can’t go wrong) and approach it with an imagined unfamiliarity. In other words, I pretend I have never read it before, trying to come to it with fresh eyes and an open heart.
That can be a powerful experience. You may find yourself thoroughly surprised by Jesus.
“Wow, I didn’t remember he said THAT!”
“Whoa, I forgot people reacted to him like THAT! Oh, man, it reminds me of my hard-heartedness!”
Reading the Gospel with fresh eyes can wake the soul to new wonders. How many saints attributed their initial conversion to a reading of the Scriptures and especially the Gospels!
"We must read and reread the Gospel without stopping, so that we will have the spirit, deeds, words, and thoughts of Jesus before us so that we may one day think, talk, and act as he did." Blessed Charles de FoucauldReading the Gospels--- really being attentive and hearing them with the heart--- leads to wonder, repentance, and ultimately, prayer.