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The Call of Christ the King

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The Cost of Sharing Christ - Part One

(Tape, Side 1)

Our Conference this evening is on the cost of sharing Christ. Our subtitle is the heart of St. Paul. It is impossible to read much of St. Paul's letters without being struck by the price he paid for his zeal in proclaiming Jesus Christ. So the descriptions he gives of the trail he experienced in the apostolate are among the most graphic in human literature and they are certainly most poignant in biblical revelation. Even in the distance of 1900 years we still shudder at what he wrote, what he underwent, and wonder how one man could suffer so much and survive so long as he did in preaching the word that God, announcing to every one that "Jesus is the Lord believe in Him and be saved." St. Paul's experiences are a solitary lesson for all of us. In fact they are a stinging rebuke to any one who are satisfied in believing in Christ, but not striving to share his Faith in Christ with others when we reflect on how much this one man achieved at the dawn of Christianity.

How many nations he evangelized; how many thousands he brought to the light of the Gospel. We can only speculate what would have been the course of human history had there been just one Paul of Tarsus, even once every hundred years since his martyrdom in 67 AD.

In one sense this is not vain speculation as the present Holy Father is telling us. We have entered into our century into more than just what we popularly call 'the communication age'. It is and it no doubt it will be until the end of time, the age of communication, but just because, just because it is the age of communication it is meant to be as the Second Vatican Council could not have made plainer, in its document, Inter Mirifica the most neglected of the sixteen documents of Vatican II. Just because we entered the age of communications in the providence of God, this is meant to be the age of evangelization. We might also in one sense say we are beginning a new apostolic age. Our age offers the prospect of bringing millions, hundred of millions to the feet of Jesus Christ. Just as the world had been brought to the feet of Christ by St. Paul, but how this world needs, how it needs a St Paul. Pope John Paul II, anticipating the crisis in which the world is now passing tells us, he is looking forward to the twenty-first century as the brightest in the history of Christianity. But on one condition, that condition is that we have the faith and zeal of St. Paul. Consequently, please God, this will not happen if the media of communication will remain that sterile instrument and potential means unless there arrives in our day, and soon, faithful in every state of life who's love of Christ is so ardent who's love of Jesus is so burning, that it cannot remain in themselves but must be communicated to others. The very essence of love is to give. Love wants to share. "Must" is not too strong a word to describe an attitude of spirit that craves, craves, to share with the hunger for giving what is born of God. That you, like God, to share if possible with the whole human race.

You would think, wouldn't you, that after all these years since Christ died and rose from the dead at least more, if not most of the human family, would be Christian and indeed Roman Catholic. Given the logic of our faith you might say it stands to reason. What are we waiting for? Is not the Person of Jesus the most appealing figure, even on human grounds, in the annuals of recorded history? Is not the message of Jesus sublime to the highest degree? Is not the Christian ethic the standard preached and practiced by Christ elevating personal and social morality. And just to mention, and shall I call it a detail, raising women to a dignity that is unknown outside the true Faith? Women are respected, women are loved, women are honored only, I repeat the adjective only, where Christianity is strong and vibrant.

Has not Jesus Christ promised to give the help of His grace to those who proclaim His Name, that He would even work miracles? Indeed He foretold greater miracles than even He preformed in witness to the truth of His claims. We answer "yes" to all these questions. And then we look at the facts. Hardly one third of the human race is even nominally Christian today. The ratio of growth among non-Christians is greater by far than in Christian countries now plagued by contraception, divorce and murder of the unborn. We have reached in the United States zero population. Our deaths out balance our births.

So far, the introduction. Now we ask, what is the explanation, Why has Christ not been accepted by more? In fact by most of the world by now? There are no simple answers and the final estimate must be left to the mysterious judgment of God. Nevertheless, one explanation is provided by Saint Paul. And the evidence he gives is overwhelming in the title of our present conference, one reason, and I believe the underlining reason, is the cost of sharing Christ. We might have expected that trying to present Christ to the world would not be easy. And in fact, would be hard as He foretold. After all, look at the problems Christ had in presenting Himself to the world. He experienced opposition and persecution.

He was rejected by His own Nazarians, who tried to kill Him, when He spoke to them in their own synagogue. Finally He was crucified for daring to intrude on the smug complacency of the people of His day. He made it clear that those who were to follow Him and try to communicate His message of salvation would face the same thing. For me the single most consoling fact in the Gospels is that Jesus Christ whom I love was crucified. And if I love Him, but and only if I love Him, I'm willing to be crucified for Him and like Him.

That is why Saint Paul is so refreshing to read and re-read on this mysterious matter of the cost of sharing Christ today. Not once but a dozen times he tells us of the trials he experienced in the apostolate. We need to remember this if we are to do our share in paying the price for sharing Christ with the contemporaries of our day. The cost my friends is high. Forty-six years in the priesthood have taught me many things. Nothing I have learned more clearly than that if you want to proclaim Jesus you will pay dearly for your love of Jesus.

Here is just one passage out of many. This one in the fourth chapter of Paul's second letter to the Corinthians. I quote, the apostle of the Gentiles, "We are in difficulties on all sides but never concerned. We see no answer to our problems, but we never despair. We have been persecuted, but never deserted. We have been knocked down but never killed. Always wherever we may be we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus. So that the life of Jesus, too, may always be seen in our body. Indeed, while we are still alive, we are consigned to our death every day for the sake of Jesus, so that in our mortal flesh the life of Jesus may be openly revealed. So death is at work in us but life in you." unquote Saint Paul.

What are we to make of these words of Saint Paul that run like a theme throughout his letters? Remove this theme, and there is nothing left of Saint Paul. We better make a great deal of these things, because his words teach us what we need to know, if anywhere, anywhere like him we are to do our part in sharing with others the Christ we claim means so much to us. Does He? Does He really? Does He? Prove it. Try sharing, just try sharing your faith with others. Try it, and see what happens.

Two lessons like two bright styles stand out in Paul's experience of what Christ had foretold. The first is a lesson of facts, the facts about human nature. And the second, how we need this, a lesson of confidence, of confidence in Jesus Christ. The first lesson. Not everyone wants to hear the truth. This is the fact. The fact of life, is that not everyone wants to hear the truth for the obvious the reason that not everyone wants to believe the truth. So we would say that most people don't want to hear the truth. Only God knows what the percentage is. All we know is what Christ foretold. That the path, leading to destruction is wide, and many there are that walk that road. But the path that leads to everlasting life, says Jesus, is narrow and few there are who walk it. Saint Paul could not have been more explicit. Speaking of his own people, to whom Christ had sent him, and among whom he lived. Therefore generations heard the prediction of the prophets. The Apostle admits that many among them, indeed most of them, would not even listen to his words. They were disobedient, and rebellious. Going back to the preaching of the Savior, could anyone have tried harder than Christ did to prove His claims as a messenger of God? Could anyone have worked more miracles to prove that He was, indeed, one with the Father?

Remember what happened as described by St. John. After Christ had raised Lazarus from the dead, we are told some believed in Jesus. Others ran to the Pharisees and told them what happened. And the Pharisees decided, "'This must stop. This man is working too many miracles. If we don't stop Him the whole world will believe in Him." That, that my friends symbolizes so much of the human race. Could anyone more than Jesus been as kind as He? More patient than He? More understanding? On more than one occasion, that gentle Jesus used strong terms, as a priest of God I would not dare use them to an audience I speak to. So strong in fact that after twenty centuries, they still sound like thunder claps of rebuke over some people's hardness of heart.

Quoting Jesus, "What description can I find for this generation? It is like children shouting to each other, as they sit in the market place. We play the pipes for you and you would not dance. We sang dirges and you would not be mourners. For John came neither eating nor drinking and they say he is possessed. The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, "Look a glutton and a drunkard." When Christ reproached the towns in which most of His miracles had been worked, because they refused to repent, Christ called out, "Alas for you, Capharnum. Did you want to be exalted as high as heaven? You shall be thrown into hell." Unquote the gentle mild Jesus. What Christ experienced, Paul experienced. And the apathy or open rejection that they faced has been in greater or less decree the experience of everyone who tries to proclaim the word of God with all it's demands on fallen human nature. Sinners do not want to admit they are sinners. And in a word they will not repent. Sin, as we I am sure all know is very sweet.

It is not here a question of percentage of what proportion accept or what proportion reject the Gospel. Many, thank God, over the centuries have accepted. And for them God is to be praised. But, what a safe statement, many reject and then with Christ and Saint Paul we remember that God is not mocked. He will be justified. But the net effect of non-acceptance on the one who proclaims Christ is obvious. And this is the main theme of this evening's conference. What is the net effect of non-acceptance on the one who proclaims Christ? It is in plain English, suffering? And I mean this, it is suffering. I have met too many discouraged priests. I have spoken to too many disheartened Bishops. I have read too many statements of the late Pope Paul VI, not to know. One of my Bishop friends, after his Ad Limina visit in conversation with the late Paul VI told me the Holy Father told him, "Every night when I go to bed and lay my head on the pillow I honestly believe my head is crowned with thorns." Said the Holy Father to my Bishop friend, "What is happened to the United States? Where are the once dedicated people that created your Catholic schools? Where are your devoted religious? Where? And then the Bishop told me the Pope broke down and wept.

Copyright © 2003 Inter Mirifica

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