, , , ,


Christ with Martha and Maria, by Henryk Siemiradzki, 1886

At the end of the Great Jubilee 2000, St. John Paul II wrote the apostolic letter Novo Millenio Ieunte (NMI), translated “at the beginning of the new millennium.” The letter summarizes the graces that the Lord poured out on the Church during the Great Jubilee and then looks forward to the mission of the Church in the new millennium, evangelization. This mission is even more urgent today. Souls are being lost and it is the duty and responsibility of all the faithful to evangelize the culture.

The theme of the letter is “Duc in altum,” or “put out into the deep” (Lk 5:4). Jesus spoke these words to Peter after a long night of unsuccessful fishing. At Jesus’ command, Peter cast the net into the sea. His obedience resulted in a great catch (Lk 5:6). Jesus then asked Peter to drop his nets and follow him, to become a fisher of men (Lk 5:10).

Just like Peter, the task of every Christian family is evangelization. In his Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio (On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World), St. John Paul II describes how  the family carries out this mission:

To the extent in which the Christian family accepts the Gospel and matures in faith, it becomes an evangelizing community…“The family, like the Church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates. In a family which is conscious of this mission, all the members evangelize and are evangelized. The parents not only communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by them. And such a family becomes the evangelizer of many other families, and of the neighborhood of which it forms part” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 71)[1]

The task of the family for the new millennium is to obey Jesus, to follow Him, to go deeper in relationship with Him, to be His face in a world in great need of salvation, to witness to His love and mercy.

St. John Paul II described the great legacy of the Jubilee celebration “as the contemplation of the face of Christ” (NMI 15). He cautioned that we must resist the temptation ‘to do’ before trying ‘to be’” (NMI 15). He urged us to be like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to His teachings and not like Martha who was distracted with much serving (Lk 10:39-42).

To be Christ in the world today, we must first deepen our own personal relationship with Him by contemplating His face (NMI 16). In John Chapter 12, some Greek visitors came to the Passover Feast in Jerusalem, asking Philip “we wish to see Jesus” (Jn 12:21). Two thousand years later, men and women are seeking to fill that deep longing in their heart that only Jesus can fill. We need to not only proclaim Jesus to everyone; we must also reflect the light of Christ in our very being. Our witness will be inadequate if we do not first contemplate His face (NMI 16).

We find the face of Christ by contemplating Him in Sacred Scripture (NMI 17). The sacred texts are derived from the witness of the Apostles who saw Christ with their eyes, heard Him with their ears and touched Him with their hands (1 Jn 1:1). When contemplating Scripture we open ourselves to the action of the Holy Spirit who bears witness to Christ (Jn 15:26).

The Apostles’ journey of faith was often filled with unbelief. The disciples on the road to Emmaus believed only after a long spiritual journey (Lk 24:13-35). Thomas believed only after putting his finger into the wounds of Christ (Jn 20:24-29). In spite of seeing and touching Jesus, it was only by faith that the mystery of the face of Christ could be understood (NMI 19).

When Jesus asked his disciples who people thought He was, some answered John the Baptist, others said Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets (Mt 16:14). Only Peter was able to correctly respond “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mt 16:16). The Father revealed this truth to Peter (Mt 16:17). Likewise, we cannot fully comprehend the Lord’s face by our own efforts, but by “allowing grace to take us by the hand” (NMI 20). Silence and prayer is the proper setting for growth and development of a true and faithful understanding of the mystery of Christ (NMI 20).

The deepest longing of the human heart will only be fulfilled in contemplation of the face of Christ, “Your face, O Lord, I seek” (Ps 27:8). God has blessed us by making “his face to shine upon us” (Ps 67:1). The task of the family is to reflect this light to a world so in need of Christ’s saving grace. Many are lost and it is the duty of every family to witness to the truth of the Gospel and the saving grace of Christ’s love.

[1] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, §52, November 22, 1982; http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_19811122_familiaris-consortio_en.html (accessed July 1, 2017)