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By Msgr. Charles Pope • October 16, 2017
St. Paul writes this in today’s reading from the Letter to the Romans: “I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).
“Gospel” here refers to the whole of the New Testament rather than merely the four Gospels. The gospel is the apostolic exhortation, the proclamation of the apostles of what Jesus taught and said and did for our salvation. This proclamation was recorded and collected in the letters of the apostles Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude, and in what later came to be called the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The gospel is the transformative word of the Lord proclaimed by the apostles in obedience to the command of the Lord,
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matt 28:19-20).
Of these apostles (“sent ones”) Jesus says this:
Very truly I tell you, whoever receives the one I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me (Jn 13:20).
So the gospel is the authoritative and transformative proclamation of the Lord’s word through the apostles in totality. Of this full and received message St. Paul says he is not ashamed, though he has suffered for preaching it; others have suffered and even been killed for it!
Can we say the same? Are we unashamed of the gospel? Sadly, too many people are to some extent ashamed of the gospel. Even among practicing Catholics and clergy, there are too many who promote a compromised, watered-down message rather than boldly, joyfully, and confidently proclaiming the full gospel.
Many are ashamed of the gospel’s moral vision, especially those parts that challenge the rebellion of our times against marriage, the family, the proper purpose of sexuality, and the sanctity of human life. If a priest or lay person brings up such topics, too many Catholics cringe, embarrassed that a controversial subject has been mentioned. Some worry that someone might be angered, challenged, or “hurt.” The embarrassment and nervousness are often visible by the looks on their faces or their seeming need to change the subject, speak in euphemisms, or talk in generalities and abstractions. It seems that they want to avoid a clear discussion of the truth in such matters at all costs.
Many are ashamed of the strong demands of the cross. Jesus wanted us to be under no illusions. Strong medicine is required for what ails us. The cross and the need for self-denial and sacrifice are at the center of the gospel, but many are ashamed when the concept of the cross goes from being an abstraction to something more specific. Thus when the world protests with rhetorical questions we are embarrassed and too often compromise or grow silent. For example, when someone indignantly asks, “Are you saying that a woman who is pregnant as a result of rape must carry the child to birth?” Instead of responding, “Yes, and we must help her to decide whether to raise the child or place the child up for adoption,” we often compromise, saying that maybe abortion is all right in cases of rape or incest—but it isn’t. The child is innocent; he or she does not deserve to be killed. We are easily ashamed of the cross in other cases, too, such as in the abortion of possibly “defective” babies or euthanasia/assisted-suicide for the suffering. We shy away from standing firm when it comes to embracing of any kind of suffering, inconvenience, or cross. It’s harder to get married and stay married than it is to divorce; it’s harder to resist sin than give way to temptation; it’s harder to delay satisfaction than to indulge right away. In these ways the cross is no abstraction; it is quite real. When it gets real, though, many of us are ashamed of the gospel and what it proclaims.
Many are ashamed of the proclamation that Christ as the exclusive and only savior. In our “pluralistic” world, which “diversity” is an absolutized virtue, the thought that Jesus is the sole savior of mankind is an embarrassment to many Catholics. Scripture says of Jesus, He is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved (Acts 4:11-12). Jesus himself says, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (Jn 14:6). When the world says that there are many ways to God, that people have a right to worship the “god of their own understanding,” and that all ways are valid and good and true, too many Catholics are ashamed of our teaching that Jesus is the unique and only savior of mankind. If there are Muslims, Buddhists, or Zoroastrians in Heaven it is only because of the mercy and grace of Jesus. Talk like this engenders shame in many Catholics, who cringe and want to parrot the world’s view that Christianity has no preeminence or saving value above any other view.
Many are ashamed of what Jesus teaches on judgment and Hell. There are many passages in which Jesus and the apostles warn of Hell, judgment, and eternal exclusion from the Kingdom of God. Many shamefully dismiss Jesus’ parables and teachings about Hell and judgement as excess or hyperbole; strangely, they assert that when Jesus said that many would be lost and few would be saved that he meant precisely the opposite. They think that God will never say, “Depart from me you evildoers. Depart from me; I never knew you” Many are embarrassed by such teachings and simply dismiss them as implausible. They have shamefully reinvented God as a “sweetie pie” rather than the all holy God to whom we must be conformed if we ever hope to be able to endure His presence. Too many are embarrassed by the gospel and these teachings, most of which comes right from the mouth of Jesus.
Many are ashamed of simple biblical terms such as sin (especially mortal sin), evil, repentance, conversion, judgment, Hell, and phrases such as “woe to you,” “vengeance is mine,” and “fornicators will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” Many dismiss such common biblical phrases as “unwelcoming,” “unkind,” and “un-Christlike.” Never mind that many of these biblical phrases were commonly on the very lips of Jesus. Too many are ashamed of the real Christ and prefer a refashioned, softened one.
St. Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel. What about us? Are we confident and uncompromising in proclaiming the gospel or are we ashamed and fearful? Do we compromise the gospel in order to avoid the scorn of an unbelieving, sin-sick world? Do we stand up without shame and proclaim the truth with love and confidence?
Are we ashamed of the gospel or are we joyful and confident?
This song says, “You should be a witness! Stand up and be a witness for the Lord!”