SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  1 COR 9:16-19, 22-27; LK 6:39-42  ]

Many Catholics are ignorant or indifferent to their responsibility to spread the Good News of Christ to others.  They think that just by attending mass faithfully, even daily mass, contributing to the needs of the Church and helping the poor, they have fulfilled their responsibility and can therefore be considered to be good Catholics.  They fail to realize that their primary duty is to announce the Good News to all creation.  This was what the Lord commanded His disciples before departing, “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 lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:19f)

Clearly, the work of announcing Christ to the world is not an option but a duty and responsibility.  This is what St Paul wrote, “I do not boast of preaching the gospel, since it is a duty which has been laid on me; I should be punished if I did not preach it! If I had chosen this work myself, I might have been paid for it, but as I have not, it is a responsibility which had been put into my hands.”  No one is exempted from this task; otherwise, we would have failed in our Christian obligation.

Yet, this must not be understood as if it is a burden placed on us.  Privilege comes with responsibility.  The obligation imposed on us is not extrinsic, that is, from an external force.  Rather, it comes from within us as a consequence of having received the Good News.  When we have received something freely and gratuitously, we want to share our joy with others, not out of compulsion from without but within.  As St Paul writes, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”  (2 Cor 5:14f)  Indeed, St Paul who was loved by Christ unconditionally and even appointed as His apostle was filled with so great a gratitude that he felt driven to give up his entire life for the gospel and our Lord.

This principle of the more you have received, the more you have to give is applicable to all aspects of life.Those of us who have been given scholarships by the government have a duty when they graduate to serve the country because the taxpayers supported their education.  When we are better off than others because we have been privileged with more gray matter, opportunities, connections and resources, we must use them for the service of the larger community.  To receive privileges without a corresponding obligation to use them for the service of others is plain selfishness and self-centeredness.

Not only must we announce the Good News, it must be given for free.  “You received without pay, give without pay.”  (Mt 10:8)  The gospel is not meant for sale.  But it does not mean that those who give themselves for the service of the gospel cannot be remunerated. Rather, it is a contribution to the needs of the minister, priest or lay worker; not a payment for services rendered.  In other words, the primary motive of serving the Church or spreading the Good News must not be motivated by money and material gains but simply for the salvation of souls.  Money and remuneration cannot be the primary motive in working for the Church, or for the preaching of the gospel.  Once a minister or a Church worker is concerned about money and salary more than anything else, then the gospel becomes a tool for making money to enrich themselves.  This explains why priests and religious are never paid but they are given an allowance or stipend for the service they do, as part of our co-responsibility in looking after their welfare.

What is the greatest reward of a servant and missionary of Christ?  St Paul says, “Do you know what my reward is? It is this: in my preaching, to be able to offer the Good News free, and not insist on the rights which the gospel gives me.”  To be able to give the gospel for free gives us great joy.  There is no greater joy than to feel that we have done something for another person.  Indeed, St Teresa of Calcutta narrated often the joy of those abandoned people who were given dignity before they died.  Whenever we serve or help someone without any expectation of reward, we feel so happy because the person received our gift with great joy and appreciation.

How, then, do we spread the Good News?  St Paul says, we must be connected with the people. “So though I am not a slave of any man I have made myself the slave of everyone so as to win as many as I could.  I made myself all things to all men in order to save some at any cost; and I still do this, for the sake of the gospel, to have a share in its blessing.”  The Church has always underscored that the arena of the laity is in the world where they are called to proclaim Christ.  They are called to witness to Christ both in words and deeds, by their way of life to those around them, at the market square, in the offices, at home and wherever they are.  We must bring the gospel to the ordinary person by being connected with them in their daily life and struggles.  Our task is to help them to make the connection between their daily life struggles and the gospel so that they can be helped to live a fuller life.  This requires us to be connected with them where they are, using interpersonal relationships, mass media, IT technology, social media, etc.  Unless we come down from our high horse and enter the lives of our people, we cannot help them to find Christ in their lives or to make sense of their daily struggles and trials.

But to do all these, the most important thing we need to do is to train the missionaries and the evangelizers. What is happening in our churches is that we have many who are involved in helping the Church but most of them are merely functionaries. They are there to do a service. Of course, their contribution is not insignificant and their services are valued and appreciated.  But because the focus is always on output, service and function, they are not mentored in their faith in Christ.  Often, their spiritual and emotional growth is not looked after.  This could cause many problems as they will serve from a very human perspective rooted in humanism, not because of their love for Christ.  Again and again, Pope Francis reminds us that we are missionary disciples; not one or the other.

Thus, St Paul warns us of the need to form our evangelizers.   “All the runners at the stadium are trying to win, but only one of them gets the prize.  You must run in the same way, meaning to win.  All the fighters at the games go into strict training; they do this just to win a wreath that will wither away, but we do it for a wreath that will never wither.”  If we do not train ourselves in holiness, as St John Paul II tells us, we will never be able to be effective evangelizers.  Before any pastoral program can be implemented, St John Paul II tells us that we must be trained in holiness.

What does it mean to be trained in holiness, if not to become more and more like Christ?  Jesus in the gospel tells us, “The disciple is not superior to his teacher; the fully trained disciple will always be like his teacher.”  We are all disciples, and we cannot be His apostles if we do not configure ourselves in Him.   We cannot give what we have not got!  “Can one blind man guide another?  Surely both will fall into a pit?”  So if we do not form ourselves in our spiritual life, in our knowledge of our faith and have a personal relationship with Christ, how can we ever lead others to the Lord?  How can we enlighten others if we ourselves live in darkness?  Indeed, Jesus quipped, “Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the splinter that is in your eye’, when you cannot see the plank in your own?  Hypocrite!  Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye.”

So like St Paul, we must take our formation seriously.  We must be disciplined in Christ.  “That is how I run, intent on winning; that is how I fight, not beating the air.  I treat my body hard and make it obey me, for, having been an announcer myself, I should not want to be disqualified.”  This calls for discipline of the soul.  We must cultivate growth in our prayer life and Christian virtues.  We must be disciplined in our mind by growing in knowledge and understanding of Christ through the study of the Word of God and Church doctrines.  We need to be disciplined in our body, by taking good care of our health, by exercising daily and observing a healthy diet so that we will not be a burden to others.  This means fixing a regular time for prayer, bodily exercise, spiritual reading and growth besides service and work.  Unless we are disciplined in our mind, soul and body, we cannot be a leader as we do not walk the talk.  Sleeping early and waking up early for prayers and physical exercise is the best way to start the day so that the rest of the day would be well spent for the service of others as we are properly motivated, inspired by the Lord and most of all, filled with His love for others.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore