Living the life of a Christian is expansive, a “way” of life in which we allow ourselves to be surprised, and even taken aback, by our God. In today’s reading from Acts, the gospel movement is expanding into the gentile world, beyond its Jewish roots. It was in the Greek city of Antioch that those who followed Jesus and his “way” were called “Christian” for the first time. The gospel was being expanded into the world, the whole world, because that is what our founder called them/us to do.
But as the gospel moved into uncharted territory, how the message was proclaimed needed to be adapted to new culture and language. This process continues into our own time and will do so until Jesus returns. We are called, not to just be called Christian, but Christians who are open to new possibilities and expressions of the gospel. We can’t turn one way of living the gospel and impose it on others who have a different cultural reference. European Catholicism is NOT the only way of being Catholic.
As there are many cultures, there are as many ways of expressing the gospel and our catholic faith. After all, the word “catholic” means “universal.” The church must always move into the uncharted territories of the world and embrace the beauty of the new culture: listen, learn, respect and then teach. Love must come before the teaching of doctrine, if the truth of the doctrine is to be accepted and internalized.
What binds us together in our diversity is the ONE faith in Christ and his saving paschal mystery. We are unified in the Creed, the celebration of the Sacraments and being formed by the scriptures. But our unity does not need to be uniform in expression.
In these difficult times in which we are living, we are clearly being called to become more “expansive” in how we live and spread the faith. We need to move beyond the ways of being Church and Parish we have grown accustomed to and become creative in meeting this new circumstance. And when the pandemic is over, we can never go back to the way it was before because there is no turning back. Life has changed; the way we see the world has changed, for we are much more connected than we ever realized.
We need to continue to develop our understanding and comfort with technology, which is like learning a new language. We have to accept the reality that Christianity is no longer a dominant force in our culture. We need to understand and embrace the secular ethos that is front and center. Judging our secular culture only in negativity will get us nowhere. Yes, we have to be critical and never let go of essential values and teachings rooted in our faith, but we must do so in a way that people can receive.
The more we pray contemplatively and deepen our spiritual lives, the more our ways of seeing God, faith, church and ourselves will be expanded. Being called “Christian” means living a life of exploration, and even adventure, a journey through new “territories, ” expanding the horizons of experience.