Being a member of the Church essentially means belonging to Christ – in communion with others who also belong to him. And we belong to Christ because, specifically through celebrating the sacraments of Christian initiation (baptism, confirmation and Eucharist), a life-giving relationship with him is established and sustained.
However, belonging to the Church is the same as belonging to any human family in the sense that it is not simply about privileges and rights. It also involves responsibilities. Just as it is never sufficient to say “I belong” to our own family, without simultaneously acknowledging the responsibilities that accompany such a statement, neither is it satisfactory to claim that we belong to the Church without recognising that we also have duties arising from that membership. Basically, privileges and duties are two sides of the same coin.
Saint Paul was acutely aware of that reality when he wrote to the Corinthians: “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 has been put into my hands.”
Thus Paul’s conversion to the Gospel had serious implications for him. The Good News about Jesus of Nazareth was not something that he could keep to himself. Instead, he was obliged to spread that Good News wherever he went. Accordingly, he spent the remainder of his life preaching and teaching on his various journeys, using every opportunity to win people over to Christ.
Saint Paul was zealous, and punctilious in passing on the faith. He was careful in his letter to distinguish that teaching which came from him and that which was handed on to him from the Apostles. That is the hallmark of the sound Catholic teacher and evangelist. Our own ideas and opinions are not what matters in the serious work of spreading the faith.
The same Gospel challenge, then, applies to us too, as it applied to Paul. When we have been blessed with the knowledge of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, it is never enough for us to keep that knowledge to ourselves. Like Saint Paul, we are obliged to share that life-saving message with those around us.
Preaching is not always confined to the liturgical setting, for example, to Sunday Mass. We usually associate preaching with the formal preaching of ordained ministers (deacons, priests and bishops). But in the wider context preaching is about proclaiming the Gospel and its message to those who will listen. And we do not need to be ordained to do that. Indeed, we are challenged to use our influence to spread the knowledge and love of Christ.
We all have a duty to preach. Saint Francis of Assisi once said to his followers: “Preach often. When necessary use words!” Sometimes the best sermons contain no words. They are preached in silence or by our good example.
The fundamental Christian vocation is to spread the faith and to pass on the authentic teachings of Christ and his Church. This is the duty which has been laid upon us. Let us not shirk the challenge but pray and work to imitate Saint Paul in both his fidelity to the passing on of the Apostolic teaching and his zeal for the truth.
Recommended reading: 1 Corinthians 9: 16-19, 22-2