In fact, they are not Gerard’s words at all, but rather, he quotes the last words of Our Lord to the disciples before he ascended to the right hand of God the Father. We call this final command to the Church, The Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20).
In Mark’s Gospel, The Great Commission is expressed thus,
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15).
So, what I’d like to know is, where has The Great Commission gone, as it seems to have largely disappeared?
The Great Commission: The Church’s Best Kept Secret?
Catholics like to describe one thing and another as the Church’s “best kept secret;” things like the Anointing of the Sick, Confession and the Rosary, to name a few.
But when it comes to The Great Commission, that is, to proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation, it’s not just our best kept secret, we tend to just keep it secret.
Why do we do this, when the Church’s missionary endeavours have been epic?
Starting with Sts Peter and Paul, there are a “cloud of witnesses” who made it their personal responsibility to preach the gospel to the whole creation.
Two Missionaries & the Great Commission
Venerable Mary of Agreda was a Spanish religious and abbess who lived in the early 17th century.
She is best known for writing The Mystical City of God, which presents stories of the hidden life of Our Lady, the fruit of private revelations. I have a copy of the abridged version, which in itself is the size of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Reading it makes the heart soar.
Among Mary of Agreda’s evangelical works, she visited the Indians of Texas to preach the gospel. Oh, and did I mention, she never left Spain throughout her life. Through the gift of bilocation, Mary visited the Indians, astonishingly, over 500 times.
When the Franciscan missionaries arrived, their work seemingly done, the Indians demanded baptism, telling of the “lady in blue”.
Not all missionaries to North America had the good fortune of Venerable Mary of Agreda paving their way. St Isaac Jogues, a Frenchman and Jesuit, lived at exactly the same time as Venerable Mary.
During his mission to the Iroquois in modern-day Canada, St Isaac and companions were captured and tortured unspeakably.
After 13 months in captivity, St Isaac returned to France to be greeted a hero of the Faith. Unthinkably, St Isaac was desperate to return to the Indians to preach the gospel, whereupon he fell into the hands of Mohawk Indians and was martyred after being accused of witchcraft.
What possessed St Isaac to go there in the first place, let alone to go back?
Love; sacrificial love of God and neighbour.
St Isaac Jogues and Venerable Mary of Agreda did not fail to read on to the second part of The Great Commission:
“He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16).
I wonder whether the Church, and we who practice the faith, have largely forgotten this second part. And if we have forgotten, or don’t really believe in the second part, why would we bother with the first part?
By failing to evangelise, the Church ignores the reason for the mission; that is, to save souls. Our forgetfulness and cowardice dishonours the sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as well as the saints and martyrs who spent their lives, to the dying breath, preaching the gospel to the whole creation.
And yet there are signs of resistance to this capitulation. For example, in his recently published “Manifesto of Faith”, Gerhard Cardinal Mueller, former prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, states that
Today, many Christians are no longer even aware of the basic teachings of the Faith, so there is a growing danger of missing the path to eternal life.
Cardinal Mueller has done the Church a great service by re-capitulating the Faith and guiding faithful Catholics to the narrow gate. He has referred to his creedal statement, appropriately, as a manifesto; that is, a declaration of intent.
Let us adopt it with intent and, going, preach the gospel to the whole creation.