Teach All Nations
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Maybe you have played a game called "telephone". About a dozen people line up, and the first makes up a "message". He whispers that message in the ear of the second person, who then whispers to the next person, and so on down the line. The fun comes when the last player in line says out loud the message he has received. Usually it is a very silly mixed-up sentence. The only way to find out what the real message was, is to ask the first player, who made up the message to begin with.
If it had not been for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the message Jesus gave to mankind might also have become confused and mixed-up. No one has a perfect mind or memory. As the years went by, mistakes might have crept into the early Christian's knowledge of their faith, and important things could have been left out. Worse still, there have been times throughout the Church's history when certain people tried to change the faith on purpose, to suit their own ideas of what was true.
But Christ wanted to keep his Church safe from error. He wanted his Church to be able to proclaim the truth with certainty. So he gave his apostles and their successors the mission to teach. "Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28:20): this was one of the first things Jesus said to his apostles before the Ascension. After the Ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to help them know perfectly what Jesus wanted them to teach. "He will teach you all things, and bring to your memory all that I have said to you" (Jn 14:26). "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth" (Jn 16:13).
Peter and the apostles passed their teaching authority on to the Pope and bishops who came after them. Then they, too, had the power to interpret (to explain) Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Scripture, as you know is the written Word of God. We also call Scripture the Bible. The Old Testament of the Bible contains the books about the history of creation and of God's chosen people. The New Testament contains the Gospels and writings of the early Church. But during the first years of the Church there was no "Bible", no one book of writings that made up God's written word. This was one of the first big tasks of the teaching Church: to decide which Jewish writings and which of the many writings about Jesus were really inspired by God and should belong to Sacred Scripture.
Sacred Tradition means everything that was handed on to us from the apostles. It includes the preaching, example, and Christian way of life of the apostles. All this they themselves had received - from the teaching of Jesus, from the example of his life and works, and from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The teaching Church is needed to explain Scripture and Tradition to Christians. Some parts of the Bible are difficult to understand, and different people will explain them in different ways. The Pope and bishops with him have the guidance of the Holy Spirit in explaining the Bible to us. They also have the Spirit's guidance in teaching us the truths that come from Sacred Tradition.
When the Pope, as head of the Church on earth, teaches all Catholics about some truth of faith (what we must believe), or morals (how Christians must act), he is infallible. Infallible means protected from all error by the Holy Spirit. The bishops are infallible when, in union with the Pope, they teach something on faith and morals which must be held by all Catholics as definitively true. This happens in a special way when the Church holds an Ecumenical Council. At an Ecumenical Council, all of the bishops from around the world meet with the Pope to make decisions about how to teach and govern the Church. Many Councils have been held in the history of the Church. The last one was the Second Vatican Council, held from 1963 to 1965.
Each bishop is the spiritual father and chief teacher in his own diocese. The Pope is the spiritual father and teacher of all Catholics the world over. We all must believe the Pope when he teaches us in matters of faith and morals, knowing that the Holy Spirit is speaking through him. This is the meaning of the expression: "Where Peter is, there too is the Church".
The Church is not content to teach its truth only to those who are already Catholic. Since Jesus died for all men, the Church tries to bring his saving message to every part of the world. Although the Church has grown tremendously since the times of the apostles, there are still people who have never heard of Jesus. There are many others who have heard of him, but do not understand or do not have the gift of faith. The Church reaches out to all these peoples, in the hope "that all may be one" (Jn 17-21).
The task of preaching the gospel to those outside the Church is called evangelization. Brave men and women called missionaries go to distant lands in order to bring the people to Christ. In a spirit of love and compassion they do their best to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and educate the children. They know that a big part of spreading the gospel is living the gospel. "As often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me" (Mt 24:40).
The work of evangelization can take place in our own country, our own town, and maybe, even our own families. You can share in this work by praying for those who are outside the Church, by giving money to the missions, and by doing your best to express the Good News in your daily life. People can learn about the Christian way of life by watching how you live. You can teach your friends by speaking freely about your faith when the conversation turns to religion.
In a parable, Our Lord compared the world to a rich vineyard. "The harvest is great, " he said, "but the laborers are few." Millions of souls are waiting for the truth that will bring them eternal happiness. Each of us can help them in some way. Ask God how you can help with the "harvest".
Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534
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