by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by Permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they all saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted. Then Jesus approached and said to them, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age."
The last scene of Matthew's Gospel is traditionally called "The Great Commission." It relates Our Lord's command to "make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19). It is when He gives the disciples marching orders before ascending to His Father.
The word "commission" is worth some reflection. It indicates something entrusted to another. And that is what happened before the Ascension: Jesus Christ entrusted His mission to the Church. We speak of the Church's "mission," and rightly so. But the Church has a mission only because her Lord commissioned her. She did not invent or establish her own mission but received what Jesus Himself gave her. More precisely, at the Great Commission Jesus Christ entrusted His own mission to the Church. All that He did, He commissioned the Church to do. What He said and did during His earthly life, the Church now continues in her life. His life is now reproduced in His mystical body, the Church.
Ironically, the Great Commission is actually quite small - not quite three verses. Our Lord begins and ends with a statement about Himself: "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. ...And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Mt 28:18, 20). Between these two statements is sandwiched the instruction to the disciples: "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" (Mt 28:19-20).
That structure reveals an essential aspect of the Church's mission. Namely that it hangs on two truths about her Founder: First, that He holds all power and, second, that He remains with the Church at all times. Indeed, the Church not only depends on these truths but also derives vigor and zeal from them. Because the all-powerful Christ remains with her, the Church can be confident in her work. In commissioning the Church He has not sent her away from Himself. Rather, He accompanies every work of the Church with His power. Of course, it is only reasonable that in commissioning the Church to continue His mission, Our Lord also imbue her with His presence and authority.
Faith in the Lord's all-powerful presence has animated missionary work throughout the centuries. How else do we explain the extraordinary efforts of the saints? St. Patrick went to pagan Ireland, St. Francis to the mysterious Far East and St. Isaac Jogues to the very tribe that mutilated him - each one knowing that Christ's power accompanied him and enabled him to evangelize. It was not his mission but one he had received. It was not his own power, but that of the Lord. The Giver of the mission was with him still. If he were faithful to the Great Commission, then the Lord would be true to him.
So it is for the new evangelization. As in centuries past, the task before us now is not of our own making, but one entrusted to us by Christ. He has commanded us to evangelize in His name - "make disciples . . . baptizing. . . teaching" - and He accompanies us in that work. This should produce in us both humility and confidence. Humility, lest we labor for our own ends rather than His. Confidence, lest we draw back from the daunting task ahead. As He has commissioned us, so also will He accompany us. If we are faithful to His command, then His grace will not be lacking in our work.
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