Today we celebrate the feast of St. Mark the Evangelist, who is best known for composing the second Gospel account in the canon of Scripture. Since it is the shortest of the four gospels, perhaps we could all make it a goal to read the entire gospel today. In the RSV 2nd Catholic Edition, it’s only 17 pages long so this should be an achievable goal. We could even listen to an audio version if we find reading it too burdensome. St. Mark is an early convert to the faith and was a close companion of St. Peter. In fact, according to Papias, a bishop in the early Church, Mark was Peter’s interpreter and the content that comprises his gospel is believed to have been Peter’s teaching.
It is fitting that we call St. Mark an Evangelist, not only because he compiled one of the four gospel accounts, but also because he reminds us of the evangelistic nature of our faith. Our faith is not given to us by God for our own benefit alone but is meant to be shared with others. It is a missionary faith by nature. In the past, missionary activity was usually associated with religious missionaries who were sent into foreign regions of the world to spread the Gospel message. However, since Vatican II and especially with the teaching of Pope Francis, there has been a shift as there is a growing awareness that every Christian in every walk of life is called to engage in the work of evangelization, each according to their state in life. We may not all be called to go to foreign countries, but we are called to carry the message of Christ in our hearts as we carry out our ordinary daily duties. As Pope Francis says, “Faith is either missionary or it is not faith. Faith is not just for me, for me to grow up with faith: this is a gnostic heresy. Faith always leads you out of yourself. Go out. The transmission of faith; faith must be transmitted, it must be offered, especially through witness: ‘Go, let people see how you live.’” In other words, faith is not something that we keep to ourselves, it is a gift from God that is meant to be shared with others. It is in seeing Christians living their faith according to the Gospel message that people will be able to see Christ in the flesh.
Our faith is not given to us by God for our own benefit alone but is meant to be shared with others. It is a missionary faith by nature.
However, our witness of faith is hindered and undermined when we speak of Jesus Christ and call ourselves Christian and yet live in a manner that is unworthy of our calling. We are called to evangelize, not to proselytize as if we are salesmen for Christ. The Holy Father says, “faith is ‘not proselytizing.’ It is to show the revelation, so that the Holy Spirit can act in people with witness, and as a witness through service. Service is a way of life: if I say that I am a Christian and I live like a pagan, it does not work! That doesn’t convince anyone. If I say that I am a Christian and I live as a Christian, that attracts. That’s witness.” If we say that we are Christians but then we turn and speak harshly to people, mock them, belittle them, take what they say out of context, stoke fear and anger, and spread lies, gossip, and slander, then we might as well stop calling ourselves Christians. How can we call ourselves Christians and then neglect the least of our brothers and sisters, ignore the poor, pay our workers unjustly low wages, abuse and neglect immigrants, and reduce other people to objects for our own pleasure and enjoyment? How can we talk about Jesus who says that he has come not to be served but to serve when we more readily insist on being served ourselves rather than placing ourselves at the service of others? How can we proclaim the Lord who teaches us to love our enemies when we spout nothing but hate and vitriol about our enemies?
We know that we are called to witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, yet we often do not reflect upon how our own bad example can undermine our witness. We boast about being Christians and puff out our chests and then we wonder why people are either leaving the Church or not wanting to become Christians. If people are being turned off by our behavior, it is not because they despise Christ, it is because they see that those who profess to be Christians act very differently from the Master they claim to follow. Evangelization often requires self-examination and conversion of mind and heart. We need to always evaluate our attitudes and behaviors in the light of the Gospel so that we might allow Christ to conform us more closely to himself. In truly following Christ, it must become evident in us that we have put off the old self of sin and put on the mind of Christ. Let us pray for the humility and the grace of the Holy Spirit to recognize our faults and our sins and to allow the Lord to purify us and assist us in our witness to the Gospel.
– Fr. Matthew Mary, MFVA