According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the ‘one mediator between God and men’. But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, ‘the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery’ is offered to all men. He calls his disciples to ‘take up [their] cross and follow [him]’, for ‘Christ also suffered for [us], leaving [us] an example so that [we] should follow in his steps.’ In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries” (CCC 618).
Atonement, then, is part of the great mission God gives to us all.
“Taking up our cross” takes many forms. Of course, there’s the penance given to us by a priest after confession and the collective redemptive suffering we all encounter from time to time. There’s also the self-inflicted form of penances we give ourselves; fasting, mortification, and the annual giving-up-[enter your favorite thing here]-for-Lent practice.
But there is another form of erasing the effects of our sins, perhaps the most underestimated of all, that few consider: preaching.
During his ministry, Jesus’ primary mission was to proclaim the Kingdom of God in both word and deed. He filled the airwaves with his words and miracles so that the hearts of the people he preached to would be moved toward virtue. As a result, his words remain in our own hearts today as they echo through our souls in hopes that we too will receive his graces and attain our salvation.
Interestingly enough, Jesus charged us to become partakers in his same mission of saving souls. He told us to “Go,” and to “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 [he has] commanded [us]” (Matthew 28:19-20). To add height to His already high expectations for us, He said, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
That is kind of a tall order…
But it doesn’t stop there. With his challenge, Jesus also gave us a promise. He said, “I will be with you always until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). On top of that, He gave us motivation to eradicate our flaws through our own preaching. He told us that “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:20). That last part, the one about covering a multitude of sins, is quite curious, isn’t it? The good Lord never mentioned exactly whose sins would be covered. The one who we turn away from sin? We who call them? Or is it a collective form of redemptive suffering to repair all who have sinned?
Jesus doesn’t say.
We’re left to believe, then, that the ministry in which we partake for the salvation of souls will not only save others, but it will also help save our own lives by cancelling out all of the sins that condemn us.
We aren’t perfect. It seems illogical that God would send us, as broken as we are, to proclaim the Kingdom. Who are we but weak sinners to carry out the will of God by preaching and serving others like he did? In truth, we are nothing alone. But with God we become something greater.
The book of Hebrews states, “Jesus offered one sacrifice for sins and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits until his enemies are placed beneath his feet. By one offering he has forever perfected those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10: 12-14). While we are imperfect in our humanity, we are currently being perfected by the grace of God to the degree in which we pursue him. Faith manifests itself in love, and the outpouring of our love is what builds up our sanctification.
You are being built into a “spiritual house” on which the foundation is that of the apostles and Mary with Christ as the cornerstone. (1 Peter 2:4-5). All you have to do is contemplate the mission that God has given you to complete, then strive relentlessly to fulfill it.
That is why preaching is so important to our own sense of mission. When we read Christ’s words in Scripture, we mystically attain His word as it manifests itself in our hearts. It is a living word, a logos, that enlivens us and gives us clarity in thought, strength in virtue, and sage wisdom. These are the same traits of all the saints who, when they heard the voice of God, responded to it.
Preaching is a mission that takes a lifetime to complete. It is word. It is deed. But before all else it is a spiritually charged desire to not only know God, but to make Him known. We will never know if we are doing it perfectly until the day when we enter heaven and look down upon the final earthy product of our labors. Then, when we too exist beyond space and time, we will look at our lives through God’s eternal vision and see ourselves as we truly are.
The way God see us.
“…the Lord ordered that those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14).
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