(CNS photo/Jayanta Shaw, Reuters)
Those who saw and heard Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata speak were touched by her words. She didn’t use jargon or try to be original. Her message was simple, straight from the Gospel. When she spoke, we paid attention. Many others preach and teach a similar message but without much effect. So what is the difference? The answer can be summarized in two words: her life. Mother Teresa didn’t just teach the Gospel; she lived it through her religious consecration, her prayer and her service to the poor. Her words and her life fit together.
The third luminous mystery of the rosary focuses on Jesus’ preaching of the Good News. When Jesus began his public ministry, people stopped and listened. He did not seek to dazzle his listeners with knowledge or impress them with subtle arguments. Rather, his identity and his message were one and the same. There is no gap between who Jesus is and what he taught. St. Mark’s Gospel brings this point home clearly: “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes” (1:22). The people’s astonishment knew no bounds when Jesus proceeded to heal a man with an unclean spirit who called out from the crowd. “What is this?” they asked. “A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him” (Mk 1:27; see also Mt 7:29).
THE BEATITUDES: A PORTRAIT OF CHRIST
The awe and comments regarding Jesus’ authority amounted to a premonition about his identity. People sensed, at least to some degree, that they were in the presence of the incarnate Word of God. The Second Vatican Council explains, “Now the word is not simply audible; not only does it have a voice, now the word has a face, that of Jesus of Nazareth” (Verbum Domini, 12).
Jesus’ words resonated in people’s hearts like none they had ever heard before, and signs and wonders often accompanied the truth and beauty of those words. Jesus possessed not only intellectual and moral authority, but also authority over nature and even over sin. His miracles were no sleight of hand, but a beam of light illuminating his announcement that the kingdom of God was truly at hand.
Nowhere in the Gospels is the content of Jesus’ preaching more concentrated than the Sermon on the Mount, in which he gave the Beatitudes (see Mt 5:1-12; Lk 6:20-23). Here, Jesus unlocks for us the secret of true and lasting joy, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Happiness does not consist in being rich, powerful, sated with pleasure or an ability always to escape criticism. Rather, it has to do with being poor in spirit, in mourning, in being meek, in hungering and thirsting for holiness, in being merciful and clean of heart, and in being a peacemaker.
In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI describes the Beatitudes as “a sort of veiled interior biography of Jesus, a kind of portrait of his figure. He who has no place to lay his head (cf. Mt. 8:20) is truly poor; he who can say, ‘Come to me … for I am meek and lowly in heart’ (cf. Mt. 11:28-29) is truly meek; he is the one who is pure of heart and unceasingly beholds God. He is the peacemaker, the one who suffers for God’s sake” (74). When Jesus proclaimed the kingdom, he invited people to turn to him and to be molded into living images of the Father’s glory.
THE NEW EVANGELIZATION
In his first encyclical, Pope Benedict wrote that becoming Christian is not “an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a definitive direction” (Deus Caritas Est, 1).
Once we truly encounter the person of Christ in faith, repentance and prayer and once his word has penetrated the depths of our hearts we are changed. A new strength helps to overcome temptation, and through the Holy Spirit we receive a new joy, integrity and light in our daily lives that attracts others to Christ and to the Church. We find that we, too, have something of the “authority” that caused the crowds to put their trust in Jesus.
Central to the pontificates of Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI is the new evangelization. This doesn’t mean inventing a new Gospel to suit the spirit of the times, but rather the fresh proclamation of the Gospel today so that we may open our hearts to Christ and work to build a world that reflects his love more clearly. More than anything else, the new evangelization depends upon witnesses those who, like Mother Teresa, haven encountered Christ and have loved him in others such that they can bear personal witness to the Gospel by their lives. When we live the Gospel that we teach, people are more likely to pay attention.
As we meditate on the third luminous mystery, we turn to Mary, who, more than any other human person, embodied the truth and the love of the Gospel. She is the “Star of the New Evangelization,” and through her prayers, we can open our hearts more fully to Christ and find the courage to be those witnesses the world needs.