October - Proclaim the Gospel to All Creation
One of my favourite little books is The Diving Bell and the Butterfy: A Memoir of Life in Death. It’s the autobiography of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a former editor of the French edition of women’s magazine Elle. Struck by what is called ‘Locked-in syndrome,’ he was able to communicate just by moving his eyebrow up and down—so many times for each letter of the alphabet. It’s amazing, how the whole spiritual depth of a person can be conveyed to us through fragile marks on paper. That’s what Chapter 3 of the ICCA, called ‘Proclaim the Gospel to All Creation’ is about.
Chapter 3 concerns itself with how, in both the Apostolic Tradition and in the books of Sacred Scripture, God speaks to us in human words. The New Testament expresses firstly the heroic life, death and resurrection of a person, Jesus, and secondly the huge impact He had on those around him, those he called his Church. The gradual impact of that experience of Jesus, as lived by his first followers, we call Tradition—the handing down of that experience from generation to generation. And since the Church that Jesus founded has a structure—with the Apostles, around St Peter, having a leading role—the continued expression of that Tradition also takes the form, which we call the Magisterium, or teaching office. Vatican II says that all three together – Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium – are essential to keeping Jesus’ teaching alive in the Church today. And, through the Holy Spirit, that teaching is fully shared by all Catholics.
There’s a great exchange between Pope Francis when he was an auxiliary bishop in Buenos Aires, with an uneducated old lady (we’d surely call her an ‘oul wan’) that brings this out the necesssary role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. Pope Francis recalled.
I remember, when I had just become a bishop, in the year 1992, Our Lady of Fatima had just arrived in Buenos Aires and there was a big Mass for the sick. I went to hear confessions at that Mass. And near the end of the Mass I got up, because I had to administer holy oil. And then an old lady came to me, a humble lady, very humble, over 80 years old. I looked at her and I said to her: ‘Grandma,’—because in our country this is what we call old people—‘Grandma do you want to go to confession?’ ‘Yes,’ she said to me. ‘But if you haven’t sinned...’ I began. But she said to me: ‘We have all sinned... and the Lord forgives everything’. And she was certain of what she was saying. ‘But how do you know that, madam?’ I asked. ‘If the Lord did not forgive everything’, she replied, ‘the world wouldn’t exist.’ I felt like asking her, ‘Tell me, madam, did you study at the Gregorian [the most famous theology university in the Catholic world]?’ But that’s the wisdom that the Holy Spirit gives: interior wisdom about the mercy of God.’
At the end of his book, Jean-Dominique asks, ‘Does the cosmos contain keys for opening up my cocoon? A currency strong enough to buy my freedom back? We must keep looking.’ That’s where we come in—we’ve got the keys, in the Gospel, in Church Tradition, and in teaching which applies it to the present. We’ll experience what Pope Francis calls ‘the joy of the Gospel’ every time we share it with those around us waiting for someone to open them up.