The Church has a number of what I would call quasi-liturgical feast days. The World Day of Peace on January 1, takes advantage of the Solemnity of Mary and the beginning of the civil year to pray for peace. In February we have World Day of Consecrated Life on the Feast of the Presentation and the World Day of the Sick, on the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, both of which make a lot of sense, as those who live the consecrated life have offered themselves to the Church as Christ was presented in the Temple in Jerusalem, while the healing power of the shrine at Lourdes makes the memorial of the apparition a great day to pray for the sick.
But what on earth does World Communications Day have to do with the Ascension of the Lord? Well, a peek at the readings for the day give us a pretty strong hint. From Acts 1.8 we get this nudge: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” At the same time in Mark’s Gospel (16.15) we hear: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” I guess it’s a bit more than a nudge.
So it’s pretty clear that the Ascension of Jesus is a real and present challenge to us all. And the scope for the communication of the Good News of Jesus is breathtaking. Let’s look at each of these challenges. In Acts, Jesus opens the minds of his followers (and our minds too!) to see that the Good News is for Jerusalem. Then he widens the circle to the province of Judah in which we find Jerusalem, and then to the neighbouring province of Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth.
As Christians, it is good that we keep these different levels in mind. The saying common in US politics, attributed to Speaker Tip O’Neill, is that “all politics is local” – well it is also true that all evangelization, all catechesis, and indeed all sharing of the Good News is fundamentally local. Yes, it is good to help people in places far away, but there needs to be a way in which we are spreading the Gospel locally, “if necessary using words,” to cite an old Franciscan saying.
I have worked in a Catholic environment for most of my career, but there have been times when I was working in a definitely secular world. The work of the Legion of Mary is an unfortunately rare example of Catholics going around knocking on doors to talk about the Good News, but if we are to celebrate World Communications Day, we all need to find a way to communicate the Gospel locally. Having a crucifix in our homes, or praying in a restaurant, or simply saying “God bless you!” when someone sneezes – there are countless ways small and large in which we can communicate the faith to those in our immediate circle. I know it still makes me feel a bit odd, but we can’t leave the spread of the faith just to the professionals. We all have a role.
On a provincial scale, well I guess it depends on our province and our neighbouring provinces. What would that look like? Well, to my mind, this could be an opportunity for us to celebrate life as a gift from God. The specifically Catholic understanding of the Good News needs to be communicated thought celebrations of God’s love for all life. And then, since we are to communicate to the ‘ends of the world’ some care for Catholic ministry to disadvantaged people far away is definitely in order. If money is speech, then our interconnected world allows our voices to reach to the ends of the world.
But the reading from Mark also makes World Communication Day distinctly green. We are to proclaim the Good News “to the whole creation” – now just how am I to proclaim the Gospel to a rock?! Or to a dog? And even more challenging to a cat?! Caring for the planet, adopting a pet, planting a tree – none of these are specifically Christian or Catholic activities. But they can be.
If we do any of these things because you want to spread the love of Jesus to the whole of creation, then it becomes a religious act of communication. And the really great news is that any act of Catholic communication can be multilayered: We think you are proclaiming the love of God to a pet or a tree, but if we explain this to someone else, it is a sharing of the Good News among humans. We may be having a celebration for all the expectant mothers in our community to communicate God’s love for the unborn, or we might organize a group of people to be pen pals for those who are in prison to let them know that they are not forgotten, but the audience for this message can be much wider.
So let’s make World Communications Day, and while we are at it Ascension Sunday, a day when each of us takes on or renews our commitment to spread the Good News to the ends of the world and to whole creation! It actually sounds like a lot of fun, and like most forms of communication, it may reach people whom we do not know or did not expect to touch.
Glenn Byer has been making music for the Mass for 40 years, and has been writing about and offering courses and workshops on liturgy for more than 30 years. He holds a Master’s in liturgy from the University of Notre Dame and a doctorate in liturgy from the Pontifical Institute for Liturgy at the Atheneaum of Sant’Anselmo in Rome. Glenn has written numerous books, among them: 26 Ordinary Ways to Live the Liturgy, Unlocking the Feasts and Seasons of the Liturgical Year and Living the Liturgy of the Word.