CHRIST IS MODEL, MASTER, LIBERATOR, SAVIOR
Chapter 8 of Ad Gentes begins with this sentence: “Missionary activity is intimately bound up with human nature and its aspirations.” We believe the truths of our faith are not separated from the truths that we find in our world. God is one. What He has revealed to us is of one piece with what we find in the visible world, about humanity and even about other things.
The document goes on, “Christ is the head and exemplar of that renewed humanity to which all men aspire.” Already now, even before they come to know Jesus Christ, men carry within themselves, no doubt through the working of the Holy Spirit, a desire for the kind of things Jesus came to earth to show us and to give us the grace to do. In other words, through the influence of the Holy Spirit, all men are now naturally inclined toward Christianity and its ideals, even before they know them. They can refuse to accept Christ and his Church, but deep down they want the same things He stands for. Here the Council Fathers list three of those things Christ and his Church stand for: “Brotherly love, sincerity and [a] spirit of peace.” Later on in the same chapter they list one more quality that the Gospel promotes, i.e. unity.
A corollary of the truth that Jesus is the model for all mankind is: “Both Christ and the Church which bears witness to him transcend the distinctions of race and nationality, and so cannot be considered as strangers to anyone or in any place. Christ is the Truth and the Way which the preaching of the Gospel lays open to all men when it speaks those words of Christ in their ear: ‘Repent, and believe the Gospel’” (Mk 1:15).
Another corollary is that these basic aspirations of Christianity are so all encompassing in their influence that whoever practices them will begin to act in a specifically Christian way. This way of acting will make him feel at home with other true believers, wherever they come from. Thus true Christianity creates a culture of its own, whatever is the nationality, race or language of those belonging to it. This is important to remember, especially in our day when the uniqueness of individual cultures is overemphasized, to the detriment of trust in the unifying power of Christ and his Gospel.
Nevertheless, the Council reminds us not all men will accept the Gospel, although it embodies values dear to all men. It can, and will, be rejected by some. “Since he who does not believe is already judged (cf. Jn 3:18), the words of Christ are at once words of judgment and grace, of life and death.” This should comfort missionaries, for His word is always a two edged sword (cf. Heb 4:12). But it should also get them to pray for people’s conversion, for conversion is always a grace of God: “No one is freed from sin by himself or by his own efforts, no one is raised above himself or completely delivered from his own weakness, solitude or slavery; all have need of Christ who is the model, master, liberator, savior, and giver of life.”