by Fr. Ignatius

By Fr. Ignatius L. Madya Utama, SJ

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

What automatically comes to mind, when the word apostle is mentioned? I believe that many Catholics’ answer will be the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus as His “inner circle” disciples. While this answer is not wrong, it is not 100% correct either. Why?


In our healthy Catholic tradition the word apostle is used to describe someone who experiences a personal encounter with the Risen Christ and being sent by Him to give witness to this experience. Understood in this way, the word apostle connotes a wider group of people than our traditional understanding of the apostles, the twelve apostles. It is therefore understandable that St. Paul claimed himself as an apostle. And the Church even calls him a great apostle. And many of us –I am afraid– even do not know that Mary Magdalene is also an apostle in a real sense. Saint Bernard from Clairfaux even called her an aspostola apostolorum, a female apostle for other (male) apostles, because after having encountered (read: experienced) the Risen Christ she was sent by Him to proclaim and to give witness to this experience to Jesus’ disciples who were seized with fear after their Master was hung on wood of the Cross (cf. John 20:1-18, especially verses 17-18).

In this line of understanding the Second Vatican Council also declares that all mature persons who have encountered Christ personally, hence they expressed their faith by receiving the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, they are united with Christ, the Head of the Church. From this union it “flows their right and duty to be apostles…. it is by the Lord Himself that they are assigned to their apostolate” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, art. 3; Lumen Gentium, art. 33). In other words, all of us are apostles in a real sense!

What does it mean for us to be apostles in our time? As we celebrate two thousand years of the birth of Saint Paul, we can learn from him that being an apostle, first of all, means allowing Jesus Christ to live in us and to change our lives so that gradually we can live as Jesus did. When this happens, together with Saint Paul, we will also be able to say convincingly that we are sent by Christ to proclaim the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:17). And together with him we will also say: “If I preach the Gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). For Saint Paul, preaching the Gospel really means preaching the salvific and redemptive work of GOD done in and through Jesus Christ.

For the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), preaching the Gospel –it is usually called evangelization– is of paramount importance. FABC even says that the Church –that is all of us! – exists to evangelize. FABC further mentions that “We shall proclaim the Gospel in the manner of the Lord Jesus”, that is “being with the people, responding to their needs, with sensitiveness to the presence of GOD in cultures and other religious traditions, and witnessing to the values of GOD’s Kingdom [namely: peace, love, life-giving relationships, forgiveness, solidarity, compassion, human rights] through presence, solidarity, sharing and word.” In other words, proclaiming the Gospel –as FABC insists– means above all to live like Jesus Himself in the midst of our neighbors of other faiths and persuasions, and to do His deeds by the power of His grace.

Let’s pray for one another and for the whole Church, that all of us and the whole Church will become good apostles in our time, so that we can perform good works in such a way that those who see our good deeds will glorify our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16).