Dubbed ‘Proclaim23’, the inaugural Proclaim Gathering kicked off in Melbourne last night, with more than 200 people filling St John the Evangelist Church for an hour of prayer, with music led by Fr Rob Galea and Alyssa Agius, followed by an opening address by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli, in which he talked about the three steps of discipleship in Christ: to be invited, welcomed and then sent.

‘There is nothing complicated about the way in which Jesus seeks to embrace and allow others to share in his life. There was no test to be passed, no task first to be done. The invitation was a free gift; it was grace.’

Many of us, the Archbishop said, may be tempted to first get the welcome right and forget that what matters most is the ‘come and see’ invitation from Jesus.

‘“Come and see.” It’s quite the invitation. Simple, yet gracious (grace-filled),’ he said. ‘The way of Jesus, the graced way, is to do the inviting first: the going out, before the coming in. Only then can the welcome be experienced as the fruit of—the sign of—an invitation that is from a place of joy and grace.’

The words joy and grace, the Archbishop explained, draw their roots from the Greek word chara or charis, which in its most basic form means ‘to delight’. These same words were found in the first proclamation made by Jesus from the words of the prophet Isaiah (Luke 4:16–22): ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favour.’

Jesus spoke to those listening using ‘words of grace’, explained Archbsihop Comensoli. ‘They are words full of joy: anointed, good news, release, sight, freedom, fulfilment.

‘It is a striking image to recognise that joy, favour and grace—such differing words in our English language—were intimately bound together in the earliest Christian language. They each share a root meaning; each is so closely related that they are nearly interchangeable. And each found their way into the first words spoken by Jesus.’

‘Come and see.’ It’s quite the invitation. Simple, yet gracious (grace-filled).

To meet Jesus—to encounter him—is to experience a deep joy even in the midst of suffering, explained Archbishop Comensoli. ‘We know this from his first words, where we learn what it means to come into a share in Jesus’ life: it is to come within his embrace that brings release, offers sight, creates freedom, finds fulfilment. To meet Christ is to know of the Lord’s favour for you.’

The first people to receive Jesus’ invitation were not those necessarily inside the synagogue but those ‘on the outside’—the outcasts, the poor, the blind, the oppressed. His words of good news, ‘of joy, favour and grace, were for those who needed his embrace and were willing to receive it as the gracious gift of Jesus himself,’ the Archbishop said.

‘We often speak of Jesus “calling” his disciples, which is true enough. But this calling takes the form of a request. Jesus first invites, and to be able to receive this invitation means being receptive to it.’

Joy is intimately bound up in the way of Jesus, he explained, ‘even for someone like Simon of Cyrene, who first met Jesus on the road to Calvary. How can that be the case? Because that meeting led to Simon binding himself to Jesus.’

To encounter Jesus, then, is inevitably life-changing.

‘There is something about seeing Jesus—and I don’t mean just looking at him—that is significant,’ said Archbishop Comensoli. ‘It is an attentiveness, a gazing, a looking that is intentional. People who saw Jesus in this way were changed.’

The experience of Jesus’ gaze—of an encounter with the Lord—is to experience that same charis that Jesus spoke of more than 2,000 years ago. ‘Joy. Favour. Grace. None of these rely on physical sight to be seen. They are experienced in the “being with”. To be with Jesus in this charis way, was to see a new life for oneself in coming to share in his life. As St Paul put it, “anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old things have passed away; see, they have become new”’ (2 Corinthians 5.17).

There is something about seeing Jesus—and I don’t mean just looking at him—that is significant. It is an attentiveness, a gazing, a looking that is intentional. People who saw Jesus in this way were changed.

‘The calling of Peter completes the circle of coming to life in Christ. First there was the invitation. Then there was the welcome. With Peter, we see that Jesus brings him to a new way of living, and sends him out a changed man. These are the three steps of discipleship in Christ: to invite, to welcome and to send. And to return to the first preaching of Jesus, his anointing was for all to receive who wanted to receive.’

What happens, though, when the invitation to a life in Christ goes unnoticed or is rejected by those to whom it is extended? asked one of the attendees at last night’s event.

‘It can be disheartening,’ Archbishop Comensoli admitted. ‘The way of Jesus is invitational, but as we know, he ended up on the cross, entirely alone. Yet grace enabled his resurrection.

‘Sometimes it is about walking alone. It’s tough. But the Lord did it too and showed us the way. For some or for one ... it doesn’t have to be 100 [who accept]. One is enough.’

And as we know, reflected Archbishop Comensoli, there were also people who ‘saw Jesus gradually’.

‘Think of Nicodemus … just trying to “feel his way” with Jesus. We hear of Nicodemus again later [in the Scriptures]. There’s something about the “undercurrent of grace” that gets to him. And then a third time we hear about him when he brings Jesus down from the cross—he was there.’

‘It took Nicodemus years! For some, it takes a lifetime. But grace is there—that free gift of God himself, of Jesus himself ... Recognise the reality of it,’ Archbishop Comensoli said, ‘but keep at it.’

The Proclaim Gathering runs from 16 to 18 November at the Catholic Leadership Centre, with keynote presentations and workshops focused on equipping leaders in parishes, schools and other sectors with the tools to invite people into a life in Christ. For more information, visit the Proclaim Gathering website.