As we continue to focus our attention on the New Evangelization, I wish to draw your attention to the recent writing of our Holy Father, Pope Francis. In November, Pope Francis published his first Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy Of The Gospel. The first thing I wish to do in this article is encourage all of you to buy a copy of this incredible work and read it, study it, and pray with it. Pope Francis is quite simply calling every baptized member of the Church to actively and joyfully live their faith.
As we have been hearing for quite some time, the first step of the New Evangelization is an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ. The opening sentence of The Joy Of The Gospel says: “The Joy Of The Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.” (#1) Our Holy Father moves quickly to say: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.” (#3)
This is a direct challenge of Pope Francis to each of us, to open our hearts and lives to the person of Jesus Christ. The Pope’s exhortation wisely points out some of the obstacles to living a vibrant relationship with Jesus in today’s world, which can serve as a self-examination for each of us. Perhaps we need to be reminded of the simple doctrine of the Church that Christ dwells within each of us! We do not have to search for Him high and low, nor ask for any ‘revelations’ to know him. He is with us! We need only give some time to prayer, making the act of faith that He is with us, and seek Him every moment of every day, in prayer, worship, work, relationships, in every act of kindness.
Wherever we find Jesus, His fundamental message to us is that He cares for us and about us. He came to reveal the infinite mercy and love of God. He suffered, died, and rose from the dead to forgive and heal us of our sins, that we might be renewed as the sons and daughters of God. His life and ministry, His death and resurrection teach us that we are created for relationship with God to be co-heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven. Have we had this encounter with Christ? Have we through the Sacraments and in our own personal way thanked God for this precious gift? Do we day-to-day commit our life to God by making of gift of my life to my sisters and brothers?
The encounter with Christ leads to joy and the fullest possible experience of life. Jesus came so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10) Each encounter with Jesus is an invitation to follow Him. Our encounter with Jesus is meant to change us! Jesus established the Church to share in His mission. The Church exists for mission, and that mission is to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world. This is the fundamental work of the New Evangelization, to proclaim Christ by the witness of our life; the witness of faith and the exercise of charity.
In Mark’s Gospel, (5:1-20) we see such and encounter with Jesus. There is a man who is possessed by a demon. The man had been frequently bound with shackles and chains because he was so violent. Jesus frees this man of the demon and restores him to ‘his right mind.’ This man undergoes a profound transformation once Christ enters his life, and so do we. The man then asks Jesus’ permission to come along with him. Rather, Jesus tells him: “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you. The man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.”
Part of our work as Church is to facilitate the opportunities for people to have this life-changing encounter with Jesus. Our mission as disciples of Jesus is to joyfully share our own encounter, our own faith story.
To understand the New Evangelization, it is important to understand ‘Church’ in the fullest sense. Pope Francis teaches this reality in plane language: “Lay people are, put simply, the vast majority of the People of God. The minority – ordained ministers – are at their service.” (#102) So, if the mission of the ‘Church’ is to proclaim Jesus Christ to the world and the majority of the Body of Christ that makes up the Church are lay people, guess what the primary task is for each of the baptized? Live your faith! Be a credible witness to Christ in the world.
The Holy Father further teaches in The Joy Of The Gospel, “In all the baptized, from first to last, the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelization.” (#119) “In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized.” (#120) “…each of us should find ways to communicate Jesus wherever we are. All of us are called to offer others an explicit witness to the saving love of the Lord, who despite our imperfections offers us his closeness, his word and his strength, and gives meaning to our lives. In your heart you know that it is not the same to live without him; what you have come to realize, what has helped you to live and given you hope, is what you also need to communicate to others.” (#121)
In short, Pope Francis is calling each member of this Body of Christ to a vibrant faith-life. He unflinchingly challenges any complacency or mediocrity that may have crept into the life of believers. The remedy to any such apathy IS the person of Jesus.
This Lent is the perfect opportunity to renew our intimacy with Christ. Now is the time to make or renew my commitment to Christ and His Church. To the lay people in particular, Christ is renewing His call to follow Him and be His witness in the world; in the political, economic and social dimensions of everyday life. Christ is asking us to let Him enter our lives in such a manner that our lives will never be the same. Let us take up the challenge of Pope Francis to be effective ‘missionary-disciples’ in the world today.
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:13-16) Go into the world and proclaim the Good News!