Evangelization: The Way of Pope Francis, the Mission of the Church
One of the things that excites me most—and also scares me—about Pope Francis is his style of evangelization. He doesn't look at evangelization as something to be carried out by a designated dicastery or religious order. For Pope Francis evangelization is the call of every Christian, and the mission of the Church. He has proven by example that the Gospel is not a theory or a utopian idea, but the Way, the lifestyle shown to us by Jesus and the saints after him. Evangelization is best achieved through the living out of the Gospel.
One of the big problems for Christians is that when we think of evangelization we think of “bringing people to Christ”, which of course sounds good. But I’d propose that we need to shift our understanding of evangelization so that instead of bringing people to Christ, which is good and noble, we should try instead to bring Christ to the people. This way of active, interpersonal evangelization is something that Pope Francis, as archbishop of Buenos Aires encouraged in his archdiocese where the people are ministered to where they are. Here are a couple of pointers I think would do us good to follow.
“Evangelizing pre-supposes a desire in the Church to come out of herself. The Church is called to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.”
We Must Step Outside of Ourselves and Meet People Where They Are
As American Christians I think we tend to have the concept that “bringing people to Christ” is the same thing as bringing them to church. In a way this is true, but for many people it is the church that has led them away from Christ. Often times it is the Church—the people not the building—who set a bad example and treat people in a way that robs them of their dignity, hurts their feelings, and drives them away leaving them to think “if this is how God is, I don’t want anything to do with Him.” How unfortunate that we are getting in the way of the love and mercy of God. This is not the way Jesus ministered to the people and it’s not the way we should either.
Jesus went to the synagogues to preach, but He also spent a lot of time among the “multitudes” in the public square healing the sick, comforting the afflicted, forgiving sins, etc. He preached with words and actions. He talked about God’s love and mercy, but He also transmitted God’s love and mercy through His interactions with the people. I can’t picture Jesus telling the people “I can help you, but only if you come to synagogue.” In the synagogue He found a certain group of people that needed ministering to, just like we find in our churches. But there is another group of people outside of the churches that we are also called to minister to. Jesus brought God’s presence not just to the Jews, God’s chosen people, but He showed that God’s love and mercy was for everyone who seeks it, even, if not especially, those who were most in need of it.
“We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a Church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a Church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out onto the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the Church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded Church that goes out onto the streets and a sick withdrawn Church, I would definitely choose the first one.”
We all have the opportunity to reach people who are in need, be it at work, in our homes, at the grocery store. Wherever we go we should be transmitting the love and mercy of God with every word and deed. God has so freely lavished His love on us and we must do the same by being living reflections of His love. It’s not going to be easy, and that’s what scares me about it, but it’s proven effective. In fact, I’m willing to be that for most people it is through that active, interpersonal evangelization, through the example seen in others that we are transformed, brought closer to God.
Be Willing to Get Your Hands Dirty for God
I think one of the most powerful ways to evangelize is through the “witness offered by the lives of believers” as written by Archbishop Gómez. You can’t provide a witness if you aren’t among the people. Unfortunately, many Christians, specifically Catholics, tend to set themselves apart from the world. It is true that we are “not of this world”, but we are still in it and it is our duty to transform it, which we can’t do if we are unwilling to engage it.
“We seek to make contact with families that are not involved in the parish. Instead of just being a Church that welcomes and receives, we try to be a Church that comes out of itself and goes to the men and women who do not participate in parish life, do not know much about it and are indifferent towards it. We organise missions in public squares where many people usually gather: we pray, we celebrate mass, we offer baptism which we administer after a brief preparation. This is the style of the parishes and the diocese itself. Other than this, we also try to reach out to people who are far away, via digital means, the web and brief messaging.”
I know it’s more comfortable being Christian when you are surrounded by like-minded people who share your beliefs. It’s easy to be a Christian on Sunday, it’s the rest of the week that proves to be a challenge—and that’s exactly what being a Christian is. It is when you are away from home, outside of your comfort zone that your faith is tested, that it is proved.
Jesus spent more time with the sinners and non-believers than He did with the church-crowd. Not that the church-crowd didn’t need the help, but they were often times not interested in what He had to say. It’s that whole idea of “preaching to the choir” that we’re all familiar with. We too have to be willing to get our hands dirty in a sense. We have to make ourselves uncomfortable by reaching out to others. If we keep ourselves locked within the confines of our church community we will never be able to minister to those “lost sheep of the House of Israel” (Mt 15:24).
Our Mission: Bring Jesus to the World
The Gospel—in greek euangelion—is simple, but far from easy. Put the needs of others before your own, forgive those who hurt you, pray for those you don’t like, these all seem to go against our human nature. But this is the Gospel. This is what will change the world. It’s simple.
Pope Francis—in the style of St. Francis of Assisi who in turn sought only to imitate Jesus—is bringing the primary mission of the Church back into perspective. That mission is evangelization, the salvation of souls. It is the duty of every Christian to evangelize, to be a witness to Jesus Christ, love personified, God made man. We are called to be the presence of God in the world. We are called to bring Jesus Christ to the people. Will you step up to the challenge?