CHAPTER 5: SPIRIT-FILLED EVANGELIZERS
“Spirit-filled evangelizers means evangelizers fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit. . .Jesus wants evangelizers who proclaim the good news not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence.” (259)
This portion speaks us on a basic level, continuing themes from earlier in the document and making perhaps the most personal appeal for the transformation of individual and Church. It recognizes God’s hand, through the Holy Spirit, as the prime mover and gives us a guide to using the gifts the Spirit gives us.
The relationship between prayer and work is the most important: one without the other doesn’t function for long. Paragraph 262 says:
“Spirit-filled evangelizers are evangelizers who pray and work. Mystical notions without a solid social and missionary outreach are of no help to evangelization, nor are dissertations or204
social or pastoral practices which lack a spirituality which can change hearts. These unilateral and incomplete proposals only reach a few groups and prove incapable of radiating beyond them because they curtail the Gospel. What is needed is the ability to cultivate an interior space which can give a Christian meaning to commitment and activity. Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervor dies out. The Church urgently needs the deep breath of prayer, and to my great joy groups devoted to prayer and intercession, the prayerful reading of God’s word and the perpetual adoration of the Eucharist are growing at every level of ecclesial life. Even so, “we must reject the temptation to offer a privatized and individualistic spirituality which ill accords with the demands of charity, to say nothing of the implications of the incarnation”.20 There is always the risk that some moments of prayer can become an excuse for not offering one’s life in mission; a privatized lifestyle can lead Christians to take refuge in some false forms of spirituality.”
The difficulties of our time aren’t greater or worse than any previous age, only different. “The primary reason for evangelizing is the love of Jesus which we have received, the experience of salvation which urges us to ever greater love of him.” The necessity to externalize our faith is apparent, for which person in great love keeps it a secret? The life of Christ is our example, and the Gospel offers us friendship with jesus and love of our brothers and sisters. We must remember “. . .we have a treasure that cannot deceive.” (265) In our journey with Christ, “we must seek what He seeks, and love what He loves.” (267) There’s a great temptation to hold Christ’s wounds at arm’s length, however we must remember Christ calls us to touch human misery, which are His wounds.
As evangelizers of souls, we must develop a spiritual taste for being close to people’s lives and discover it as a source of greater joy. (268) Jesus himself is the model for this method of evangelization. Benedict XVI said: “closing our eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God.” We should find our happiness in seeking the good of others and their happiness, and seek this kind of openness of heart as a source of joy. In contrast: “We do not live better when we flee, hide, refuse to share, stop giving and lock ourselves up in own comforts. Such a life is nothing less than slow suicide.” (272)
The mission of being in the heart of the people isn’t something outside us, an extra we can take off and put on. It’s not just our work, but part of our identity as Christians. “. . .once we separate our work from our private lives, everything turns grey and we will always be seeking recognition or asserting our needs. We stop being a people.” (273)
Paragraph 274 gives us the summation of this kind of broad spirituality. “If we are to share our lives with others and generously give of ourselves, we also have to realize that every person is worthy of our giving. Not for their physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking, or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God’s handiwork, his creation. God created that person in his image, and he or she reflects something of God’s glory. Every human being is the object of God’s infinite tenderness, and he himself is present in their lives. Jesus offered his precious blood on the cross for that person. Appearances notwithstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love. Consequently, if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life. ” (Italics mine)
Pope Francis cautions that a lack of deep spirituality can wear us out, make us fall into negative emotions, and sap our energy for the mission. We need to remember that Christ has already triumphed, the power of the Resurrection is ongoing, and the Resurrection is a living march of Hope. Weariness can lead to careerism, the need for recognition and status. We need an interior certainty that God can act in every situation despite appearances. “No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted.” (279) The mission is not like a business transaction, or investment, or even a humanitarian activity, it escapes all measurement. We must trust the Holy Spirit entirely, trusting it without pretending to see striking results.
He balances the spiritual nourishment of contemplative prayer and intercession, as both being necessary to build the missionary spirit. Like most of his views, it is considering both the little and big picture that is important lest we get sidetracked or distracted in our mission.
Mary is the model of Evangelization. He embraces her as the Mother of the Church and lifts her up as a model of humility and compassion. “Whenever we look to Mary, we come to believe once again in the revolutionary nature of love and tenderness. In her we see that humility and tenderness are not virtues of the weak but of the strong who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves. . .Mary is able to recognize the traces of God’s Spirit in events great and small. She constantly contemplates the mystery of God in our world, in human history and in our daily lives. She is the woman of prayer and work in Nazareth, and she is also Our Lady of Help, who sets out from her town “with haste” (Lk 1:39) to be of service to others.This interplay of justice and tenderness, of contemplation and concern for others, is what makes the ecclesial community look to Mary as a model of evangelization.” (288)
There are several possible informal titles of this exhortation, such as “The Basic Care and Feeding of Christians and Christianity.” In many ways, I see it as a message to the worn out and burned out, addressed to those of us who feel the world is moving away from us, reminding us that all is not lost. It’s a call to get back to basics, basics of prayer, spirituality, community and Church. He doesn’t ask us to get rid of anybody or push anyone away, the only people he suggests parting company with are those moving away from faith aimlessly whose attention we can’t get. The commitment to community is absolute, and although we called to be transforming forces we’re not called to set up our own little perfect world, a fortress against the powers of evil. Evil is to be resisted, people are not.
The value of the individual is an absolute, provided it is all humans equally. Service to humanity is the goal of human structures, and it’s a sacred task. Dialogue and diversity are seen as gifts; unconditional respect for other points of view an imperative. The Pope doesn’t tell us how to structure our states or our economies, but what their moral imperatives are.
The saying on our lips, time and time again, is the kerygma: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” It can’t be replaced, or moved away from; everything relates to it and comes back to it.
We are all called to be spirit filled evangelizers, our parishes are to be on permanent mission. The “preferential option for the poor” isn’t an option for us as committed Christians. We’re to draw our strength through a deep encounter with Christ, and if our energy wanes we need to keep turning back to Christ, our source. Our outreach is to everyone, everywhere, every time, and we can’t write anyone off or refuse dialogue. Dialogue a means of evangelization and peacemaking. of accomplishing justice. It doesn’t mean giving away what we believe or the essence of the Gospel, but finding a new way together in harmony with the Gospel.
Proclaiming the Gospel means getting down and dirty, it means being close to others and in the midst of the world around us. We’re not coming from a superior, separate culture that’s a model for what society ought to be like, but we’re witnesses of the Kingdom of God that’s already breaking into our midst. Evangelizing means we’re being evangelized ourselves, we aren’t coming from above or below but alongside.
There are skills we’re called to develop that are a challenge. Recognizing the presence of God in every human, no matter their social status or appearance, is tough. Working out what it means to “accompany” someone is sketched out, and that will probably take a lifetime. Being open to an encounter with Christ is something we all work at, especially when we’re feeling tired, dejected and our work has been in vain. Pope Francis is wise enough not to give us every answer, point out every problem, solve every challenge for us. His directions bear the wisdom of long years of prayer and practice. The more important thing to remember is God is the beginning and end, Christ models how we should live, and the Spirit gives us the ongoing support and nourishment we need. Remembering this in the midst of life is a challenge ourselves, and it’s good to be reminded where to turn: in many ways, we forget that our help is right with us, in plain sight.
The first proclamation is for us as much as everyone we meet: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.”