REFLECTION ON POPE FRANCIS’ APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION “EVANGELII GAUDIUM”
For Lent this year, I am participating in a young adult faith sharing group. During our first session, I made the comment that one of the reasons I love Lent is because it is a time for me to reconnect with God at an intimate level, seeing Lent as a personal time, just me and God. A few people at the table said they understood that, but they also saw it as a chance to evangelize and to teach others about Christ. To be honest, I wasn’t really thrilled to think about Lent in that way. For so long, I saw Lent as a time to reflect on how I could grow in my relationship with God. I was walking my Lenten journey alone, and I was ok with that.
In the weeks after that initial session, I have been thinking a lot about what my peers said: Lent was a time to reach out to others. For some reason, I had a hard time believing it. On Ash Wednesday we hear that “when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” (Matthew 6:6). I didn’t think we were supposed to invite others in. I also wasn’t enthused about being told I need to evangelize to people. I have never felt like I had the right gifts or talents to go out and evangelize and my idea of someone who evangelized was the stereotypical image: someone knocking at a door, expressing their desire to share God’s message, and then having the door slammed in their face. Not a very positive image.
And then I started reading Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel. The document outlines how Catholics, including the ordained, religious and laity, are called be become a missionary people “going forth” to bring the Word of God to all we meet with a joyful heart. Pope Francis writes that “each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 20) I felt like he was speaking directly to me, someone who is typically uncomfortable taking on the title of “evangelizer.”
Thankfully, Francis reminds us to be not afraid when we answer the call to become a “mission-oriented” Church, meaning a people who actively spread the Gospel by being open and loving towards all. We are not alone when following the call to be a missionary people. We have a God who loved us first and will always love us. We also are called to “rely on each other as brothers and sisters” (33). In paragraph after paragraph, Francis reiterates that we are to live in communion with others. We learn from each others’ experiences and benefit from each other’s talents.
With a supportive community, it becomes easier to “take the first step and become involved” in the work of the Church (24). Pope Francis used the example that we are reminded of each Holy Thursday; Christ washing the feet of his disciples to demonstrate how we are to get involved with our fellow brothers and sisters, embracing “human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others” (24). Francis understood that this is not an easy task to undertake because of various challenges present in the world around us, such as issues with the media not sharing the truth of Church teachings, the ever increasing individualism in our culture, and even the issues within Church leadership and clergy doing things in the way they always have been, instead of actively spreading the Gospel message to all. He states “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security” (49).
As I read Evangelli Gaudium, I kept reflecting back on my own life and my fears of following the call to evangelize. To be able to share the Gospel message, I needed to change my image of what one who evangelizes does. They don’t just stay inside a church telling those around them how to act as a Christian. Rather we are called to go “be God’s leaven in the midst of humanity. It means proclaiming and bringing God’s salvation into our world” and to help everyone “feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel” (114). I can use the gifts and talents that I know God has given me for this very mission.
Reflecting on what I read and my current calling, I found that I shouldn’t have been so apprehensive to embracing the call to evangelize. I feel as though I am already doing it. As my faith becomes integrated into every aspect of my life, it becomes easier and more natural to want to share what I have experienced. Pope Francis reminds us:
How much good it does us when he once more touches our lives and impels us to share his new life! What then happens is that “we speak of what we have seen and heard” (1 Jn 1:3). The best incentive for sharing the Gospel comes from contemplating it with love, lingering over its pages and reading it with the heart. If we approach it in this way, its beauty will amaze and constantly excite us. (264)
My way of evangelizing may not be like my friends’ ways, but we all share the same message. I have friends who have a passion and a gift for inviting others to actively participate in the Mass and sacraments. I have other friends who can recite exact phrases from the Bible or other liturgical documents. I can use my own talents to share the Gospel by inviting others into a “personal dialogue,” giving others the “experience of being listened to and understood” and being patient as I walk with others on their journey (128).
Lent calls us to spend some time in our inner room, with the door locked, praying to the Father in secret but it also asks much more of us. It is not a time to keep my faith hidden from the world, but a chance to share it will all I encounter. Using my words, relationships, and actions, I can spread the Gospel as I live out the commandment given to us by Christ: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn15:12)