“How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction!” Pope Francis Evangelii Gaudium 261
During the month of January I was blessed with the opportunity to lead a group of new missionaries through the final section of Pope Francis’ magisterial document on Evangelization Evangelii Gaudium. We spent some weeks carefully studying how we can become better evangelists, filled with the Holy Spirit, convinced of God’s love and abounding in the joy of the Lord. I wanted to write on some of our finding and share some reflections from our time together in hopes that it will bless others who didn’t have the privilege of being present in our sessions.
One of the central themes in the Catholic vision for true Evangelization is the need to pray first and work second. A Spirit-filled Evangelist is one whose life is devoted to prayer. He or she must be convinced that only through prayer, through a constant drawing from the well of life (Deus Caritas Est 7) will one’s mission or testimony be authentic. As Pope Francis states:
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. (Ev Gaud 262)
Alone we cannot even begin to complete the great work of evangelization Jesus has entrusted to us. Our mission becomes a mere duty, an ethical choice rather than an offspring of personal encounter and love. I am continually reminded of Pope Benedict’s words “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (Deus Caritas Est 1) What this means is that we do not profess our faith nor share Jesus’ love because it is the right thing to do or because it is a radical idea. We do it because our love of Jesus impels us (2 Cor 5:14) to share our joy with those around us. This in turn is our principal way of loving Him. Going to Mass and even adoration is “fragmented” (Deus Caritas est 14) without an equal desire to love our neighbor and share with them the True Bread of Life. We need to reach out and meet the most urgent needs of our brothers and sisters around us. “For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (I John 4:20b) And yet as Saint John Paul II said we know that our neighbors “are hungry for God, not just for bread and freedom.” (Redemptoris Missio 83)
In spite of all possible exhortations to love and evangelize we know ourselves all too well. My desire easily flags and my mind becomes easily distracted by the world. I struggle to stay focused on the light of Christ as I live among other lesser lights of the world. We recently spent a month serving among the indigenous tribes of Fort Belknap Reservation in North Montana. One day we crossed the border to Canada and stopped at the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park in South Alberta. It was so beautiful. As we left we stopped at a gas station and picked up a flyer that discussed light pollution. It showed how many lights were visible from space 50 years ago and how many more are visible today. All this “light pollution” makes it harder to see the stars in the sky at night.
I considered that the spiritual life is so similar. When we surround ourselves with so many lesser lights, television, nightly news, talk radio, internet, etc. We can find it more difficult to encounter the living God. How often do I spend reading my Bible or in prayer? How often do I spend watching television or listening to someone else interpret my reality for me? We must go to the true source. Without this vital and often encounter with Jesus we will struggle to see His light, hear His voice, be His voice.
We should have a great zeal to share His love. Yet we cannot simply conjure up the joy, share a love we do not fully possess. “Love grows through love.” (Deus Caritas Est 18)
The words of Pope Francis give us direction and comfort when he says
What kind of love would not feel the need to speak of the beloved, to point him out, to make him known? If we do not feel an intense desire to share this love, we need to pray insistently that he will once more touch our hearts. (Ev Gaud 264)
He will hear us if we ask He will pour out joy into our hearts and a burning passion for the lost. Ask God right now for a joyful strength to live the life of a Spirit Filled Evangelizer and He, who is so generous will give it (James 1:5) “There is nothing more precious which we can give to others.” (Ev Gaud 264)