Spirit-Filled Evangelizers

24 Mar

Pope Francis 4In the final chapter of his apostolic exhortation on the joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium, or “EG”), Pope Francis exhorts us to be bold, Spirit-filled evangelizers. He calls all of us to proclaim the Gospel “not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence” (EG 259). To that end, he shares with us his thoughts on the proper spirit of the new evangelization (EG 260), yet recognizing that his words of encouragement can only go so far. We must allow our hearts to be set on fire by the Holy Spirit! (EG 261).

The Holy Father offers some reasons for a renewed missionary impulse in our time. He is looking for a new generation of evangelizers who are truly willing to “pray and work” (EG 262). He especially encourages Eucharistic adoration, but then he expects the faithful to leave the adoration chapel ready to be a blessing to others in their need.

Every period of history poses its own unique challenges to those who would be missionaries. Yet there is much that we can and must learn from the saints of previous generations, “who were filled with joy, unflagging courage, and zeal in proclaiming the Gospel” (EG 263).

The Pope emphasizes that the primary reason for evangelization is the love of Jesus—a love that urges us to love Him more deeply in return and to share that love with others (EG 264). We need to implore His grace daily, begging that our love may not grow cold or lukewarm. We must spend time with Jesus. In that regard, the Holy Father especially encourages us to slowly contemplate the pages of the Gospel, reading it from the heart.

Our enthusiasm for evangelization is based on the conviction that the Gospel responds to a universal hunger for God (EG 265). We must sustain this conviction by constantly renewing and savoring our own friendship with Jesus. The Pope pointedly notes that a true missionary never ceases to be a disciple. Further, he warns that “a person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain, and in love will convince nobody” (EG 266). A missionary must be willing to set aside all other motivations and agendas and “evangelize for the greater glory of the Father who loves us” and who sent His only Son to redeem us (EG 267).

God saves us as a people, and His love extends to all. Evangelization must entail entering others’ lives. We simply can’t be evangelists if we don’t have a passion for God’s people (EG 268). Rather than keep ourselves at arm’s length, Our Lord wants us “to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others” (EG 270).

The Holy Father stresses that we must truly become men and women “of the people” (EG 271) and not their critic or enemy. He quotes several Scripture passages that exhort us to live humbly and peaceably with others, always seeking to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Living this way is not an “extra” or part of our “job,” but rather part of our deepest identity 24/7 (EG 273). Every person has inestimable dignity and value, and therefore every person is eminently worthy of our giving (EG 274).

We must avoid getting caught up in the pursuit of selfish comforts or pleasures, which the Pope says can easily occur when we do not have a deep spiritual life (EG 275). When that happens, we lose hope and are fooled into believing that things are not going to change—even though Jesus Christ has definitively triumphed over sin and death!

Instead, Christ must always be the wellspring of our hope. We do well to remember that the Resurrection is not merely an event in the distant past, but rather is an ongoing reality that has power in the present (EG 276). If we rely on our own steam rather than the power of the Resurrection, we will grow weary and eventually give up (EG 277). While we don’t always see tangible results from our evangelistic labors, the Pope says we have an interior certainty that God is always mysteriously at work, allowing our efforts to bear fruit in His good time (EG 279-80).

The Pope concludes this section with some reflections on the missionary power of intercessory prayer, through which we seek the good of others (EG 281). Authentic prayer opens us up to others, leading us to be grateful for the gift of others (cf. Romans 1:8), as we become more conscious of what God is doing in their lives. Our prayer frees us from self-absorption and opens us to others’ needs (EG 282). Our prayers of intercession allow God’s power, love, and faithfulness to shine ever more clearly in the midst of His people (EG 283).

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