Rome (Agenzia Fides) - The mission of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus is not a "service" self-produced by Christians. Proclamation "comes from an encounter with Jesus". In every true apostolic work "we proclaim him, not ourselves", out of gratitude for "unmerited" gifts received, going into the world "like lambs among wolves", without relying on "material certainties" with the presumption of acquiring relevance and prestige. These are the distinctive features of the Christian mission that Pope Francis highlighted today, Wednesday, February 15, during the General Audience, in the Paul VI Audience Hall on the cycle of catecheses dedicated to the passion for evangelizing and apostolic zeal.
The reflections and emphasis proposed by the Pontiff during the catechesis were inspired by the discourse addressed by Christ to his disciples and reported in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, known among exegetes as the "missionary discourse", which - the Pope underlined – can be considered as "the constitution" of the Christian message.
In that discourse, Jesus calls his disciples "to be with Him and to go and preach". In the dynamics of the Christian proclamation we always find the co-presence of these two elements, "staying" and going", apparently contradictory. For Jesus - the Pontiff remarked - "there is no going without staying and there is no staying without going".
Before sending the disciples on mission, Christ - the Gospel says - "calls them to Himself". And this - explained the Bishop of Rome - shows that the "Proclamation is born from the encounter with the Lord; every Christian activity, especially the mission, begins from there. Not from what is learnt in an academy. No, no! It begins from the encounter with the Lord. Witnessing Him, in fact, means radiating Him; but, if we do not receive His light, we will be extinguished; if we do not spend time with Him, we will bear ourselves instead of Him—I am bringing myself and not Him—and it will all be in vain. So only the person who remains with Him can bring the Gospel of Jesus. Someone who does not remain with Him cannot bear the Gospel". At the same time - added the Pontiff - in the dynamism proper to the Christian faith "there is no staying without going. In fact, following Christ is not an inward looking fact: without proclamation, without service, without mission, the relationship with Jesus does not grow". Jesus himself sends his disciples to proclaim the Gospel before having completed their preparation. He does not ask them to become professionals in communication and recruitment methods first. On the contrary, "shortly after having called them, He is already sending them! This means that the mission experience is part of Christian formation".
Continuing his catechesis, Pope Francis then focused his attention on "three aspects" proposed by Jesus in his "missionary discourse" reported in the Gospel of Matthew and concerning the "why to proclaim, what to proclaim and how to proclaim". Starting from Jesus' own words, the Successor of Peter highlighted some of the "genetics" that characterize the apostolic mission entrusted by Christ to his disciples and distinguish it from any campaign to promote political, cultural or religious ideas and positions.
Regarding "Why proclaim", Pope Francis underlined that the ultimate reason for Christian proclamation "lies in a few words of Jesus, which it is good for us to remember: 'Freely you have received, freely give'". The proclamation - explained the Bishop of Rome - "does not begin from us, but from the beauty of what we have received for free, without merit: meeting Jesus, knowing Him, discovering that we are loved and saved. It is such a great gift that we cannot keep it to ourselves, we feel the need to spread it". And this impetus is manifested "in the same style, in gratuitousness. In other words: we have a gift, so we are called to make a gift of ourselves; we have received a gift and our vocation is to make a gift of ourselves to others; there is in us the joy of being children of God, it must be shared with our brothers and sisters who do not yet know it! This is the reason for the proclamation. Going forth and bringing the joy of what we have received".
Regarding "what to announce", Pope Francis remarked that the first and foremost "content" of every work of apostolate is to repeat and testify to everyone that "God is near". Preaching even in the Church often urge people "to do something, and that is fine", but the main reality to indicate to the world "is that He is near". We – continued the Pontiff "always want to be in the centre, we want to be protagonists, we are more inclined to do than to let ourselves be moulded, to speak than to listen. But, if what we do comes first, we will still be the protagonists. Instead, the proclamation must give primacy to God: to give the primacy to God, the first place to God, and to give to others the opportunity to welcome Him, to realise that He is near".
Regarding the "third point" concerning "how to proclaim" the Gospel, Pope Francis remarked that the traits of gratuitousness, gratitude and trust in the work of Christ himself must also shape and move the ways in which Christ's salvation is announced and witnessed. "I send you out as sheep among wolves" Jesus says to the disciples when he sends them to proclaim His Gospel. Therefore – the Pope commented – Jesus "does not ask us to be able to face the wolves, that is, to be able to argue, to offer counter arguments, and to defend ourselves". Worldly reasoning would aim to reach positions of prestige and relevance to ensure the success of their propaganda strategies. Instead, Jesus asks his disciples to go into the world as lambs, meek and willing to sacrifice. "If you don’t want to be sheep, the Lord will not defend you from the wolves. Deal with it as best you can". As Saint John Chrysostom, a Church Father quoted by Pope Francis, already suggested, ‘As long as we are lambs, we will conquer, and even if we are surrounded by many wolves, we will overcome them. But if we become wolves—‘Ah, how clever, look, I feel good about myself’—we will be defeated, because we will be deprived of the shepherd’s help. He does not shepherd wolves, but lambs’. Jesus himself, instead of prescribing what to bring on a mission, says what "not to bring". Sometimes - the Pope continued - one sees some apostles, some person who relocates, some Christian that says he is an apostle and has given his life to the Lord, and he is carrying a lot of luggage. But this is not of the Lord. The Lord makes you lighten your load". In the chapter of the Gospel quoted, Jesus himself tells his disciples not to take with them "gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, or bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff". In this way - underlined the Pope, in the concluding part of his catechesis - Jesus says "not to lean on material certainties, but to go into the world without worldliness". The Gospel proclaims itself "by showing Jesus rather than talking about Jesus. And how do we show Jesus? With our witness. And finally, by going together, in community: the Lord sends all the disciples, but no one goes alone. The apostolic Church is completely missionary and in the mission it finds its unity". (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 15/2/2023)
ASIA/HONG KONG - Bishop Stephen Chow to "La Civiltà Cattolica": Many Chinese Catholics hope for a meeting between Pope Francis and President Xi Jinping
ASIA/TURKEY - Iskederun and Antioch, faith amid the rubble. The construction of a pastoral center to celebrate the Eucharist is being studied
AFRICA/CAPE VERDE - Cape Verdeans begin the journey to celebrate the first 500 years of the Gospel on the Island of Santiago