Pope Francis said Mass in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta on Friday morning. In remarks to the faithful following the readings of the day, the Holy Father focused on the nature of the work of Evangelization: it is an art and a discipline – never a vaunt and never a task to be done by rote – and the work of evangelization is never, never, “a walk in the park”.
Drawing on the Readings of the Day for Friday, the liturgical memorial of the great priest and missionary to African slaves in the New World, St. Peter Claver, SJ, the Holy Father explained that the essence of evangelization is witness to Christ with one’s whole life.
Evangelizing is neither a vaunt, nor a rote task
Sadly, however, there are some Christians today, who live their lives of service as though they were mere functionaries – priests and lay people who boast of what they do:
“This is the boast: I am proud of myself. This reduces the Gospel to a function or even a source of pride: I go to preach the gospel and I’ve brought many people into the Church. To proselytize: that too is a source of pride. To evangelize is not to proselytize. That is, neither coast along, nor reduce the Gospel to rote work, nor to proselytize: none of these is really to evangelize. This is what Paul says here [in the 1st Letter to the Corinthians (9:16-19, 22b-27)]: ‘For me it is not a boast. For me it is a necessity’, adding, ‘one that is laid on me.’ A Christian has an obligation, the force of which is such as to make it like a heartfelt necessity to carry the name of Jesus.”
And what, then, ought to be the “style” by which we evangelize? “That,” responded Francis with the words of St. Paul, “of becoming all things to all people.” He went on to say, “Go and share in the lives of others: accompany them on their journey of faith, that they might grow in faith along their way.”
To evangelize is to give witness, without too many words
We must put ourselves in the other’s condition: not to get in others’ way, but to be on the way with them. Pope Francis recalled an episode during lunch with young people at World Youth Day in Krakow, when a boy asked him what he should say to a close friend who was an atheist:
“It’s a good question. We all know people far from the Church: what should we tell them? I said: ‘Look, the last thing you need to do is say something! begin to do, and he will see what you are doing and ask you about it; and when he asks you, then tell him.’ To evangelize is to give this testimony: I live the way I do, because I believe in Jesus Christ; I awaken in you a curiosity, so you ask me, ‘But why are you doing these things?’ The answer: ‘Because I believe in Jesus Christ and preach Jesus Christ and not just with the Word – you must proclaim the Word – but with your life.”
This is to evangelize, he said, “and this is done free of charge,” because, “we have freely received the Gospel.” Grace, salvation, can be neither bought nor sold: it is free. “We have to give it for free.”
To proclaim Christ is to live the faith, giving free the love of God
Pope Francis then recalled the figure of St. Peter Claver: a missionary, he noted, who, “who went off to preach the Gospel.” Perhaps, wondered Pope Francis, “he thought his future would be devoted to preaching. The Lord, however, asked him to be close to those, who had been ‘discarded’ at that time: the slaves, the black people who arrived there from Africa, to be sold”:
“This man did not stroll along saying he evangelized: he did not reduce evangelism to a rote task, and even to a proselytizing; he proclaimed Jesus Christ with his actions, speaking to the slaves, living with them, living like them – and there are many like him in the Church – many people who annihilate themselves to proclaim Jesus Christ – and all of us, brothers and sisters, have an obligation to evangelize – and that does not mean a knock on the neighbor’s door to say: ‘Christ is risen!’ – it is living the faith, talking about it with meekness, with love, with no desire to win an argument (It. convincere), but [to give it away] for free: giving away freely that, which God has given to me – that is what it means to evangelize.”