Earlier this week, Pope Francis published a document called the “Apostolic Exhortation”, written to every Catholic in the world. While this document will likely garner most of its attention for its blunt challenge to fiscal policies which have benefited the rich at the cost of the poor, Pope Francis writes an incredibly beautiful yet challenging piece on the topic of evangelism. I am not a Catholic and rarely follow the details of what goes on in the Catholic church, but I was completely drawn in to what Pope Francis had to say. His prose is so moving yet so generous to his audience, it is impossible not to reflect on the wisdom of his words. Let’s put it this way: the full title of the document is “Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium of the Holy Father Francis to the Bishops, Clergy, Consecrated Persons and the Lay Faithful on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World”. And I still read it.
So powerful are Pope Francis’s words in this document that I am simply going to quote some of the passages so you can let the power of the prose move you themselves.
“Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.”
“We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?”
“The Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane, but with no less intensity: “Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others”.”
“Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow… And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ”.”
“In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by by the power of his Spirit. The real newness is the newness which God himself mysteriously brings about and inspires, provokes, guides and accompanies in a thousand ways. The life of the Church should always reveal clearly that God takes the initiative, that “he has loved us first” (1 Jn 4:19) and that he alone “gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:7). This conviction enables us to maintain a spirit of joy in the midst of a task so demanding and challenging that it engages our entire life. God asks everything of us, yet at the same time he offers everything to us.”
“Lastly, we cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone.”
Am I a reformed Protestant heartily agreeing with and even endorsing a vision of evangelism defined by the Pope of the Catholic church? Why yes, I am. In fact, I daresay that the Pope understands global evangelism better than some churches who call themselves “evangelical”. Which just goes to prove that those who get it right don’t always get it right, and those who get it wrong don’t always get it wrong. God has been teaching me a lot about passing judgement on others: individuals and institutions. He is reminding me that if I desire to thrive in the mission field (or even just survive it), a black-and-white view of the world simply will not do. There is good and bad in everyone and everything and I must learn not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Evangelism is a messy business because God allows human beings to play a part in it, and sometimes we start thinking we’re the ones running the show. But in the end, God’s will is done, even in spite of us, and this is what we can take our joy in.