Human and joyful evangelizers
THIS current year (2018) is focused on deepening our understanding and appreciation of the vocation of the clergy and all consecrated persons. Indeed, they are human individuals who are to be “in this world, but not of this world”; they need to be deeply aware of both their “nothingness” / “humanness” as well as their “greatness” / “dignity.” Even in their weaknesses they are to manifest the overwhelming power and presence of the divine. The working of God’s grace within human limitations is indeed a profound mystery!
Insights from Pope Francis. Our Holy Father says: “That is how we have to see ourselves: poised between our utter shame and our sublime dignity. Dirty, impure, mean and selfish, yet at the same time, with feet washed, called and chosen to distribute the Lord’s multiplied loaves, blessed by our people, loved and cared for. Only mercy makes this situation bearable…. The mercy of God … is always ‘greater’ than our consciousness of our sinfulness” (June 2, 2016).
The priest or religious is to be “at the same time close to God and close to man; he is the ‘servant,’ who washes the feet and makes himself close to the weakest; he is the ‘good shepherd,’ who always cares for his flock” (November 20, 2015).
Growth through Self-examination. All Christians, including priests and religious, need to constantly examine their conscience and style of life. Pope Francis speaks of “discerning every day how my vocation is growing” (December 2, 2017). He offers a very brief examination of conscience for priests and religious: “Where is my heart? Among the people, praying with and for the people, involved in their joys and sufferings, or rather among the things of the world, worldly affairs, my private space?” (November 20, 2015).
For another approach, Francis suggests examining ourselves based on the “hymn to charity” in Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In addition, the pope has frequently spoken about the destructive effects of gossip. “The enemy of harmony in a religious community … is the spirit of gossip…. There is one image I like to use in describing the spirit of gossip. It is terrorism. Yes, terrorism, because those who speak ill of others do not do so publicly…. Please, bite your tongue in time” (December 2, 2017).
Joy in Ministry. Recall that the first major document issued by Pope Francis was Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). For Francis, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus…. With Christ joy is constantly born anew…. I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy” (EG 1).
Hidden in Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium are several creative expressions that remind us of the centrality of joy in our apostolate. “There are Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter” (EG 6). “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral” (EG 10). Christians must avoid anything that “turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses’” (EG 85). “Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the joy of evangelization!” (EG 83).
Evangelizing through Joy. For Pope Francis, every priest and religious should be a true apostle, “a person who transmits joy everywhere he goes. A heart filled with God is a happy heart that radiates an infectious joy; it is immediately evident! So let us not lose that joyful, humorous and even self-deprecating spirit which makes people amiable even in difficult situations. How beneficial is a good dose of humor!” (December 22, 2014).
“Like every other missionary disciple, the priest [and religious] makes the message joyful by his whole being” (April 13, 2017). Pope Francis concludes: “Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of missionary vigor!” (EG 109).