Rome (Agenzia Fides) - Christians proclaim the Lord, they do not proclaim themselves. The Church grows "by attraction", and not "by proselytism". But when Christian life loses sight of the horizon of evangelization, horizon of proclamation, it grows sick "it closes in on itself, becomes self-referential, it becomes atrophied". These are some of the many evocative passages offered by Pope Francis during the general audience today, Wednesday January 11, inaugurating a new cycle of catechesis dedicated to what the Bishop of Rome himself defined as "an urgent and decisive theme for Christian life: the passion for evangelization, that is, apostolic zeal. It is a question - the Pontiff remarked - of a vital dimension for the Church: the community of Jesus' disciples is indeed born apostolic".
During his catechesis, Pope Francis anticipated the guidelines of what, in the next appointments on Wednesays will become "a process to rediscover the evangelising passion, starting with the Scriptures and the Church's teaching, to draw apostolic zeal from its sources". "Then, added the Pope, we will approach some living sources, some witnesses who have rekindled within the Church the passion for the Gospel, so that they may help us to rekindle the fire that the Holy Spirit wants to keep burning within us ". Today's audience has already recalled, in a kind of introductory premise, indications and suggestions that will be developed during the next papal catecheses.
"The community of Jesus' disciples, said the Pope, is in fact born apostolic, born missionary, not proselytizing", because "being missionary, being apostolic, evangelizing, is not the same as proselytizing". It is the Holy Spirit, and not a human effort of conquest, which "moulds the outgoing Church", so that it "is not closed in on itself, but turned outward, a contagious witness of Jesus", reaching out "to radiate His light to the ends of the earth". And when Christian life loses sight of the horizon of evangelization, horizon of proclamation, "it grows sick: it closes in on itself, becomes self-referential, it becomes atrophied".
In order to suggest the unique and incomparable dynamic with which faith in Jesus can be communicated from person to person, Pope Francis started from the Gospel episode of the call of Matthew. The man who would later become an Apostle and Evangelist was a 'tax collector,' that is, he collected taxes on behalf of the Roman empire that occupied Palestine. In other words, he was a collaborator, a traitor to the people", surrounded by the contempt of the people: "he was a 'publican', as they were called. But in the eyes of Jesus, Matthew is a man, with both his miseries and his greatness. Be aware of this: Jesus does not stop at the adjective – Jesus always seeks out the noun and "draws near to Him, because every man is loved by God. "Even this wretch?" Yes, even this wretch. Indeed, the Gospel says He came for this very wretch: “I have come for sinners, not for the righteous.” This gaze of Jesus is really beautiful. It sees the other, whoever he may be, as the recipient of love, is the beginning of the evangelising passion. Everything starts from this gaze, which we learn from Jesus". While sometimes "Even as Christians we say to ourselves: is he one of us or not? This, added the Pontiff, is not the gaze of Jesus: He always looks at each person with mercy and indeed with predilection. And Christians are called to do as Christ did, looking like Him especially at the so-called “distant ones.” Indeed, Matthew's account of the call ends with Jesus saying, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”. And if any one of us considers themselves righteous, Jesus is far away. He draws near to our limitations, to our miseries, to heal them".
Taking up the thread of the Gospel account, the Pope went on to note that "the second step", after the first glance, is that of "movement". "Matthew was sitting at the tax office; Jesus said to him: “Follow me.” And “ he rose and followed Him”. The first thing Jesus does is to detach Matthew from power: from sitting to receive others, He sets him in motion towards others, not receiving, no: he goes out to others. He makes him leave a position of supremacy in order to put him on an equal footing with his brothers and sisters and open to him the horizons of service". Inspired by the story of the evangelist Matthew himself, the Pope noted in an excerpt that "It is a non-Christian position. No, you go to seek them out, you take the first step". Then, still following the story of the Gospel episode, Pope Francis remarked how Matthew, after getting up and following Jesus, does not change the environmental context in which he is immersed to seek "new spiritual experiences", but returns home and prepares "a great banquet" for Jesus, at which "a great crowd of publicans participates". That is to say, he returns to his world, among "people like him". But "he returns there changed and with Jesus". His apostolic zeal does not begin in a new, pure, and ideal, distant place, but there it begins where he lives, with the people he knows. Here is the message for us: we do not have to wait until we are perfect and have come a long way following Jesus to bear witness to Him, no. Our proclamation begins today, there where we live. And it does not begin by trying to convince others, no, not to convince: by bearing every day to the beauty of the Love that has looked upon us and lifted us up. And it is this beauty, communicating this beauty that will convince people – not communicating ourselves but the Lord Himself".
We, continued the Pope referring to the baptized, "are the ones who proclaim the Lord, we don’t proclaim ourselves, we don’t proclaim a political party, an ideology. No: we proclaim Jesus. We need to put Jesus in contact with the people, without convincing them but allowing the Lord do the convincing". In this context, the Pontiff once again quoted the expression used by Pope Benedict on May 13, 2007 in Aparecida, in his Homily at the Mass for the Inauguration of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean: “The Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by ‘attraction’” . "Once", continued Pope Francis, recounting point-blank an experience he had when he was Primate of the Church in Argentina, " I remember, in a hospital in Buenos Aires, the women religious who worked there left because they were too few, and they couldn’t run the hospital. And a community of sisters from Korea came (...). They came down to visit the sick in the hospital, but they didn't speak a word of Spanish. They only spoke Korean and the patients were happy, because they commented: “Well done! These nuns, bravo, bravo!” “But what did the sister say to you?” “Nothing, but with her gaze she spoke to me, they communicated Jesus,” not themselves, with their gaze, with their gestures. To communicate Jesus, not ourselves: This is attraction, the opposite of proselytism.
This attractive witness, this joyful witness is the goal to which Jesus leads us with His loving gaze and with the outgoing movement that His Spirit raises up in our hearts". (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 11/1/2023)
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