May 30, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

We are challenged to be Spirit-filled evangelizers

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinPope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), is filled with references to the Holy Spirit.

In his first chapter, the pope writes: “Life in the Spirit, which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ,” is the opposite of the anxious, guilt-ridden, superficial way of life that far too many of us experience. “That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life,” the Holy Father tells us. “It is not God’s will for us” (#2). The alternative is the meaningful, joy-filled way of life that Christ taught us by his words and his example.

In his final chapter, Pope Francis exclaims: “How I long for the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction! Yet I realize that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts” (#261).

The pope challenges all of us—no matter who we are—to be “Spirit-filled evangelizers,” disciples of Jesus Christ whose hearts are on fire, who have a keen sense of mission, and who never hesitate to proclaim the Good News (#259).

In the sacraments of baptism and confirmation, we received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are members of the community of faith, the Church, and have accepted the responsibility that Christ entrusted to all his disciples: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). This great commission belongs to each one of us individually and to the whole Church. We fulfill this responsibility, each in our own way, according to the gifts and talents given to us as stewards of our baptismal calling.

Most of us have never considered ourselves “missionaries,” let alone “Spirit-filled evangelizers.” The image of evangelizing seems strangely contrary to the Catholic ethos. Something in us protests: We are not fundamentalists. We do not wear our faith on our sleeve. We were taught to be more reserved in our witness to the faith.

While it’s true that we Catholics have always “stood out” from other Christians in our worship, our devotions (especially to Mary and the saints) and our observances (Lenten abstinence and meatless Fridays, for example), we have never been “in your face” when it comes to sharing our faith. And now, we are challenged “to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing” (#273).

Pope Francis knows that he is calling us to move beyond “our comfort zones” and to define ourselves not as Catholics who simply do what is expected of us, but who acknowledge and accept a very different role for ourselves as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ.

“My mission of being in the heart of the people is not just a part of my life or a badge I can take off,” the pope says. “It is not an ‘extra’ of just another moment in life. Instead, it is something I cannot uproot from my being without destroying my very self. I am a mission on this Earth; that is the reason why I am here in this world” (#273). Strong words from a man who believes passionately that he (like all of us) is called to burn with the fire of God’s love and to live the Gospel in every fiber of his being.

This is an impossible expectation for us fragile, sinful human beings unless we are filled with the grace of the Spirit. “Christ, risen and glorified, is the well-spring of our hope,” the pope assures us. “He will not deprive us of the help we need to carry out the mission which he has entrusted to us” (#275). We have received his Spirit, and so we have the power to cast off the chains we have forged for ourselves and to work wonders in Jesus’ name.

As we approach the Solemnity of Pentecost, let’s look to the example of the Virgin Mary. “With the Holy Spirit, Mary is always present in the midst of the people. She joined the disciples in praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14), and thus made possible the missionary outburst which took place at Pentecost” (#284).

Holy Mary, Mother of God and our mother, help us be ready to receive the Spirit of life into our hearts—this Pentecost and always! †

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