“The power of grace … comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we … go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others.” These words are from Pope Francis’ Holy Thursday Chrism Mass homily.
The day before this column is published, more than 100 priests, deacons, consecrated and lay pastoral leaders will gather at Flaget Center for an Archdiocesan Leadership Institute to prepare for the new evangelization. We bring ourselves and the Gospels.
Consider what happens when our “self” and the Gospel meet as we consider how to improve our proclamation of the Gospels. There is an interplay, what we often call a synergy in which one element bumps against another, and in the bump, both elements (i.e., our “self’ and the proclamation of the Gospels) become better and stronger. Pope Francis calls this interplay and its outward movement “grace comes alive.” I have been thinking about this Chrism Mass homily since he gave it on Holy Thursday.
One of our themes this year for the new evangelization has been “Pray First.” When we pray first, for instance, with the upcoming readings for the weekend, we, in a sense, take the Gospel with us: The good news of Jesus Christ but also Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each time we meditate alone, at Mass, or in small groups, we are again shaped by the words of the Gospel. It might be the words of Jesus himself, one of his parables, or a miracle, or some great and heroic deed.
Indeed, during these first days of Easter, we are treated to a reflection on his appearances after the Resurrection. I recall making a retreat years ago directed by Father George Aschenbrenner, S.J., on the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ. I especially like John, but all are rich and provide a wonderful foundation for prayer. I counted only five chapters to read all four gospel accounts of the resurrection and appearances of Jesus.
Pope Francis says that the words of the Gospel are best proclaimed through our “selves” — through lives of faithful witness. At the core of the new evangelization is the credible, real, and believable witness of the Gospel lived. People can detect an authentic living of the Gospel. That is why so many are drawn so quickly to Pope Francis. He pays a hotel bill, and people see the Gospel flashing in neon lights.
The same pattern seemed to follow Mother Teresa of Calcutta and, I suspect, Francis of Assisi. Our Holy Father also is saying something else. Without the Gospel, giving of ourselves can become a narcissistic action. We all know people who have a little too much “self” in their giving. Jesus said something about that in choosing the publican in the back pew over the Pharisee, who was sitting in front in the synagogue telling God all the reasons God should love him!
By the way, if you want to identify with one of the central figures in the post-resurrection narratives, follow St. Peter. The brash Peter of the early Gospels, humbled by his three-fold denial of Jesus at the time of the Passion, is changed. He is swimming ashore at the sight of the Risen Master and listening carefully to Jesus’ advice to “feed my sheep” as a way to complete his love of Jesus. Then, keep reading the Acts of the Apostles, and you will see the humble and credible witness of Peter, who with all of his heart preached not himself but the Gospel of Jesus.
In his Holy Thursday Chrism homily, Pope Francis said something else to the priests that at first I wasn’t sure about and had to think about some more. He said that a priest who never goes out from self and anoints little becomes a manager, never hears warm, heartfelt words of thanks, and loses zeal.
The part I needed to think about was neither the call to go out and anoint nor the part about maintaining zeal. It was the part about never hearing “warm, heartfelt words of thanks.” At first, this struck me as a bit self-serving. After all, while we all like warm words of thanks, this shouldn’t be why we serve. Then I reflected that the Pope is saying something more. It is this: Our zeal is shaped in communion with others.
Put simply, to be evangelizers, we need each other. No one has all the gifts, and yet each has some. By ourselves, we either sit at our desks or fall victim to becoming the lone ranger who does not announce the Messiah but pretends to be one. We know this for sure when we cannot accept rejection for our efforts. No, the true evangelizer who brings self and Gospel to the enterprise is on the lookout for collaborators in this ministry. And guess what happens in this collaboration: the evangelizer stumbles upon “warm, heartfelt words of thanks” and is deepened in zeal!
Let “grace come alive.” Read the Resurrection appearances, make them your own, and bring yourself and the Gospel to others. Do it for Christ, and do it with others. And accept those “warm, heartfelt words of thanks” along the way as a means to sustain and grow your zeal.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz