Teaching Our Faith — It’s all about Jesus

For this series of teaching editorials, writers will focus on the “Francis Effect,” especially in light of recent issues that our Holy Father has addressed.

In his homily during the “Mass for the Evangelization of Peoples,” celebrated on July 7, 2015, in Quito’s Parque Bicentenario (Bicentennial Park) in Ecuador, Pope Francis echoed the first words from his apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel”: “We evangelize not with grand words, or complicated concepts, but with the joy of the Gospel, which fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”

This is a wonderful reminder for those of us who think that either we do not know enough about our faith to evangelize or feel reluctant to impose our beliefs on another. For Pope Francis, evangelization does not consist of proselytizing but emerges through attraction. Think about the love of your life, a great art work or the sunset. That which attracts us brings about a desire to know more, to encounter and to enter into relationship. Consider Pope Francis’s visit to the United States at the end of last month. Wasn’t it his attractiveness that drew such crowds? People — drawn in by his simplicity, his kindness, his sincerity and his joy — were willing to travel great distances, stand in long lines or sit glued to their computers and TV sets.

In “Evangelii Gaudium” or “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis provides a blueprint for how we as Catholics can “attract” others to Jesus.

1. We attract first with joy. Pope Francis writes in paragraph 10: “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral!”

I had a non-Catholic ask me one time why, if Catholics truly believe that they receive the body and blood of Christ by taking Communion, they often come back with such frowns on their faces? This is a sobering thought and gentle reminder that we should look like people filled with the love of the Lord. What do others see when they look into our eyes, hear our words or experience our actions? Do they see the love, mercy and gentleness of Jesus?

2. We attract through encounter. Pope Francis writes in paragraph three: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them.”

In another section, Pope Francis quotes Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in saying that “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

The word encounter surfaces 34 times throughout “Evangelii Gaudium,” which emphasizes the importance that the pope places on its role in evangelization. Indeed, our Holy Father constantly invites us to encounter Jesus, encounter our neighbor, encounter the stranger, encounter those in need and encounter those discarded by society. In paragraph 272 Pope Francis reminds us that

“Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God.”

3. We attract with a missionary spirit. Pope Francis writes in paragraph 49: “Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

Imagine what it would be like if we truly realized the vision of our parishes as serving their entire geographic boundaries and took the work of our parishes and our rich rituals and prayer life to the streets through baptisms, anointing of the sick, blessings, education and service. What an attraction! Think about the ministry already carried out — serving, advocating, caring, loving — beyond our parish boundaries by reaching out to the peripheries. Through this missionary spirit, we bring the light of Christ to others and receive his light from those we serve. As we do this, we attract others to the beauty of Christ and the church and what God has to offer through this encounter.

Through words and actions, Pope Francis demonstrates what it means to evangelize in a general audience address on May 22, 2013:

“To evangelize, then, we must be open to the action of the Spirit of God, without fear of what He asks us or where He leads us. Let us entrust ourselves to Him! He enables us to live and bear witness to our faith, and enlighten the hearts of those we meet.”

Sal Della Bella,
Director of Evangelization
Archdiocese of Louisville

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