Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

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Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spirit-filled evangelizers
Fifth in a series of five reflections on Pope Francis’s ‘The Joy of the Gospel’

by Bishop William S. Skylstad, for the Inland Register

(From the September 18, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

In his remarkable apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis concludes his reflection in the fifth, last chapter on the spirit and attitude that must undergird our approach to evangelization.

Our hearts need to be on fire, enthusiastic. As he says, we need to be spirited – “some interior impulse which encourages, motivates, nourishes, gives meaning to our individual and communal activity.” (261) The practical implication for us is that we should be filled with fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love, and attraction. All of this must be guided by the Holy Spirit so that we can go forth boldly, energetically, enthused. In such a way, we as Church are renewed and fulfill the mandate to go forth and reach out to all with the love of Jesus.

As the Holy Father observes, the reasons for this renewed missionary impulse necessarily involves work and prayer. As Church, we must examine our depth of prayer enhanced by reading the Word, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and the celebration of Eucharist. We need to remember that contemplation on the depth and meaning of the Gospel responds to the deepest yearning of the human heart.

We are God’s people, all of us together. If we are to be good evangelizers, we should have passion for being close to the lives of people. This passion in its own way brings great joy to the human heart. “Mission at once is a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people.” (268) In a remarkable way, Jesus shows his closeness to all people. Nothing less should be expected from us as a community of faith. “Moved by his (Jesus’) example, we want to enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to their concerns, helping them materially and spiritually in their needs, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep, arm in arm with others, we are committed to building a new world.” (269) What an exciting and necessary vision!

A continuing personal encounter with the Lord Jesus is critically important. We must recognize the difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing him personally. If we are not convinced, enthusiastic, certain, in love with Jesus, we will convince nobody. As we look to the world about us through the lens of hope, we should not come across as an enemy who criticizes and condemns. “We are told do so quite clearly: ‘do so with gentleness and reverence’ and ‘if possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.’” (271) In many ways, this has become a signature message of Pope Francis. His words and actions constantly reinforce this observation.

Each one of us baptized is on mission. In whatever walk of life we find ourselves, we are disciples of Jesus. This approach is not simply an “add on” to our lives, specific to some but not to others. Rather, this must be a common mission for all of us. As we accept this responsibility, each of us can be seen as having “soul,” as ones from our deepest selves who are perceived to want to be with others and for others.

In this challenging mission, we must not allow ourselves to fall prey to pessimism, negativity, loss of hope. If any of those qualities afflict us, these attitudes make it impossible to be an effective missionary. The spirit and reality of Jesus’ Resurrection should constantly motivate us. Jesus’ Resurrection is not an event of the past. Imbedded within it is a vital power which has permeated the world. When all seems to be dead, the signs of the Resurrection spring up. Keeping a missionary spirit alive in our hearts means trusting in the Holy Spirit. We must never forget that we have been sealed with that gift at the time of our Confirmation!

St. Paul (What an evangelizer he was!) reminds us of the need for prayer: “I constantly pray with you in every one of my prayers for all of you … because I hold you in my heart.” (281) Central to his prayer must always be a prayer of gratitude. And it is this spirit of gratitude that keeps us from being self-centered. The great saints and all of the holy ones were always people of prayer.

Finally, Pope Francis concludes this apostolic exhortation with a brief reflection on Mary, the mother of evangelization. We can never fully engage the spirit of evangelization without her as mother of the Church. When we look to the spirit of Mary, we appreciate the qualities of love and tenderness. “In her we see that mercy and tenderness are not virtues of the weak, but of the strong who need not treat others poorly in order to feel important themselves.” (288)

With Mary, we proceed confidently toward the future with great hope: “Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)

(Bishop Skylstad is Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Spokane.)

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