Ebb and flow


29 Apr 2023

Pope Francis’ prayer intention for May is a reminder that our lives are a continual journey of finding, losing, and rediscovering God’s call to us.

At first hearing Pope Francis’ prayer intentions may often seem to be rebukes. They invite a change of life or a rediscovery of something that has been lost. In his prayer intention for May, he asks Church groups to rediscover their mission of envangelisation. That this is not a rebuke of church movements and groups for losing the plot, however, is shown by his prayer that they will rediscover their mission every day. In his world life involves constantly finding, losing and rediscovering God’s calling to us. We are sinners delighting to find God’s mercy and constantly called to follow Jesus in sharing God’s love. Our mission is a journey, not a settled town.

Pope Francis also suggests the journey when he describes the mission as one of evangelisation. The Greek roots of this word mean Good Newsing, perhaps caught in the modern phrase Hot Gospelling! Evangelisation is not an occupation or a domestic task. It involves going out from our homes and from where we are at home in order to reach new people with the Good News. Of course, sharing the Good News does not always, or even most often, involve using words, as St Francis of Assisi is said to have claimed.

Do our faces mirror the Good News?

We look first for Good News first on people’s faces, and we test whether what we see there is indeed Good News, by examining how they live. A person who smiles while answering our questions brings Good News. So does the sight of someone walking the streets each night on their Vinnies run. If we put on our prune face and look our bad-smell look people will find it hard to see in our faces God’s Good News of love and forgiveness.

It does require daily reflection and attentiveness to return each day to our mission of evangelisation. In the case of church movements and groups the need to do so is perhaps particularly pressing. Pope Francis has himself been busy in recent years trying to clean up the mess when church movements or their leaders forget their mission to go out to spread the Gospel, and instead concentrate on their internal life and their desires. Many gifted and attractive leaders of religious groups have been discovered to be abusive, exploitative and authoritarian in their relationships to vulnerable members of the groups. Some groups, too, have focused narrowly on their own perfection rather than on the needs of those whom they serve. Although the recent revelations do not cancel out the good that the group members may have done, they occasion much suffering and self-doubt to people within or dependent on the groups.

Looking outwards

For this reason, the Pope’s insistence on looking outwards to evangelisation is particularly important. He strengthens his message by saying that they should place their charisms at the service meeting needs. In any Christian group there will be a distinctive spirit – ways of praying, favourite devotions and scriptural texts and stories of their founders and significant members that colour the group and the way in which it sees the world.

These can become moth-eaten if they are focused simply on the inner life of the group. Pope Francis insists that they must be exercised in relationships to the world outside which Jesus came to save.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ is an editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications
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