The challenge of being an evangeliser30 Sep 2021
On first hearing, Pope Francis’ hope that all baptised people, no matter how lacking in learning or eloquence, should be engaged in evangelisation is challenging. Evangelisation is a big word, and most of us would associate it with knowing big words and being able to talk easily about theology and faith. These are the kind of gifts that bishops and priests might have. We think of evangelisers as people who can talk powerfully about faith on street corners, radio and television and can set unbelievers right.
When Pope Francis says that we should all be engaged in evangelisation he doesn’t mean we should all do all these attention-gaining things. But what he does mean might be even more challenging. As he speaks of it, to evangelise is to help people to be touched by the love of God which Jesus has shown to us. Evangelisation does not focus on what we do or say but on what people will see and hear when they look at our lives. Francis of Assisi, the Pope’s great hero and namesake, summed up this view when he urged his followers to ‘preach the Good News – and only sometimes in words.’ The times when people would see the Good News shine out in the way in which Christians lived were more important than those when they heard about it through their words.
Most of us would recognise that to be true of our own lives. If we ask ourselves what has attracted us to faith in a loving God we would first think of people and what they were like. Their words were important because they matched their lives. Faith is contagious only when people are close to us. This the reason why saints are important in Catholic life. From them we can catch something attractive in the Gospel. Faith grows when we rub shoulders with people of faith and sense that they have something precious in their lives which we would like to share. Pope Francis understands this and so insists that evangelising means moving out of our safe world and allowing strangers to see our lives and faith with all our weaknesses and strengths. That is really scary because it asks us to let others see our real selves and to trust that this will draw them to the Gospel.
Pope Francis also prays that we shall be available to the mission. Mission is another big Christian word that can be intimidating. It might suggest that we sign up as members of the sales force in a huge organisation busy about converting people to Christianity. In reality mission is simpler and more attractive. The mission is Jesus’ mission, which is to share his trust in a loving God and his joy in a simple and generous way of life. The mission is not something that dwarfs us but is something that is part of our DNA.
Being available to the mission also means seeing ourselves not as lone fighters but as members of an unlikely mob drawn together by Christ. The early Christians put it simply. They were astounded to find that they attracted observers most of all by their love for one another. When all is said and done that is what mission and evangelisation are all about.
Our Catholic tradition is one in which love and compassion are central. We are asked to live the values of the Christian Gospel. That generosity of spirit is what Pope Francis has in mind when asking for our prayers for ‘missionary disciples’ this month of October.Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ is an editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications