by Fr Alex Colmeiro
“Go and tell my brethren” … These words of the Risen Jesus to Mary Magdalene are an urgent summon for the followers of Jesus to be witnesses of the Good News of God’ love for everyone. Pope Francis, on the 10th Easter of his Pontificate, at the age of 86 and in spite his physical health limitations, gives an example of missionary disciple, an expression he uses so often. During the past ten years, he has been consistently living and preaching this apostolic command of the Risen Lord: “Go to the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mt 28: 19).
Francis’ encyclicals show his consistency in pushing for evangelization, as St Paul VI did in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi of December 8, 1975, very much loved by Pope Francis. In his recent General Audience of March 29, he started a new series on examples of missionary apostolic zeal. He begins describing the passionate zeal of St Paul. The Apostle of the Gentiles did not have just a theoretical knowledge of Jesus, but he was a witness, he allowed himself to be driven by Christ’s love, to be taken forward by Christ.
Unity and apostolic zeal of the First Christians
Like in the time of Peter, the whole Church prays for Pope Francis (cf. Acts 12:5), as he constantly and humbly requests. The Church petitions not only for the divine protection on the visible head of the Church, but also for more graces for all Catholics to have unity in the same mission, and thus leading everyone into union with God. Like the early Christians, multitudinis autem credentium erat cor unum et anima una (cf. Acts 4:32), all believers in Christ are called to have one heart and one soul. The heart refers, in some way, to the inner self, one’s will, intention or center of a person’s life: one’s mission. The soul, on the other hand, indicates the individual human person, created with a unique immortal principle of life. We could say that these two terms – heart and soul – refer both to the mission and to being a disciple who has this mission: the missionary disciple. The early Christians, personally and by the communion of saints, were missionary disciples.
This term – missionary disciple – is very much used by Pope Francis, since the beginning of his pastoral work as bishop in Argentina. As a good shepherd, he preaches first with his example. Some external data may substantiate it. St John Paul II, during his 27 years as Pope, – starting at the age of 59 – visited 129 countries. Pope Francis, now 86, on his 10 years of pontificate, has already visited 60 nations, from Brazil to Jordan and the Philippines.
Easter is a time of renewal in apostolic zeal for all Christians. Recent General Audiences of the Pope invite everyone to discern each one’s baptismal calling and to put it into practice, following the apostolic lives of saints. The March 29 General Audience vis-a-vis some relevant paragraphs of Evangelii nuntiandi, could facilitate our docility to the Holy Spirit,the driving force of a missionary disciple who encounters Jesus both interiorly and in the others.
Passion for the truth as starting point to follow Jesus
Starting with the example of the Apostle Paul, to whom Francis dedicates two of his catecheses, the Pope presents this exemplary witness to what passion for the Gospel means. In Saul of Tarsus, passion for the truth preceded the discovery of the full truth in the Gospel of Jesus. Later, Saul, who became Paul, explains that his zeal for the Gospel appears after his conversion, and takes the place of his previous zeal for Judaism. His zeal for the Law of Moses, after his conversion, continued, but directed to proclaim Jesus Christ. Paul discovered, as Jesus Himself revealed to him though Ananias, the real mission awaiting him: to preach from the Law of Mosses, the real Gospel. As Francis explains: “His zeal first wanted to destroy the Church, whereas after, he builds it up. We might ask ourselves: what happened that passed from destruction to construction? What changed in Paul? In what way was his zeal, his striving for the glory of God, transformed? What happened there?”
Passion for Jesus is the fruit of an encounter with Him
through the Holy Spirit
Passion, from the moral point of view, is neither good nor evil. If passion is used for avirtuous action, the action done is morally good; if used for committing sin, passion aggravates that action (Cf. St Thomas Aquinas, Quaestio “De veritate” 24, 7), Pope Francis quotes. And he continues describing the secret of apostolic zeal: “In Paul’s case, what changed him is not a simple idea or a conviction: it was the encounter with the risen Lord – do not forget this, it is the encounter with the Lord that changes a life – it was the encounter with the risen Lord that transformed his entire being”. Paul’s humanity, his passion for God and his glory was not annihilated, but transformed, “converted” by the Holy Spirit. The only one who can change our hearts, is the Holy Spirit. And it was so for every aspect of his life. Just as it happens in the Eucharist: the bread and wine do not disappear, but become the Body and Blood of Christ. Paul’s zeal remains, but it becomes the zeal of Christ. It changes direction but the zeal is the same.
St Paul VI explains it in Evangelii nuntiandi # 75: “Evangelization will never be possible without the action of the Holy Spirit.The Spirit descends on Jesus of Nazareth at the moment of His baptism when the voice of the Father- “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased“(Mt. 3:17)-manifests in an external way the election of Jesus and His mission. Jesus is “led by the Spirit” to experience in the desert the decisive combat and the supreme test before beginning this mission (Mt. 4:1).It is “in the power of the Spirit” (Lk 4:14) that He returns to Galilee and begins His preaching at Nazareth, applying to Himself the passage of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” And He proclaims: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled.” (Lk 4:21; cf. Is 61:1)To the disciples whom He was about to send forth He says, breathing on them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (Jn 20:22).”
Docility to God’s inspirations re-creates us,
if we do not act hypocritically
How does the Holy Spirit transform us into missionary disciples? Pope Francis explains that Jesus counts on us as we are, “with our prerogatives and our characteristics”, but the interior change in a missionary disciple is “not an idea”, but the Person of Jesus who is Life itself, as Paul himself says: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” – the encounter with Jesus Christ changes you from within, it makes you another person – “the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17). And developing the expression of Paul, the Pope concludes “If one is in Christ, he or she is a new creation, this is the meaning of being a new creation”.
The early Christians knew about the Greek theatric dramas, in which the different characters played different roles which were reflected in their masks. They were called hypocrites (someone covered with a mask) who will not reveal the real self of the actor. From there, in ordinary conversations, the ones who were persons without principles or convictions others than their selfish personal interests, were called hypocrites. That was the way Jesus called the Pharisees, because of their lack of sincerity of heart. The same term and concept is still used today. Thus, Pope Francis explains in his last General Audience of March that “becoming Christian is not a masquerade that changes your face, no! If you are Christian, your heart is changed, but if you are a Christian in appearance, this will not do: masquerading Christians, no, they will not do. The true change is of the heart. And this happened to Paul”.
A true missionary disciple is committed
to the truth, mind and heart
Both mind and heart of a disciple of Christ intervene in fully accepting and living the Gospel of Jesus. As the Pope puts it, “the passion for the Gospel is not a matter of comprehension or studies – you can study all the theology you want, you can study the Bible and all that, and become atheist or worldly, it is not a question of studies; in history there have been many atheist theologians, no! Study is useful but it does not generate the new life of grace; rather, to convert means going through that same experience of “fall and resurrection” that Saul/Paul lived and which is at the origin of the transfiguration of his apostolic zeal. Indeed, as Saint Ignatius says: “For it is not knowing much, but realizing and relishing things interiorly that contents and satisfies” (Spiritual Exercises, Annotations, 2, 4).
But how is this acceptance of the mind and heart done in the individual? It is not just a matter of human will power, but docility to the Holy Spirit. As St Paul VI puts it Evangelii nuntiandi # 75: “It must be said that the Holy Spirit is the principal agent of evangelization: it is He who impels each individual to proclaim the Gospel, and it is He who in the depths of consciences causes the word of salvation to be accepted and understood. (Decree Ad Gentes, 4) But it can equally be said that He is the goal of evangelization: He alone stirs up the new creation, the new humanity of which evangelization is to be the result, with that unity in variety which evangelization wishes to achieve within the Christian community. Through the Holy Spirit the Gospel penetrates to the heart of the world, for it is He who causes people to discern the signs of the times- signs willed by God- which evangelization reveals and puts to use within history”.
Young missionary disciples striving for personal sanctity
are the new evangelizers
We may finish these considerations with a note of hope given by St Paul VI Evangelii nuntiandi # 76: “It is often said nowadays that the present century thirsts for authenticity. Especially in regard to young people it is said that they have a horror of the artificial or false and that they are searching above all for truth and honesty. (…) Either tacitly or aloud- but always forcefully- we are being asked: Do you really believe what you are proclaiming? Do you live what you believe?Do you really preach what you live? The witness of life has become more than ever an essential condition for real effectiveness in preaching. Precisely because of this we are, to a certain extent, responsible for the progress of the Gospel that we proclaim. (…) We exhort the laity: Christian families, youth, adults, all those who exercise a trade or profession, leaders, without forgetting the poor who are often rich in faith and hope- all lay people who are conscious of their evangelizing role in the service of their Church or in the midst of society and the world. We say to all of them: our evangelizing zeal must spring from true holiness of life, and, as the Second Vatican Council suggests, preaching must in its turn make the preacher grow in holiness, which is nourished by prayer and above all by love for the Eucharist (Presbyterorum Ordinis, 13)”.