Pope: Evangelizing isn’t about big talk—it’s about joy

In his second homily while visiting Ecuador, Pope Francis spoke on Tuesday of the importance of fostering unity through evangelization, which he said is not done by preaching at people, but rather by being a joyful witness to the Gospel we have received.

“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,” the pope said July 7.

“Evangelization does not consist in proselytizing—proselytizing is a caricature of evangelization; rather, evangelization is attracting by our witness those who are far off, humbly drawing near to those who feel distant from God and the Church, drawing close to those who feel judged and condemned from the start by those who feel they’re perfect and pure, drawing near to those who are fearful or indifferent.”

Pope Francis’ Mass took place in Quito on the second full day of his apostolic journey to his home continent of South America. The July 5-13 tour will also include stops in Bolivia and Paraguay.

Set in Quito’s Bicentennial Park, the Mass followed a casual meeting with Ecuador’s bishops earlier that morning. The park commemorates the 1809 Ecuadorian call for independence from Spain—the first of its kind in Latin America—which he noted “arose from being conscious of a lack of freedom, of exploitation and despoliation.”

In his homily, which was packed with references to his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis centered on Christ’s prayer in Jn 17:21 that his disciples “be one… so that the world may believe.”

Referring to the “cry” of Christ to his father and the Ecuadorians’ early cry for independence, he said that “I would like to see these two cries joined together, under the beautiful challenge of evangelization.”

“We who are gathered here at table with Jesus are ourselves a cry, a shout born of the conviction that his presence leads us to unity.”

Even though Christ was experiencing “the worst of this world” in his own flesh at the moment of his prayer, he didn’t back down or complain. Rather, he welcomed his task and calls us to the do the same, the pope said.

“We, too, encounter daily a world torn apart by wars and violence … But it is precisely this troubled world into which Jesus sends us,” he said, explaining that we shouldn’t respond to this call “with nonchalance, or complain we do not have the resources to do the job, or that the problems are too big. Instead, we must respond by taking up the cry of Jesus and accepting the grace and challenge of being builders of unity.”

Pope Francis remarked that “there was no shortage of conviction or strength in that cry for freedom which arose a little more than 200 years ago. But history tells us that it only made headway once personal differences were set aside, together with the desire for power and the inability to appreciate other movements of liberation which were different yet not thereby opposed.”

“Evangelization can be a way to unite our hopes, concerns, ideals and even utopian visions,” he said, noting that “the desire for unity involves the delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, the conviction that we have an immense treasure to share, one which grows stronger from being shared, and becomes ever more sensitive to the needs of others.”

He stressed that from this comes “the need to work for inclusivity at every level, to avoid forms of selfishness, to build communication and dialogue, to encourage collaboration.”

“Our unity can hardly shine forth if spiritual worldliness makes us feud among ourselves in a futile quest for power, prestige, pleasure or economic security,” he said.

Pope Francis then turned to the Church’s salvific mission, saying that part of her identity is to embrace all nations on earth without discrimination.

Using a phrase he frequently repeats in Evangelii Gaudium, the pope said that becoming a “missionary Church” means constantly striving to foster communion, since mission implies more than “outreach alone.”

“We also need to be missionaries within the Church, showing that she is a mother who reaches out, a welcoming home, a constant school of missionary communion.”

Pope Francis then noted the importance of maintaining a spiritual life based on a personal encounter with Christ.

“This encounter leads us in turn to encounter others, to become involved with our world and to develop a passion for evangelization.”

He stressed that the unity to which Christ calls us is not a mere uniformity, but rather implies living in harmony amid our differences.

Unity is not something “we can fashion as we will, setting conditions, choosing who can belong and who cannot,” he said, adding that “none are excluded.” Such a “religiousity of the elite is not what Jesus proposes,” the pope added.

Nor, he reflected, does unity mean we all have the same tastes or gifts.

“We are brothers and sisters because God created us out of love and destined us, purely of his own initiative, to be his sons and daughters … that is the salvation which God makes possible for us, and which the Church proclaims with joy: to be part of the divine ‘we.’”

The pope concluded his homily by praying that Ecuadorians would be a sign and witness of fraternal communion for the world by caring for one another.

When we give ourselves in service to others, “we discover our true identity as children of God in the image of the father and, like him, givers of life; we discover that we are brothers and sisters of Jesus, to whom we bear witness,” the pope said.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash