Summary: To be effective at evangelization, we must be firmly rooted in prayer and adoration.
Thursday in Fifth Week of Easter 2016
Joy of the Gospel
Early in St. Paul’s ministry in Anatolia, his success in planting new congregations of Christians inspired others to do missionary work outside the more traditional areas of Judea and the adjoining provinces. But something else was operating, not inspired by God. Jewish converts to Jesus followed Paul, especially in Galatia, and preached that Paul’s Gospel was not complete. Since Jesus was a Jew, they reasoned, and all the early Christians were Jews, then Christianity was an outgrowth of Judaism, and all the Gentiles who wanted to follow Jesus should adopt all the Jewish practices of the Jerusalem church, including circumcision and the dietary laws. The meeting we hear about in Acts is what some have called the first ecumenical council, the Council of Jerusalem, and St. Peter takes the lead. His logic is stronger: from early days we have been associating Gentiles with the Church without their being circumcised. We are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ coming from His Resurrection, not by observing the 600 plus laws of Torah. In fact, even when we were “only Jews” we couldn’t keep them all. So why would we lay a burden on the backs of these new converts that even we can’t handle. St. James seconds the leader, and makes practical the requirements they would ask of the new converts. The idea is not to make it harder to follow Christ than Christ would make it. Love God, love the neighbor, and be faithful. Be effective evangelists.
The Holy Father is beginning his final chapter of The Joy of the Gospel. He says: ‘Spirit-filled evangelizers means evangelizers fearlessly open to the working of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost, the Spirit made the apostles go forth from themselves and turned them into heralds of God’s wondrous deeds, capable of speaking to each person in his or her own language. The Holy Spirit also grants the courage to proclaim the newness of the Gospel with boldness (parrhesía) in every time and place, even when it meets with opposition. Let us call upon him today, firmly rooted in prayer, for without prayer all our activity risks being fruitless and our message empty. Jesus wants evangelizers who proclaim the good news not only with words, but above all by a life transfigured by God’s presence.
Francis then offers what he calls “some thoughts about the spirit of the new evangelization.”
He writes: ‘Whenever we say that something is “spirited”, it usually refers to some interior impulse which encourages, motivates, nourishes and gives meaning to our individual and communal activity. Spirit-filled evangelization is not the same as a set of tasks dutifully carried out despite one’s own personal inclinations and wishes. How I long to find the right words to stir up enthusiasm for a new chapter of evangelization full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction! Yet I realize that no words of encouragement will be enough unless the fire of the Holy Spirit burns in our hearts. A spirit-filled evangelization is one guided by the Holy Spirit, for he is the soul of the Church called to proclaim the Gospel. Before offering some spiritual motivations and suggestions, I once more invoke the Holy Spirit. I implore him to come and renew the Church, to stir and impel her to go forth boldly to evangelize all peoples. Spirit-filled evangelizers are evangelizers who pray and work. Mystical notions without a solid social and missionary outreach are of no help to evangelization, nor are dissertations or social or pastoral practices which lack a spirituality which can change hearts. These unilateral and incomplete proposals only reach a few groups and prove incapable of radiating beyond them because they curtail the Gospel. What is needed is the ability to cultivate an interior space which can give a Christian meaning to commitment and activity. Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervour dies out. The Church urgently needs the deep breath of prayer, and to my great joy groups devoted to prayer and intercession, the prayerful reading of God’s word and the perpetual adoration of the Eucharist are growing at every level of ecclesial life. Even so, “we must reject the temptation to offer a privatized and individualistic spirituality which ill accords with the demands of charity, to say nothing of the implications of the incarnation.”’
Ora et labora: this is very much in the spirit of St. Benedict. We pray so we have the energy to work in the Lord’s vineyard. We pray for our own nourishment, but we also pray for open minds and hearts among those we love and work for. We thank God for what He is doing, even when we can’t sense the results. And, as Paul teaches, we praise God in everything.