Pope Francis launched a new series of catecheses on apostolic zeal during the General Audience on the morning of Wednesday, January 11. The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s words that he shared with the faithful gathered in Paul Church vi Room.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today we begin a new series of catecheses, dedicated to an urgent and decisive theme for Christian life: passion for evangelizationIt is, apostolic zeal. This is a vital dimension for the Church: the community of Jesus’ disciples is in fact born apostolic, born missionary and not proselytizing. And from the start, we had to make this distinction: to be missionary, to be apostolic, to evangelize is not to proselytize. They have nothing to do with each other. This is a vital dimension for the Church. The community of disciples of Jesus was born apostolic and missionary. The Holy Spirit shapes it externally – a Church which goes out, which goes out – so that it is not closed in on itself but extroverted, a contagious witness of Jesus – faith is also contagious – reaching out its hand to radiate its light ‘to the ends of the earth. It can happen, however, that apostolic ardor, the desire to reach others with the good news of the Gospel, diminishes and dwindles. Sometimes he seems overshadowed; there are “closed” Christians, they do not think of others. But when Christian life loses sight of the horizon of evangelization, the horizon of proclamation, it becomes sick: it closes in on itself, it becomes self-referential, it atrophies. Without apostolic zeal, faith withers. The mission, on the other hand, is the oxygen of Christian life: it invigorates and purifies it. Let us therefore engage in a process of rediscovery of the evangelizing passion, based on Scripture and the teaching of the Church, to draw apostolic zeal from its sources. We will then get closer to some living sources, to certain witnesses who have rekindled the passion for the Gospel within the Church, so that they can help us to rekindle the fire that the Holy Spirit wants to maintain in us.
And today I would like to start with a somewhat emblematic Gospel episode. We have just heard it, the call of the apostle Matthew. And he himself tells this story in his Gospel that we have heard (cf. 9:9-13).
It all begins with Jesus who, the text says, “saw a man”. Few people saw Matthew for what he was: they knew him as the one “who sat in the tax office” (v. 9). He was in fact a tax collector: that is, someone who collected taxes on behalf of the Roman Empire which occupied Palestine. In other words, he was a collaborator, a traitor to the people. We can imagine the contempt that people felt towards him: he was a “publican”, as they were called. But in the eyes of Jesus, Matthew is a man, with his miseries and his greatness. Be aware of this: Jesus does not stop at the adjective – Jesus is always looking for the noun. “This person is a sinner, he is that kind of person…” these are adjectives: Jesus goes to the person, to the heart: “This is a person, this is a man, this is a woman”. Jesus goes to the essence, to the noun, never to the adjective. He leaves aside the adjectives. And while there is a distance between Matthew and his people — because they see the adjective “publican” — Jesus draws closer to him, because each man is loved by God. “Even this wretch”? Yes, even this wretch. In fact, the Gospel says that he came for this wretch: “I came for sinners, not for the righteous.” This glance of Jesus who sees the other, whoever he may be, as the recipient of love, is truly beautiful and it is the beginning of the evangelizing passion. Everything starts from this look that we learn from Jesus.
We can ask ourselves: how do we view others? How often do we see their faults and not their needs; How often do we label people based on what they do or what they think! Even as Christians, we ask ourselves: is he one of us or not? This is not the look of Jesus: he always looks at each person with mercy and even with predilection. And Christians are called to do like Christ, looking like him, especially those we call “the distant ones”. Indeed, Matthew’s account of the calling ends with Jesus’ words: “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (v. 13). And if any of us consider ourselves righteous, Jesus is far away. He approaches our limits, our miseries, to heal us.
It all begins with the look of Jesus. “He saw a man”, Matthew. This is followed — second step — by a movement. The look first: Jesus saw. Then the second step, movement. Matthew was sitting at the tax office; Jesus said to him: “Follow me”. And “he got up and followed him” (v. 9). We notice that the text emphasizes that “he rose”. Why is this detail so important? Because in those days the one who sat had authority over those who stood before him to listen to him or, as in this case, to pay taxes. In short, whoever sat had the power. The first thing that Jesus does is to detach Matthew from power: from sitting down to receive others, he sets him in motion towards others, without receiving, no: he goes out towards others. He makes him leave a position of supremacy in order to put him on an equal footing with his brothers and sisters, and open up to him service horizons. This is what he does, and it is fundamental for Christians. Do we, disciples of Jesus, we, the Church, sit around waiting for people to come, or do we know how to get up, go with others, look for others? To say, “But let them come to me, I am here, let them come,” is an unchristian position. No, you go get them, you take the first step.
A look )Jesus saw; a movement — “he rose”; and third, a destination. After getting up and following Jesus, where will Matthew go? One could imagine that after changing this man’s life, the Master would lead him towards new encounters, new spiritual experiences. No, or at least not immediately. First, Jesus goes to his house; there Matthew prepares for him “a great feast” in which “a large crowd of tax collectors” participate, that is to say people like him (cf. Lk 5:20). Matthew returns to his environment, but he returns changed and with Jesus. His apostolic zeal does not begin in a new, pure, ideal, distant place, but where he lives, with the people he knows. Here is the message for us: we do not need to wait until we are perfect and have come a long way in following Jesus to bear witness to him, no. Our proclamation begins today, where we live. And this does not begin by trying to convince others, not by convincing: but by bearing witness every day to the beauty of the Love which has looked at us and raised us. And it is this beauty, in communicating this beauty, that will convince people – not ourselves, but the Lord himself. It is we who proclaim the Lord. We do not proclaim ourselves, we do not proclaim a political party, an ideology. No: we proclaim Jesus. We need to put Jesus in touch with people, not convincing them but letting the Lord do the work of convincing. Because as Pope Benedict XVI taught us, “the Church does not proselytize. On the contrary, it grows by “attraction”” (Homily during the inauguration mass of the Fifth General Conference of Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, Aparecida, May 13, 2007). Remember this: when you see Christians proselytizing, making a list of people to come… they are not Christians; they are pagans disguised as Christians, but the heart is pagan. The Church does not grow by proselytism, it grows by attraction.
I remember once, in a hospital in Buenos Aires, the nuns who worked there left because there were too few of them and they could not keep the hospital running. And a community of sisters from Korea came. And they arrived, let’s say on a Monday for example (I don’t remember the day). They took over the sisters’ house at the hospital and on Tuesday they went down to visit the sick in the hospital, but they did not speak a word of Spanish. They only spoke Korean and the patients were happy because they commented: “Well done! These nuns, bravo, bravo! “But what did your sister tell you”? “Nothing, but with her look she spoke to me, they communicated Jesus to me.” Not to communicate ourselves but to communicate Jesus, with a look, with gestures. It’s attraction, the opposite of proselytizing.
This attractive testimony, this joyful testimony is the goal towards which Jesus leads us with his gaze of love and with the movement of extradition that his Spirit arouses in our hearts. And we can ask ourselves if our gaze resembles that of Jesus, to attract people, to bring them closer to the Church. Let’s think about it.
Finally, as usual, my thoughts turn to young peoplehas the patienthas old people and to newly weds. With the enthusiasm and generosity of those who believe in Christ, may you be builders of peace and harmony, through constant engagement in dialogue with those who are close to you.
And let’s not forget war-torn Ukraine, which always remains in our hearts. Let us express our affection, our closeness and our prayer to these people who are experiencing cruel suffering. And now I will pause in silence for a few minutes in front of the icon known as Our Lady of the People, venerated in Belarus, to pray for this country and for peace. I invite you to join spiritually in my prayer.
I offer my blessing to you all.